Reviews /


Authored by Mariajo Ilustrajo
Illustrated by Mariajo Ilustrajo
Published by First Editions (Frances Lincoln)

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Flooded: In Flooded, a city wakes up ‘just as on any other summer’s day’ only ‘something’ is a bit different. You’ve already guessed what that ‘something’ is. The title and cover image make clear the immediate – and growing – problem facing a city of animals.  In short, the city floods. This is not a spoiler.

What would be a spoiler is to describe in too much detail quite how this flooding affects the city’s various residents.  That is what drives this beautifully illustrated book. So let me give enough of a flavour to tease out some of the book’s appeal. In doing so, I will draw upon the expert input of my three-year-old granddaughter who utterly loved the book, insisting that it be read five times more following an initial shared read.  She eventually settled for three further read-throughs, but that’s still quite some recommendation, especially given they were back-to-back.  What can we draw from this?  That the book’s appeal was pretty much immediate, and that it offered plenty of interest in the new discoveries made on successive reads.

The immediacy of her love of the book chiefly stemmed from its cast of characters, all beautifully drawn, almost entirely in monochromatic grey inks.  What we have here is a watery kind of all creatures great and small. Stature matters here.  I don’t think I am giving away too much to say that the relative heights of the animals in the book drive much of its humour and tensions.

One animal in particular stands out as the chief protagonist, a handsomely moustached emperor tamarin, blessed with a bold, mustard-yellow tail. My granddaughter took great delight in this character’s heroic attempts at consciousness-raising across the book, as well as the handsomeness of its moustache. Its mustard tail proved especially helpful in supporting her in tracking this character across the limited palette of the book. Further delight stemmed from poring over the details presented in a range of spreads: the hints of interior lives and sense of community in an early cityscape; the curious effects of rising waters on a visit to an art gallery; the frankly shocking behaviour exhibited in a damp classroom scene.

For slightly older readers, there is plenty of scope for deeper exploration of the book’s themes. Further discussion will inevitably lead to climate change, environmental activism, the power of collaboration.   Perhaps richest of all, the book offers a powerful introduction for exploration of the differences between equality and equity. The image that bleeds across the front and back covers provides a great starting point for a discussion along those lines.  Children will likely respond to the way in which problems receive more and more attention as more and more animals are personally affected.

The real-world parallels relating to collective responsibility and concern for the world around us, and each other, makes this fine book suitable for all years across the primary phase.  Younger readers may find the typography tricky to read, especially if the book is being shared in pairs or small groups.  Viewed from certain angles, the type used can be difficult to make out. Capitals are used for prose, sentence case for speech.  This too may present some challenges for younger readers; some brief supportive talk, related to this aspect of the book’s design, may well prove useful. Once underway, there is so much to enjoy, and almost too much to think about.

Mariajo Ilustrajo joined Nikki Gamble to talk about her journey to children’s book illustration and how her picturebooks were conceived. You can listen to the podcast here:

In the Reading Corner: Mariajo Illustrajo talked to Nikki Gamble about art. design and illustration.