Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Show Day - Penny Matthews and Andrew McLean

Readers who enjoyed the award-winning A Year on Our Farm will be delighted to hear that Penny Matthews and Andrew McLean have teamed up again to produce another picture story book of similar ilk. It’s a beauty.
Lil wakes up to the excitement of remembering it is Show Day. In the early morning half-light she heads down to the cowshed to prepare Goldie – Princess Marigold – for the Best Heifer section of the regional country show. Lil tells her that she is the most beautiful cow in the whole world. Everyone in the family has been busy preparing for this important day: Dad has made orange marmalade and has been practising his wood-chopping; Mum has been growing an enormous pumpkin and has baked scones, jam and a birthday cake – with help with the icing from Lil; Albert, the rooster, is looking slick and extra grumpy; and Lil’s brother Bart has given his guinea pig a bath for the occasion. Lil is keeping her special entry into the Most Unusual Pet section a secret. Will the day go to plan? Will anyone in the family win a prize?
Show Day has been in the pipeline for several years, and the collaborative result, with its appealing story-line and captivating illustrations is testament to the craftsmanship displayed and the effort and attention to detail invested in this beautiful book. The much-admired Matthews-McLean duo have produced another outstanding picture book bound to delight young readers and their adults with hours of engagement as the story is enjoyed again and again; the richness and artistry of Andrew McLean’s illustrations skilfully sets the reading experience up for fresh discovery on subsequent visits.
The text, inspired, no doubt, as was A Year on our Farm, by Matthews’s early experiences as a farm child near Eden Valley, South Australia, is brought marvellously to life by McLean’s whimsical and endearing watercolour paintings. From Lil’s waking to the family’s early-morning drive – loaded up with Goldie in the trailer and Mum’s pumpkin squeezed into the boot – to a tour of the various show exhibits as the day unfolds along with the story, we are treated to a cornucopia of rich and spirited images that bring Show Day alive; whether or not the reader has been to an agricultural show this story conjures up a delightful sense of presence and imagination. Take for example the full page depiction of the poultry shed. Prompted by the text, with all that clucking and squawking and crowing, the scene becomes three-dimensional and leaps off the page – sound effects and all; both text and illustrations engage all of the senses. As does the scene with jumping castle, side-shows and food stalls: I can smell the fresh popcorn and It’s been raining, and there’s puddles … there’s animal poo everywhere conjures up a wonderful olfactory experience.
Show Day is sure to become a favourite on any bookshelf worth its salt. Highly recommended.
Omnibus Books 2012
(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 27, Issue 1, March 2012)

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