The debut book by award-winning Gemma Merino is about an isolated crocodile and his attempts at fitting in with his brothers and sisters. At thirty-two pages long, what I find admirable is that this crocodile tries his hardest to fit in, with no pushing or prodding from his mum or friends. He is courageous and considerate and is fed up of being left out, due to his fear of water. I can’t fault anything with him, he is pretty much a vulnerable yet loveable character. Though he looks like his siblings, something is not quite right, as crocodiles surely enjoy the water, right?
Much like the story of The Ugly Duckling, except without the bullying, I feel this Macmillan published book is intended for the three to five year age market for the words are few, and the story is easy to read.
The author, in my opinion, achieved the writing and visual goals designed for the age range. Using a splatterdash effect for illustrations, Gemma has kept each visual to a minimum which I feel gives the story that bit of extra warmth and charm to it because it fits in with the lonely feelings of the crocodile. I also quite liked the fact there were a couple of images of his mummy, and it was only the bottom half of her. Similarly, it’s reminiscent to Tom and Jerry, the early years, where there was a presence of an adult yet the face was never shown, I find it helps the target audience engage and connect that little bit further.
Another warmth to this story were the siblings. Though they acted hive-like not one of them were mean to the crocodile. Some tried to help at times, but there was never any instances of sibling rivalry which you find in children’s stories. I found that aspect another reason why it stands out against similar books; there is no nastiness, just fear, honesty, bravery and a strong desire to change.
Reading this to my eldest for the first time, his reaction was to keep re-reading it immediately, he loved it that much. I know when I’m onto a good story for him, because of this behaviour. If I had let him get his way, that would have been a solid three-hour reading session! I found it remarkably enjoyable to read and, like my son, I also wanted more re-reads.
Illustrations vary from singles on one page, with split images on others to a full double-page spread depending on the impact of the narrative. The prose flows smoothly, with no clunky or misplaced words and the mixture of visuals and text blend well together using space appropriately.
The crocodile manages to express thoughts and feelings amazingly without speech. I find this to be a fantastic achievement. To me, it means, as a reader, I can sit and talk freely with my son about what the crocodile might say to his siblings, and their subsequent reactions as the story progresses. That gives me something extra to do with my son, other than reading and accepting everything at face value. I believe this activity will help encourage him to opinionate now and later on in life.
Every time we sat with this book, we kept finding little extra hidden treasures, especially with the illustrations and these bonuses made the book that bit more exciting over some of its competitors. I can see why it won the Macmillan Prize for Illustration 2011 as well as many other accolades in the years since its release.
Reading a book like this encourages and inspires me to continue my dream of publishing a children’s picture book. On the surface, it looks like such a natural idea, one of those “Oh why didn’t I think of that?” thoughts spring to mind.
Comments from my son:
“I like the words and the rubber ring.”
“My favourite bit is when he climbs a tree.”
If you liked this read, try the next book by Gemma Merino “The Cow That Climbed A Tree.
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This review is my first, as any reviewer will tell you, do your homework, and the results will pay off, so homework is what I did. If you feel I’ve missed something, please let me know. I’ve got notes upon notes of what to put in and leave out. Likewise, if it’s too long or too short do let me know. I’m refining this skill little by little every day.