One of the most remarkable creators of picture books for children is the Australian artist Graeme Base. His books are so colorful and clever—and the art work so striking and lushly detailed—that I’ve found them among the most effective resources I’ve used with my kids and my students. When half the battle of raising a bilingual child is coming up with good resources that can promote the growth of the minority language, the wonderful books of Graeme Base are a very rich source of support if English is your target language.
The Amazing “Animalia”
In The Art of Graeme Base, a “retrospective” of his work, author Julie Watts describes Base’s style in this way: “What I first saw as clutter is actually the hallmark of Graeme’s work. The crowded design is one of the things children like most, because it gives them so much to do, so much to search for. The amazing imaginative worlds portrayed, each teeming with life, give children so much to discover for themselves.”
Base’s classic Animalia is a prime example. In his extraordinary hands, the alphabet is brought to riotous life with dozens and dozens of animals and objects that start with each letter.
For example, the “A” page—titled “An Armoured Armadillo Avoiding An Angry Alligator”—also contains an ant, an ape, an anteater, an alien, an apple, an airplane, an ambulance, an apron, an acorn, an anchor, an accordion, an athlete, an artist, an actor, some acrobats, and on and on—and even includes such things as an abacus and an aborigine. For vocabulary building in younger and older children alike, both orally and in writing, it’s a terrific resource and I turn to it often.
One activity that kids find fun—while it effectively expands their range of vocabulary and reinforces the spelling of many common words—is a simple listing game of as many things on a particular letter page as you and they can write down in a set time, say five minutes. Though this can be done cooperatively, of course, a contest works well, too, especially if the child earns multiple points for every word he writes (from two to five points, depending on the age and ability of the child), while you only get one. Because I intentionally “stack the deck” in this way, in the child’s favor, the game is pretty competitive, and yet I usually come out on the losing end.
Unique works of art
To date, Graeme Base has written and illustrated a dozen picture books, and each one apparently took about two years to create. These are unique works of art: quirky, beautiful books that not only can captivate a child in the moment, but may help inspire a love of books and literacy that lasts a lifetime. I highly recommend adding at least a few of his titles—starting with Animalia—to your library. You and your kids won’t be disappointed.
Looking for more good children’s books in English? Head to this page to see all my recommendations!