It Could Be Worse

It Could Be Worse
Einat Tsarfati
Walker Books

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? In this story we meet one of each – Albertini is the latter, always placing a negative slant on a situation; his fellow sailor, George is an optimist, remaining cheerful no matter what.

Stranded out on the open sea on what’s left of their ship after a disaster that took place prior to the start of the story, we see them facing a series of incidents that get progressively unlikely. First comes a cloudburst with the rain falling only on the two sailors, followed almost immediately by a torrent of excreta from a school of flying fish suffering from diarrhoea, that strangely amuses George (perhaps none fell on him).

Their disparate viewpoints continue as they encounter half a dozen crooning mermaids whose song lodges itself in lamenting Albertini’s brain; then while George renders the mermaids’ tune on his harmonica, a ghost ship of pirates suddenly appears, closely followed by an ark brimming over with animals – very hungry ones on account of being food deprived for forty days.

Their adventure then takes a subaquatic turn as the tentacles of a massive sea anemone pull them to the ocean floor

where George’s oft repeated “It could be worse” starts to wobble somewhat as they’re surrounded by jellyfish, engulfed (albeit briefly) by a whale

before landing unceremoniously on a rather smelly island where they bed down for the night. Or attempt to before they get the surprise of their lives …

Now how on earth (or in water)? did that happen?

Comical illustrations of the unlikely scenarios and George’s oft-repeated refrain will likely keep young listeners anticipating the possibilities of the next unlikely happening, while causing lots of giggles along the way.

There Must Be More Than That!

There Must Be More Than That!
Shinsuke Yoshitake
Chronicle Books

In our increasingly pessimistic times, it’s really good to have children offered an alternative perspective on the future, especially when it’s presented with the wonderfully droll humour of Shinsuke Yoshitake.

It opens on a rainy day with big brother saying to his younger sister, “Hey, Sis. … Our future is doomed … Terrible things are going to happen … That’s what a grown-up told my friend.”

Feeling somewhat deflated the little girl goes and passes on his message to her Grandma. She however is much more level-headed suggesting focussing on the good things and the many possible choices one can make: “Grown-ups act like they can predict the future … but they’re not always right,” she says, immediately triggering more positivity in her grand-daughter.

She in turn then goes on to envisage possibilities of all kinds – ‘A future where it’s okay to spend the day in pyjamas’ – little did she know! – and one where ‘robots take us everywhere’ … and ‘someone always catches the strawberry you drop’ … and ‘someone does your homework for you.’ (“Bring it on,” I hear youngsters cry).

Now the girl is really on a roll, imagining outgrown shoes put to use as planters; being able to ban carrots, and having ‘that bully’ abducted by aliens or even finding her own true love and consequently not being bothered about the bully boy.

If you’re thoughtful, you can always think of extending your horizons and not thinking in terms of polar opposites. Thus good/bad could become ‘not bad / hard to say/ questionable / interesting /could be okay / strange’ or ‘I don’t know’.

There are lots of alternatives for an aging Grandma too – who knows, she could wake up as a teddy bear or live for 300 years. And as for that boring boiled or fried egg that Mum offers as the other options to left-overs for dinner … there are plenty of better ways to make an egg …

You just have to make up your mind which …

I See, I See

I See, I See
R. Henderson
Allen & Unwin

This seemingly simple, playfully clever book is a great way to introduce the idea of perspective/different points of view to youngsters. Two readers need to sit facing one another, one either side of the book and take turns to read aloud the rhyming text, in a ‘call and response’ type activity.

Each of the pictogram style images offers two interpretations – there’s no right or wrong: a curved mouth is a smile from one direction and a frown from the other; the face belongs to dad or mum depending from which side it’s viewed;

you can see a whole forest or a single tree – both are possible.

In his presentation of the notion of looking at things from another’s viewpoint, debut picture book creator Robert Henderson (with gentle echoes of Hervé Tullet) offers a starting point for conversations on important, possibly controversial, topics,

I look forward to seeing what comes next.