Tuesday 30 July 2019

Up to Something

Up to Something by Katrina McKelvey and Kirrili Lonergan EK Books, 2019. ISBN:  9781925335705 Hardback 32 pp RRP: 24.99

Reviewed by Julie Thorndyke

Up to Something is a picture book exploring the dynamics of the relationship between father and son. How often have we observed parents who want to “take over” the building or making process that their children have initiated? Parents who complete school projects for their children? Adults who perform all the interesting tasks leaving children in the role of bored and disengaged observers? This book tackles the issue.

There is to be a billy cart race. Billy wants to enter: thus, Dad and Billy need to build a cart. Billy is excited to work with Dad in the shed, but his excitement drains away as he is relegated to be “tool finder”, “tool passer” and “special helper”. He accepts the role of “assistant” but find out to his disappointment that this means sweeping up the wood shavings.

Billy is disheartened, but he is a boy with initiative. He actively works through his frustration. He begins building his own project from found materials. It speaks volumes that the self-absorbed father doesn’t even notice his son’s work until the “reveal”.

Throughout the book, the expressive figure of the dog enhances the story. Softly drawn and painted in subtle tones, the dog is a lovely addition to the illustrations. Elements of collage reinforce the idea of using found materials in the creative process. The illustrations reward close observation, revealing details which support the narrative. A sharper use of outline on the watercolour pictures could have lifted the clarity of the visual elements.

Children learn through engaged activity. We learn by doing. The message of this book is as much to parents as it is to children. As a shared story-time book, it will prompt adults and children to work together enjoyably and may allow children to feel empowered in creative projects.

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