Monday, 24 September 2012
The Journey Home, by Frann Preston-Gannon
Frann Preston-Gannon's big, bold illustrations in The Journey Home, but I really, really disliked the story, and thought it was completely inappropriate for a picture book.
“This beautifully illustrated story has a powerful message of conservation,” it says on the back. In actuality, the idea of conservation is not mentioned or conveyed at all, as the storyline is more one of destruction and devastation than one of mending things.
Polar Bear’s ice is melting. He cannot stay and so he decides to swim off in search of a new home. Luckily, he soon finds a little boat. The little boat takes him to a big city belching out fumes, where he rescues a panda; a deforested jungle, where he rescues an orangutan; and a plain, where he rescues an elephant being hunted for ivory. A big storm hits and they are tossed around in the waves and carried away. Eventually the little boat wash up on a little island, and they are greeted by a dodo, who tells the stranded animals that they’ll be able to go home - but only “when the trees grow back and when the ice returns and when the cities stop getting bigger and when the hunting stops.”
My immediate reaction is that - aside from being really depressing - these are ideas that are too large for toddlers to comprehend. I think children of this age are too young to have such significant issues discussed with them. Toddlerdom is a period of early learning and play and investigation, not a period where they should be told about the woes of world. Of course children should be introduced to environmental issues, just as they should be introduced to science and history and politics, but to do so in a picture book is completely inappropriate. Picture books such as The Journey Home can barely begin to properly convey the real problems of the environment. Simply skirting the edge of the issue, as this book does, is not going to educate anyone. This is not a conservation message; it merely highlights a couple of issues whilst failing to mention any human responsibilities, or the human options to prevent or reduce the issues.
And sending the animals to live with a dodo? Are the animals supposed to be dead? Extinct? Will such young readers understand the concept of an extinct creature and what the dodo represents? While I suppose the book could be used to introduce environmental concepts to older children, for those children it will still be too vague and essentially meaningless because it fails to cover the topics in a serious and realistic manner.