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Uplifting Picture Books That Don't Preach
Augustus and His Smile
Augustus and His Smile
written and illustrated by Catherine Rayner
Little Tiger Press (UK press),(April 2006)
Augustus the tiger was sad.
He had lost his smile.
So he did a HUGE tigery stretch and set off to find it.
First he crept under a cluster of bushes. He found a small, shiny beetle, but he couldn't see a smile.
Then he climbed to the tops of the tallest trees. He found birds that chirped and called, but he couldn't find his smile.
--Augustus and His Smile by Catherine Rayner, p. 2-8.
Have you ever lost your smile, and not known how to get it back? That's exactly what happens to Augustus, the tiger, in this book. So he sets off to look for his smile, and in his searching, engages with the world around him, swimming with fish, dancing in the rain. This helps him feel happy again, and finally he sees his smile reflected in a puddle on the ground. This is a thoughtful, calm, feel-good book about realizing that happiness is there, inside you, waiting for you to find it.
Rayner's brief, succinct, well-written text uses thoughtful word choices that make the story more powerful and dynamic. Rayner uses strong specific details that create visual pictures in the mind, and that read like bits of poetry, such as "small, shiny beetle," "shadow shapes in the sun," and "mountains where the snow clouds swirled, making frost patterns in the freezing air." These details help the story feel more concrete and real.
Onomatopoeia is used nicely at the point of change, where Augustus begins to wake up to his happiness; this helps underscore the moment, and make it stand out from the rest of the text. Then, as Augustus gets in touch with his happiness, strong verbs show this happiness well, as he "danced," "raced," with raindrops that "bounced and flew."
Rayner has a good sense of pacing; repetition is used in Augustus' search for his smile, which creates a pleasing sense of rhythm, and his searches are grouped in threes, which add a feeling of rightness. Important and intriguing scenes are broken up by ellipses or by withholding information until the next spread, especially after Augustus regains his happiness, and this helps make the moment all the more poignant.
The ending sums up Augustus' search, mentioning some of the things that Augustus enjoyed, such as swimming with fish or dancing in puddles, and reminds readers that happiness is there, all around them. The text appears to be simple, yet the message is deep and thoughtful, encouraging readers to see that they have happiness inside them; they just have to get in touch with it, or engage in activities that make them feel happy.
Interesting tiger facts are included in the back matter that may interest readers, parents, and educators. The facts are presented in a kid-friendly manner, and end with a strong; message about the need to save tigers, and the fact that they're only hunted by humans. The address of the UK WWF is included.
Visually, the text appears both as regular, straight lines across, and in sweeping curves that completely tie in with the illustrations, as if they cannot be separated. One sentence follows the sweeping curve of Augustus as he stretches, another the jagged peaks of mountains, another the diagonal lines of rain--and, unlike some books, the text is never hard to read, and never interferes with the story, but instead compliments it. This may because this artistic expression of text is varied by spreads where the text is displayed in regular paragraphs, thus visually giving the reader a break.
Rayner's ink and color-wash illustrations are free and expressive. Rayner uses loose, wide brush strokes, full of energy and expression, with little to no fine detail. She uses very few lines or brush strokes to paint the image, creating an almost minimalist effect, yet the illustrations are expressive and visually pleasing. The flowing-ink illustrations are similar to some Asian ink paintings. Augustus, with his thick black ink accents, bright orange body, white highlights, and scribbly lines, has a face that is almost not quite in focus, as if you have to squint to see him, and yet the feeling is so clearly there in his face and body language.
Augustus always pops to the front of each illustration, through the heavy black ink contrasting with the bright orange color of his body, through Augustus being the brightest color and the darkest biggest areas of black ink, and through his sometimes being the only color on the page, standing out against a white background. Augustus starts out with no smile at all. Gradually, throughout the story, his smile comes back, growing wider and wider until, when he dances in the rain, it's impossible to ignore. Visually, Augustus starts out large, then, once he's lost his smile, gets much smaller, until, through his search, he grows again, becoming even larger than before. Both Augustus' smile and his size add to the emotional depth of the book, and work perfectly with the text.
The illustrations are painted in dramatic splashes of ink and color, many of them with large areas of white space and no background detail. Colors overlap each other for leaves, showing depth and creating a pleasing visual array of color, and a melding of colors to create new shades and hues. Other illustrations have backgrounds with washes of rich color and texture that make the images leap off the page. The washes also have a gradation in color, show the texture of the paper, and create a pleasing layering of colors. The washes occur in the sky, water, sun, and rain, bringing a sense of beauty and good feeling. These backgrounds appear just before Augustus realizes he's happy again, and this adds to the build up, and fits and increases the emotional tone of the text. The rain is represented; creatively and beautifully, through dots that spatter the page and vertical brush strokes that give the sense of rain falling downwards, and a movement between these two renditions that is aesthetically pleasing. The art is moving, and will strike an emotional chord with many readers.
Augustus and His Smile reminds the reader that simple things can help us feel happy, including nature and the world around us. It also reminds the reader that we know how to be happy--we just have to do the things that bring us happiness. This is an hope-filled, thoughtful, and uplifting read. Highly recommended.
-Added May 2007
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