Friday, October 5, 2012

Alex and the Watermelon Boat - Chris McKimmie

Rabbit, Alex’s favourite stuffed toy, has hopped out the window and gone missing. It has been raining so much the river has burst its banks and Alex’s mother has warned him not to go outside. But what can Alex do? He must find Rabbit – and so he sets out in his watermelon boat.
Reading a Chris McKimmie picture story book is like dipping into a dreamscape with all the richness of its symbolism blended with the quirkiness of a story that is pure celebration of imagination. Each double-page spread is a feast of activity to stir the senses and to spur creative thought, to invoke the reader’s sense of connection to universal experience. Everything on the page works to drive the story forward. And this includes the font, which McKimmie has made an integral part of the marriage between text and illustrations. To emphasise the wet weather, for example, the word ‘raining’ appears vertically, in groups, strategically placed in the shape of rain; the word ‘overflowing’ drips over the line; and ‘heavy’ and ‘big’ are large and bolded.
The illustrations – enticing, poignant, humorous and created in McKimmie’s characteristic naïve style – invite the eye to roam the page for further meaning and extra detail, often adding subtext to the story. As with all of McKimmie’s books, each page is to peruse, to ruminate over, never to turn quickly – even the double page spread of Alex in his watermelon boat ‘in the red misty mountains, somewhere between here and there, in the middle of nowhere’ followed by the dark wash of ‘And then all the lights in the world went out’. (And haven’t we all been in that foreboding place sometime in our lives?)
The story, inspired by McKimmie’s experiences in Brisbane during the floods of January 2011, is true-to-life, engaging, touching, and tempered by delightfully witty humour. Younger children will enjoy looking for clues on each page, eager to help Alex in his search for signs of Rabbit. This is a book that will provide rich opportunity for discussion between adult and child – especially those who have experienced a flood. Like all of McKimmie’s books, it is a story children will return to often.
Allen&Unwin 2012

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