It's always been difficult for me to review other writer's work. I tend to be critical with an aim to be constructive, and almost always end up missing the point. I had the pleasure of meeting the author recently through a mutual friend, and we inevitably starting chatting about writing. Finding out that Joanne Gale had written a book, I offered a trade to review it. I like helping fellow authors and in Joanne I found a kindred spirit in the sort of writing for children we like to see.
So naturally, despite everything we talked about before, when I was presented with this colourful children's book with the intriguing silhouette of a monkey sitting in a tree, I didn't know how to begin to review this!
I think all writers have this problem: we build up ideas about our own work, and others, and when presented with something so beautifully written and illustrated, it destroys those illusions and makes one realise that one's efforts have missed the point a tad. Yes, there is effort, and there is effort, but I find true artistic talent comes from knowing your audience and writing for them whilst also retaining the soul and clarity of your own vision.
So with that in mind, here goes: the honest review.
The Rare Monkey with the Colourful Bottom is brilliant.
I was blown away by this children's book. Here is a rare thing indeed: a children's book with a strong moral message whilst also presenting an artistic and creative flair. The - on the face of it - simplicity of the text is actually its strongest asset. The third person narrative - that's narrator to you and I - brings the heart of the problem to the fore in a gentle way.
The storyline - without wishing to give too much away - is that the monkey who is our hero has a colourful bottom. He doesn't fit in the wild, and the other animals (who are all very plain colours) laugh at him for being different. He leaves the wild and goes into a town, and sees lots of bright and wonderful sights, thanks to the generosity and kind nature of a young girl photographer. He returns to the wild, and stands with head held tall. The other animals stop making fun of him, because, as is said in the book, what counts is being yourself and liking who you are.
This storyline has, as I see it, two central morals. Firstly: that being different isn't bad, and is not something to be sad or ashamed about. Secondly: be yourself, and liking who you are. That comes from within, and sometimes we do need help from our friends.
These are powerful ideas, and they are kind and true ones. Joanne Gale's kind and true nature shines through in the writing, and I loved every single word of it. There aren't enough books out there like this, where the morals have presence but don't overpower the storyline.
The book's artwork is also brilliant. Jeffrey Mundell's almost impressionistic, but wonderfully colourful artwork brings the story to life, and the use of curved sentences and coloured words make the book fun to read. The colour palette is well chosen and the quality of the paper and printing is exquisite.
Children will love this book, albeit at the younger end of the spectrum: but I'm convinced that like minded parents will love its morality and honest goodness. It's fun, more to the point, and that counts for a lot in anyone's....well, book!
The Rare Monkey with the Colourful Bottom is available here and I wholeheartedly recommend it for children.
Now Joanne, how about a sequel? I want the monkey to find another monkey with a colourful bottom!
Simon A.C. Martin