Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 03 Oct 2023

The Panda’s Child by Jackie Morris and Cathy Fisher

We are always delighted to receive any book written by Jackie Morris. As an internationally acclaimed, award winning artist, she has illustrated many fabulous books in collaboration with a range of authors. She has also already worked in close partnership with other illustrators as the author of some outstanding picture books. This time she is the author of a hauntingly poetic fable in collaboration with Cathy Fisher, whose ‘art combines a deep connection with the natural world with a tender, insightful rendering of human emotion and behaviour’.

The front cover shows a Mother Panda with her cub staring out at the reader, framed with a stylised border of gold bamboo leaves. This is a book to be read and relished slowly beginning with the front end pages that bleed to the edges with a strong image of more bamboo, a moth and a grasshopper against a starry silent sky. The dreamlike mood continues as the story unfolds and shows a mother and baby in the lush green forest ‘lulled into sleep by the warm sun’. When she wakes up, the child has disappeared and we see the image of a panda in the right hand corner looking onto the scene. Anyone who has temporarily ‘lost’ a small child in what was, just a moment before, an enjoyably happy environment, will recognise the sickening feeling of horror and panic that follows. 

The shape of the story intersperses gorgeous illustrations with minimal text with two pages of poetic prose. I like this rhythm which I noticed because I read it aloud to my eight year old granddaughter and we agreed that it contributes to the restful atmosphere and builds slow suspense. Every illustrated page then allows the artist space for big emotions and natural features. We spent time lingering and imagining the sorrow of the bereft woman and trying to guess how the Panda was going to play a significant part in the story.

What follows is a thought-provoking tale about caring for and respecting all creatures. It also shows how there can be a reciprocal relationship between humans and nature that benefits everybody. These subtle messages about caring for the environment are a common thread with all work by this author and illustrator, and are of course increasingly important to convey.

The book is organised into chapters that allow the reader to experience a shift in mood and the passing of time. After nine years, the harmonious relationship between the villagers and nature is disrupted by unscrupulous and noisy strangers who want to capture the Panda:

‘High on the elephants’ backs there

were cages of thick bamboo,some

with monkeys, others with birds.

One empty.’

There is not time here to adequately summarise what happens next and how the dreadful consequences are eventually resolved. The early appearance of a fierce Tigress also made us speculate about why she might be significant. There are so many extraordinary and powerful illustrations that it is very difficult to select the ones that gave us most pleasure. We both loved the one that shows the boy and monkey watching as the long procession of exotic looking visitors wend their way into the valley between the blue mountains. The colours are at the same time soft and jam packed with muted colours, an impressionist watercolour scene reminiscent of Monet’s ‘Waterlilies’. This is a book that will hopefully inspire children of all ages to write and paint in response.

I strongly recommend this outstanding book published by Otter Barry which should be available from your local independent bookshop. They will be glad to order it for you if they do not have copies on the shelf.


Karen Argent

October 2023