Deborah Underwood (text) and Hannah Marks (illustrator), The Panda Problem, Scholastic Australia, May 2019, 48 pp., RRP $15.99, ISBN 978176066590
NY Times’ best-selling author Deborah Underwood has created a refreshingly different picture book in The Panda Problem.
When a cheeky panda interrupts the story a narrator is trying to tell, we know it’s going to be good. You see, a narrator needs the main character to have a problem; otherwise there will be no story. But Panda doesn’t have a care in the world. He’s not scared of spiders, he doesn’t want a friend, and he doesn’t wish to be green. Before long the narrator is frustrated. Panda tries to help by coming up with a few ideas of his own, but they don’t really work as problems, unless you count playing the banjo very badly a problem.
Kids will fall in love with cheeky childlike Panda as he slowly takes over the narrator’s story, filling it with jellybean rain, aliens, and penguins until the narrator is thoroughly sick of him. But by now Panda is in full swing and enjoying himself. Until a real problem arises. Panda’s aliens are of no help whatsoever and Narrator’s not going to help him out of this one. What will Panda do?
This book is a perfect example of what can happen when we abandon structure and let our imaginations run wild. Children will enjoy the silliness of this book but more than that they will relish its unpredictability, and the opportunity to let their own imaginations run wild.
Hannah Marks’ quirky, adorable characters are a perfect complement to Underwood’s text.
A riotous, riveting read aloud in class or at home, highly recommended for children aged 5+.
Reviewed by Deb Kelly