Last year Cockburn Libraries’ Staff did a series of reviews for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year Shortlist. We are doing the same again this year so keep an eye out for our reviews. And now to kick us off…The Duck and the Darklings

The Duck and The Darklings is a book about what happens when humanity has scarred and stripped the world. It is also a story about hope when things are dark and could easily be used as a book about depression. But to the adult eye this book is definitely about the dystopian world that comes when we have ruined the Earth. Although it is never stated in the book the descriptions of the Dark (the place where Peterboy and Grandpapa live) tells us that they are underground and that the world above no longer feels the warmth of the sun.

Glenda Millard, the author, also does a wonderful job with language in the story. In several places familiar words have been lost. For example, the word tears becomes sorrydrops through the passage of time. It is a subtle and delightful way of tracking the parts of language that have been lost and adds to the sense of other that exists in the book. This also gives us an opportunity to start a discussion with children about what words could fit there; an opportunity to practise semantic knowledge. Semantic knowledge is all about understanding or meaning and finding the more familiar word that would fit is an example of working on semantic knowledge and will assist with developing literacy.

Past the interesting use of language there is the overall story which is an engrossing tale of hope and memory and storytelling. I don’t know that it is the easiest book for children to appreciate and I would consider it to be a picture book for children over six years old but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It does have a great message about finding hope when everything around you feels dark and barren. And it supplies the all important happy ending.

But the story isn’t the only reason this book was shortlisted. The specific category for the nomination is Picture Book of the Year so I can’t really have a review without talking about the beautiful illustrations in this book. The book uses tones and shadows so beautifully. And for a book that relies so heavily on black and white in the illustrations it never feels depressing. In fact, the book always seems to come across as hopeful and Stephen Michael King uses colours and specific, focussed drawings so sparingly that it makes a huge impact. The book also finishes with a few pages that are gorgeously light.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and may use it at one of my Bookstars sessions.

If you’ve read this book I would love to know what you thought.