Vita Murrow (text) and Aitch (illustrator), Once Upon Our Planet, Walker Books, June 2021, 80 pp., RRP $34.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781913520083
The cover of the book invites readers to ‘rewild bedtime with 12 stories’. The stories within the book revolve around the last wildernesses on Earth and explore our relationship with these. The stories are allegorical and animals are used as the focalisers but the message that we need to look after these wilderness areas is clear.
The stories mostly begin with the traditional opening of “Once Upon a Time’ and end with an ‘ever after’ message which highlights one of the wilderness areas – reef, tundra, salt lake, savannah and so on. There are twelve stories in all, exploring a different area of the planet.
The first one tells a story of how the moon and night were created. The animals regularly perform together in a world where there are two suns. Crocodile has to give up performing as it is too hot for him and becomes dangerous. His animal friends get together to devise a way of removing one of the suns, thus creating the night and the moon.
Issues such as climate change, degradation of the Great Barrier Reef, destruction of forests and grasslands are all explored. The pristine beauty of all these settings is beautifully evoked. The stories, and the descriptions of the wilderness areas, are meant to be consciousness-raising and readers will consider the part humans are playing in the destruction of these areas – and indeed the consequences of such destruction.
There are other important messages too such as persistence and team work as animals work together to overcome the problem or threat. Friendship, cooperation, family and relationships all play their part too.
This is a handsome, hardcover volume with a sumptuous gold-embossed cover. The vibrant illustrations throughout enhance the written text and the layout is attractive with illustrations forming full pages, borders or are interspersed amongst a page of text. This is the sort of book which can be read right through, dipped into to read individual stories, used as a read-aloud and used as a discussion starter on the important messages it contains.
Reviewed by Margot Hillel