Matt Cosgrove, Alpacas with Maracas, Koala Books, July 2018, 24pp., $17.99 (hbk), ISBN: 9781743816349
Two alpacas (the sensible Macca and the shaggy Al) are determined to enter a talent show but struggle to find an act. After several dismal trials, they decide that their best chance at winning is to shimmy and shake with maracas.
The illustrations are the highpoint of Alpacas with Maracas and will entrance even very young audiences. Although the setting is not stated, Alpacas with Maracas has a strong South American vibe featuring bright colours and South American native animals, including anteaters, guinea pigs, and sloths, who form an adorable supporting cast. This book could inspire a slew of classroom activities – mimicking Macca and Al’s activities, a session about South American culture, spotting and naming the background animals, and maybe even a class talent show!
Written in verse, Alpacas with Maracas lends itself to being read aloud, but at times does not read smoothly due to some rhymes being off-beat (for example “But the cuddly duo, were utterly so-so.”). On other pages, the rhythm is excellent and children will enjoy the flow (“They tried strumming / and drumming / and thrashing / and crashing”).
Some of vocabulary may be challenging for early independent readers (for example “gallant” and “dire”) but the use of “fracas” (along with the illustrations/animal species) provides an opening to talk about South American language and culture. The themes of perseverance, friendship and sportsmanship are smoothly incorporated and overall the tone is upbeat and the story comedic.
At times the text is lost in the illustrations, so teachers and parents should do a quick pre-read to ensure they catch everything when reading aloud.
Overall, the beautiful illustrations compensate for the sometimes off-beat rhymes, and children aged 0–8 years will enjoy joining Al and Macca on their quest.
Reviewed by Jessica Dowling