Human Town is a thought-provoking picture book with the potential to inspire rich discussion in primary classrooms. The story opens with little Junior the elephant asking his parents if they can visit ‘Human Town’. Despite his mother’s warning that there might not be much to look at, the family set off for their day out.
The juxtaposition of the elephants playing happily in the river and the grey, drab entrance to Human Town on the following page sets the reader up for what is to come. Through a series of bleak spreads the devastation humans have brought about is revealed. Through the young elephant’s questions, the reasons why Human Town is so run down and derelict becomes clear.
There is much detail in Anna Doherty’s stunning illustrations and this really brings the setting to the forefront of the story. The main character is the town and the way the characters interact with their surroundings drives the narrative. I found it very telling that the busiest places were the shops, while the school, church, and cinema stood deserted. The supermarket is the only place in Human Town where the colours are bright and the humans look happy. What message does this give about society? The animals included are all vulnerable or endangered and children will enjoy spotting the different species.
The ending is hopeful and conveys the message that it is not too late for change to take place. The reversal of the typical day out at the zoo makes the story more relatable to children who have experienced a zoo visit. This is a perfect picture book to explore environmental issues and conservation. It would work well with younger children alongside Charlotte Guillain’s What the Elephant Heard to learn more about the threats to elephants. It could also be read with Anthony Browne’s Zoo as a companion. It has potential to be enjoyed throughout the primary age range with rich discussion and questioning opportunities. Highly recommended.
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