By BRUCE DENNILL
Phoebe & Digger by Tricia Springstubb and Jeff Newman 7
On Route In South Africa by BPJ Erasmus 7
Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown 7
I Praise The Dance: Celebrating Contemporary Dance In South Africa edited by Michael Britton & Kurt Egelhof 5
Where authors in most genres have to think carefully about creating areas of conflict that can add structure to the way their characters, writers of children’s books only have to look at the many milestones that dot a youngster’s existence and have a profound impact on them. In the case of Phoebe & Digger, the event is the arrival of a sibling and the consequent transfer of the bulk of a mother’s attention from one child to another. Little Phoebe is able to partially fill the resulting void with Digger, a toy earth-mover she is given when the baby comes home. And ultimately, it is a situation that comes about as a result of her playing with Digger that allows a closing of the distance between mother and daughter. Jeff Newman’s illustrations are big and bold, adding punch to the clever minimalism of Tricia Springstubb’s story. This is a likely going to be a keeper, a hardback volume that can be passed from sibling to sibling and then packed away for the grandchildren.
This is the third edition of On Route In South Africa, a pleasingly weighty tome, suggesting – confirming, hopefully – that travellers still enjoy the part of exploration that is best developed and expressed in print form, rather than in little throwaway tidbits on website forums. The book is enjoyable on a number of levels. Sit in a chair and read it from cover to cover, and you’ll learn a great deal about South Africa – its geography, its history, its people, and the way all of those interact. Take it out to your car and go for a drive, and it’ll become an invaluable guide to discovering some broader horizons, literally. Somewhere in between, there’s a place where you can dip into On Route… randomly and regularly and expand both your mind and experience as you do so. Erasmus wrote the original version of this book because there was nothing in that niche at that time. There is now much more on offer, but as with the timeless works of TV Bulpin, this title will continue to inform and excite for as long as it remains a sort of benign bucket list, lurking on you bookshelf between holidays until you lift it out again to either suggest a new destination or make you wish you had a little more petrol in your tank next time you leave the house.
As with every enjoyable children’s book, Peter Brown’s story about a tiger who gets fed up with the restrictions of what society expects of him and decides to step outside of those expectations is built around a fable, an easy-to-understand lesson that’s dressed up in varying degrees of prettiness and complexity. This tale is put together very well indeed, with Brown’s illustrations displaying a bold confidence in terms of their line and shading, but a sensitivity to tone in the colouring, which is monochromatic when Mr Tiger is struggling with his situation and ever brighter as he finds his way to his happy place. “Be yourself” or “Be happy in your own skin” are lessons that need to be re-learned again and again. If this story can help young readers to see the value in that sentiment, it’ll be of value long beyond the time it takes to read it, which is not much. Deceptively simple writing and lovingly created artwork will ensure that those readers will come back to Mr Tiger Goes Wild again and again, giving the philosophy ingrained in the narrative a chance to seep in.
It’s impossible to please all of the people all of the time when it comes to documenting a scene or a niche within a greater art form. There may be social and political links between the compilers of reports and the subjects of their research that result in omissions or particular focuses that give the finished product a lobsided feel that does little for the reputation of the project. Such is the case here. There are very few observers of contemporary South African dance who would suggest that Gregory Maqoma or his Vuyani Dance Theatre would not be eligible for inclusion in any document that included the phrase “Celebrating Contemporary Dance In South Africa” in its title. A fleeting mention here or reference in a caption there is not enough, and it’s a niggling deficit hat’s hard to ignore as you page through the volume. What material there is is otherwise well put together. Britton and Egelhof sensibly make visuals the main emphasis, as this is where so much of the appeal of contemporary dance is, particularly for observers for whom the art forms abstract qualities are occasionally frustrating. Also, here is a solid range of companies and individuals given a platform on which to enjoy exposure, though the profiles largely feel more like CV-style explanations of each artist’s qualifications than fresh insights into their craft.