Review and Guest Post: ‘Big Love’

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Title: ‘Big Love’
Author: Megan Jacobson
Illustrator: Beck Feiner
Walker Studio an Imprint of Walker Books Australia
Age Range: babies, early childhood, lower primary.
Themes: family, love, diversity.

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Big Love’ is a soothing lullaby packaged and presented in picture book form. It is perfect for gifting to newborns and also to little people who are perhaps feeling a touch overwhelmed about just how large the world is.

In a world that is vast, ‘Big Love’ reassures young readers that nothing is as big as the love of a parent for a child. Each page of this sophisticated picture book showcases the world in all its vast sparkling, glorious, wildness before coming right back in close to the safety and love of a parent for a child, with the repeated refrain, ‘it’s not as big as my love for you’. Text and images work in perfect harmony, with the rhythm of vast to close back to vast captured perfectly – it is a joy to read aloud and a visual delight.  Diversity in family set ups abounds, with a different representation of what a family may look like on each page, adding depth and rich discussion around what makes a family. Young people connect with stories in which they see themselves, and they develop understanding and empathy when they see others represented.

Big Love’ has been added to my ‘utterly giftable’ list and I asked Megan Jacobson to share the story behind the story with Children’s Books Daily readers.

Thank you Megan Jacobson

‘Big Love’

by Megan Jacobson

‘How long is forever’ asked Alice. ‘Sometimes just one second’ replied the White Rabbit.

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Scale is such a funny concept. What is long? What is short? What is big? What is small? It all depends.

I remember visiting my Pop as a small child. Even though he would only have been in his early seventies, he was the most ancient creature in the world to my six-year-old self. His skin had a fascinating, almost patchwork quality to it, all leathered and mottled and a bit cancerous from a lifetime of labouring in the harsh Aussie sun. It reminded me of eucalyptus bark, the sort that peels off a little when you pick at it, and he felt as safe as my favourite tree when I would curl up into his lap and ask him to tell me stories about that mysterious, ancient time known as the olden days.

In the olden days, when Pop was a boy, milk was delivered in a glass bottle by a man riding a horse and cart. There was no tv, or video games. Instead, kids played cricket, right on the roads outside their houses, a gang of them galloping after the ball like scrappy puppies.  There weren’t many cars back in those days so watching out for traffic wasn’t a problem. Horse dung though, that was a thing to worry about as you dived to catch a belter.

“Tell me about the cave story, Pop.” I’d say, and he’d nod and suck the bubbles from the top of his beer and that’s when I knew to settle in and listen. Because when Pop was a boy, he lived in a cave. It was the thirties and the great depression had hit hard. Like a lot of working-class people back then, nobody in my family owned a house. They were at the mercy of the landlords, and when work dried up, the newly unemployed underclass were booted out, locks changed, belongings scattered onto the streets where their kids used to play cricket.

My great grandpa, a single dad with five sons, scrambled to scrape together a living. But when you only have a few shillings in your pocket and the choice is between food or accommodation, well, you’re going to choose food. Fortunately, my great grandpa knew of a cave that was dry-ish, and warm-ish, and best of all, free. So that’s where they lived for a time, during the worst of it. Pop and his four big brothers all gathered kindling for the fire, hunted rabbits and pretended like it was a grand old adventure, mud warpaint and all. There must have been horrors, but Pop didn’t tell me any of those, not as a small child, nor later, when I was a little older. Instead, I would listen to Pop’s rich oak voice, all pocketed safe in his red brick home, and I’d try to imagine him by a cave mouth in the bush, huddling with his brothers by firelight in the olden times.

None of this was confusing. The confusion began when school recommenced, and we began learning about early humans -which our teacher called cavemen.

It suddenly made sense to me, all those stories about Pop living in a cave! Using a child’s impeccable logic, I deduced that Pop’s youth was a long time ago, and cavemen existed a long time ago, and Pop lived in a cave – ergo – Pop must have been one of those ancient caveman! He might have even kept a pet dinosaur! By the end of our class, he was basically Fred Flintstone in my mind. I couldn’t understand why the grownups laughed when I later asked Pop if he ever hunted Stegosauruses. But the thing is, his childhood could easily have been a Jurassic timeframe ago to me, because when you’re little, the oldest thing you can possibly imagine is your grandfather. I hadn’t yet learnt the scale of things. When you’ve only lived a short while, everything is long. When you’re only little, everything is big.

I’d almost forgotten about this funny childhood misunderstanding until I gave birth to my daughter, two and a half years ago. I was overwhelmed by such a big love that no words in all the dictionaries in all the languages could describe the immensity of it. Big suddenly had a new meaning to me. My scale had expanded.

It was in those early, heart-full, fog-headed and sleep-starved days of new motherhood that the words of my debut picture book, BIG LOVE, started to whisper in my ear. I watched my tiny daughter curled up in my arms, like the way I once curled up in Pop’s arms, and I wondered how I could ever explain how much I loved her?

Until recently, the underside of my skin had been my daughter’s only known existence. Now, the four walls of our small, rented apartment were the perimeters of her world. She couldn’t understand how much vaster the universe was, any more than I could comprehend the difference between my Pop’s childhood and the dinosaur era. A child’s sense of scale is small, and so is their vocabulary. The word ‘big’ must encompass everything. So, in my book, BIG LOVE, I tried to give my daughter a sense of how much she is loved, starting with a house, and expanding outwards, to a town, a city, a world, the solar system, and then finally, to the outer edges of the known universe.

“This is the house. It’s very big! But it’s not as big as my love for you.”

She was still tiny then, so I was singing a lot of lullabies. I realised that even though my daughter didn’t know language yet, she knew that when I sung to her, it meant I loved her. I wanted the words of BIG LOVE to reflect that rock-a-bye, lullaby lilt. I tried to make the syllables slide against each other in a sing-song way, like a lullaby does, so that even if my daughter didn’t know yet what I was saying, the sound of the book would be soaked in love. I tried to paint the whole of everything for her with my words.

In the house, treetops tickle the roof

In the world, there are volcanos that burp and jungles that rumble

In the solar system, a rocket ship zooms on the way to the moon

And even further away, the galaxies sparkle like someone’s spilled glitter

But anchoring it all is the steady, repeated refrain… it’s not as big as my love for you.

I was incredibly lucky to have the talented Beck Feiner connect with my story and illustrate my words. With her stylish, funny illustrations she delightfully captures the whole wild, wonderful world, and then lassoes that big picture and pulls it all back to the familiar – to something a child can relate to – whether it be a girl FaceTiming her grandma on the other side of the globe, or siblings pointing at faraway stars, safe on the hip of their mother.

Beck also doesn’t narrow love down to just one ethnicity or a traditional nuclear family. Her illustrations show how love is big enough to encompass all sorts of different family formations, from same-sex parents, to single parents to grandparents. Because just like I know I love my daughter, I know that my Pop loved me, too, fiercely… even though I once told him he was so old that he probably kept pet dinosaurs as a boy!

By the same author:

‘The Build-Up Season’

by Megan Jacobson


be Megan Jacobson

Megan Daley Bio

Looking for more great book reviews and recommendations? I’m Megan Daley and you can find out more about me here.

My book recommendations (for babies to young adults) is here and you can peruse ALL of my reviews (searchable by age, genre and theme) here.

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