Alison McLennan and Melissa Johns
Exisle Books, $24.99
The lush collage art in this picture book is a delight – adding whimsy and gentleness to a tender tale of empathy, kindness and care for the environment, and how to draw on the strengths of others to overcome your fears.
Textures of hessian, chintz, quilted fabric, wooden palings and a dot-painted night sky are the types of touches that make the book feel intimate and homely ensuring it is accessible and comforting for a child who might be in pain or feel panicky. I particularly loved the book’s end papers with their flurry of Autumn leaves – each leaf a mixture of a cut-out and hand-drawn form, and whose seasonal colours suggest changeability. The image of the dog and the book’s protagonist, Finn, hugging the tree is also heart-meltingly sweet.
When Finn’s family plant a tree he feels responsible for it – worrying that it might feel cold, get hungry or have growing pains as it gets bigger. Finn attends to what he presumes are the tree’s needs with these worries in mind – wrapping a scarf around its trunk to warm it, sharing his breakfast with it so it won’t be hungry and sitting beside it to give it some company.
When Finn asks the tree questions and it doesn’t answer he finds it puzzling. However, the tree’s wordlessness doesn’t stop it from conveying its majesty and bravery in the moonlight when Finn is most scared. Through its quiet, self-contained splendour, the tree inspires Finn to emulate its courage and overcome his fear of the dark.
Thanks to avid upcycler and artist/illustrator Melissa Johns and musical theatre devotee and author Alison McLennan, Growing Pains is a lovely book to help children negotiate change and pain and to find wisdom and strength in nature and silence.