Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 17 Sep 2023

The Star Whale by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Petr Horáček

What a treat to receive a review copy of a big sumptuous poetry book by two of our all-time favourite, internationally acclaimed stars, Nicola Davies  and  Petr Horáček. This is their third artistic collaboration which they describe at the start of the book as they give us a glimpse into the creative process. Nicola Davies describes how the sketches for his illustrations inspired the text: 

‘It was such a liberating, playful way to work, it took away all the pressure of having to shape a narrative, or write something that might be interesting to illustrate.’ 

Petr Horáček goes on to tell us that her words then inspired him to add to and improve his original ideas:

‘Nicola’s writing is beautiful, powerful and often very important. So I painted them again, this time in full colour.’ 

It was difficult to choose from the forty poems which all have the theme of celebrating the beauty and fragility of planet Earth. Every one of them deserves close attention and I look forward to sharing it with younger readers who will doubtless select a different top four favourites.  

The Star Whale

The haunting image used for the poem is a different one from the cover page and gives us an unusual perspective as we are shown the underside of the impressive creature as he swims across the night sky:

‘Here, the star whale swims,

In the slow gulf stream of galaxies,

Swallowing the glowing plankton of the stars.’

The vivid turquoise and blue colour palette used for this and many of the other poems reminds me of the work of Eric Carle who used similar collage and textured style effects. 

Inside the Wolf

Looking after the planet is a solemn subject but this anthology uses plenty of humour to provide different angles for the reader. Here we see the perspective of a girl sleeping contently inside a wolf, remembering that it was a surprisingly pleasant experience:

‘It was dark and warm and the sounds of the forest came to me,

Like music from another room’. 

I liked the scribbly texture of this illustration to convey the fur of the wolf which is a familiar technique used by younger children.     


My Granny has a Blackbird on her Shoulder

The message of this one seems to be that all of us, whatever our age, has their part to play in looking after nature. Grandma is shown in her gorgeously pink walled living room that has bookshelves crammed with interesting stuff in the background. She is clearly someone who is interested in living creatures, and I would guess might be based on the author:

‘My Granny’s brave and wild and free.

When I grow up, that’s what I’ll be

And I’ll always have a blackbird on my shoulder.’

There is so much detail to look at in this illustration which could stimulate lots of interesting conversation. 


The Old Apple Tree

The text of this simple, quiet poem is highlighted in sunshiney yellow and the tree itself is painted with broad bold strokes using greens and blues with plenty of ripe red apples falling down and covering the ground:

‘I loved the apple tree

And it loved me back’

There is an empty swing hanging from one of the lower branches – who could it belong to I wonder?  

I strongly recommend this extraordinary picture book which is well described in the publicity as ‘passionate, playful, thoughtful and exciting’.  Available from Otter-Barry Books, it is out now and can be obtained from your local independent bookshop- who will be glad to order it for you if they don’t have copies on the shelf

Karen Argent

September 2023