Written by Davina Bell. Illustrated by Allison Colpoys
Age Range: Early Childhood – Middle Primary
Themes: anxiety; fears; social situations; school; family; underwater; empathy; feelings; bravery.
Scribe has produced some of the most divine picture books of the last few years, and ‘The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade’ is no exception. Like ‘Amazing Babes’ (a must-have, see here), ‘The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade’ is an exquisite artwork, a coffee table book of exceptional quality and a children’s book with heart and soul and major child appeal. Production quality of this standard is one of the reasons Scribe has won ‘Small Publisher of the Year’ a number of times now.
Author Davina Bell (who you can read more about here in my Book People interview or on her website) has penned a tale of a sensitive young boy, Alfie, who is experiencing some anxiety and is very worried about an upcoming fancy dress parade at school. The reader is there with Alfie, from the first line of the book, The day before the underwater fancy-dress parade, Alfie got that feeling.
Sometimes it’s hard to be brave. Sometimes you get that feeling. Sometimes you’re just not ready …
Rather than urging Alfie to overcome his anxiety and whipping him off to the parade, his parents are understanding and empathetic, giving him the time and the space (and a day at the aquarium) to explore his feelings.
Sometimes you’re just not ready…until, one day, you are.
There are many strategies to deal with anxiety in children, and many books on this topic (which I have a half written post about…always a half written post!). However, I have not yet come across a book which acknowledges anxiety and allows the child space to just grow and work through the issue in their own time. There are indeed times when we need children to overcome anxieties, but there are also times when we can simply say, ‘you know what? Lets give this a miss, because next year you’ll be a little bit older and a little bit braver’. This is truly a gentle and beautiful book and gave me permission as a parent to not battle every social situation which causes anxiety in sensitive little souls!
So the text is beautiful. The illustrations? I can not do them justice in just one blog post. Allison Colpoys is an award-winning freelance book designer and illustrator, whose work I have long admired since first spying it in Frankie magazine. I enjoy shocking the students in my school library by saying ‘girls, you can indeed judge a book by it’s cover in many instances’. Book designers may not get all the fame and glory (although thanks to the APA there is the Design Book Awards), but they can make or break book sales. Allison Colpoys sent my credit card into spiral last year when I had to purchase the ‘Penguin Australian Children’s Classics’ here, simply because of their design and most especially for the endpapers. Yes I owned paperback copies of most of the titles already, but they did not look like these versions. They are home décor items! Some people buy cushions and vases, I buy vintage teacups and stunning books.
Allison’s work on ‘The Underwater Fancy-Dress Parade’ is exquisite – from the limited, carefully chosen colour palette, to the foil stamping on the cover, to the endpapers (I thinks she is my favourite endpaper illustrator/designer) to the emotion she portrays with seeming simplicity and skilled use of space.
When she was little, Allison was obsessed with underwater worlds and wanted to be a mermaid when she grew up. She is still trying…but I think she is halfway there with this book.
Well done…I very much look forward to seeing Allison and Davina’s next collaboration.