Sunday 18 September 2022

What Snail Knows

What Snail Knows by Kathryn Apel, illustrated by Mandy Foot (University of Queensland Press) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN: 9780702265464

Reviewed by Dannielle Viera

For many years, Lucy’s world comprises just her and Dad. ‘We don’t need nobody else,’ he tells her. They move a lot, so Lucy finds it difficult to connect with others. But she is lonely. Then Lucy meets Snail, who knows that she doesn’t ‘like always being a new kid’. And Meihui, the caravan-park manager who gives her treats. And Tahnee, who looks out for her at the new school. In this special place, Lucy starts to come out of her shell. And help others. And make friends. What if her dad wants to move again?

Kathryn Apel’s gentle text slides across a spectrum of sweeping themes, from relationships and generosity to the environment and sustainability. However, kids aged six to nine won’t be overwhelmed by the big ideas. Witty word play, interesting imagery, and emotional energy – not to mention Mandy Foot’s delicate greyscale vignettes – combine to ensure that the young audience can easily access the book’s motifs, especially the importance of community and kindness.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the book is the presentation of the text. Rather than a straightforward narrative, Lucy’s story is told through a series of free-verse poems – some of which also form shapes, such as a key, a car, and a heart. Youngsters will be intrigued by this unusual structure, while the abundance of white space around the words will encourage hesitant readers to dip their toe into the textual flow.

Moving and memorable, the messages in What Snail Knows will stay with children for a long time. And with every reading, the thought-provoking poems will offer up a fresh snail trail to follow.

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