Melanie Watt’s gorgeous picture book, Augustine, is as much fun for grown-ups as it is for kids. It's full of little surprises, and I never tired of pulling it off the shelf to read with my children at bedtime.
The book tells a simple, timeless story that many kids can relate to: what it's like to start school as the new kid, and to not know anyone.
In this case, the new 'kid' is Augustine, a quiet, artistic little penguin. Her dad's job uproots the family from their home at the South Pole, and takes them, literally, to the opposite end of the earth: the North Pole. She sadly packs her things and says good-bye to her teachers, friends, cousins, and grandparents.
Augustine is named after Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and this sets the tone for the love of art that's infused throughout the book. When Augustine is alone at recess at her new school, she takes out a pencil crayon and starts sketching. She's using a blue crayon, so of course, she calls it her Blue Recess Period. Soon, Augustine's curious classmates gather around, and she begins making friends.
The left-hand pages are divided into a 3 x 3 grid, with a simple, playful drawing in each square. My daughter and I had fun fitting each picture into the plot, as we read: there are the cards she plays Go-Fish with; here's the breakfast she has before school; these are the eight igloos her family looked at before moving into one (which igloo would you choose?). There's so much to look at and talk about.
In the centre of each grid is a sketch by Augustine, inspired by a real work of art. You'll recognize the penguin versions of the Mona Lisa, Van Gogh's Bedroom in Arles, Grant Wood's American Gothic., and more. Of course, Augustine's interpretation of The Scream represents the first day of school.
Augustine is a beautiful and enriching read. Smile to yourself as you pick out Augustine's versions of famous paintings. Teach your child about the masters, and talk about how art brings us together. Or, simply enjoy the story of a sweet, creative little penguin who finds her way just by being herself.
Two kids, two cats, and a house full of books. We share our favourite picks for young readers.