Banjo and Ruby Red

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BLACKWOOD, Freya (illus.) Libby Gleeson (text) Banjo and Ruby Red Little Hare, 2013 unpaged $24.95 ISBN 9781921541087 SCIS 1620542

What a perfect picture book for reading aloud to and with pre-schoolers; but just as enticing for book lovers of every age.  A well-bound, attractive hardback to begin with; an illustrated cover that says a lot by setting up question marks about the content.  Indeed here is a seemingly simple story but, one beset with telltale gaps.  It demands that readers absorb the implied story.

It opens with the statement that ‘Old Banjo is the best chook dog we’ve ever had.’ Under and around the text is Freya’s beguiling picture of Old Banjo seemingly half asleep; surrounded by chooks in various poses.  Over the page action erupts.  Dogs, Bark, Chooks Squark.  Young readers are guaranteed to respond verbally.  For this is an action book; a farmyard drama!  But as in life, so often amid the action one character remains aloof.  Ruby Red ‘sits on top of the woodheap and stares’.  There is no immediate end to the confrontation between Banjo and Ruby Red. . . then Ruby Red seemingly disappears.  Now the reader must take up the action dramatically painted in Freyer’s colours and poses that pertain to real-life theatre.  From here on the action is heart-stopping.  Thankfully, this is one of those tell-tale gaps.  The reader is free to allow an emotive response and follow this classic storyline of protagonist and antagonist to its satisfying denouement.

So here is a drama of Shakespearean proportions: Shakespearean rather than Greek, proving once and for all that a sympathetic picture story collaboration between two artists in harmony, one with the other, transcends even the farmyard and is able to explore the depths and the riches of the human heart, mind and spirit.  MS

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