July 28, 2012


by Eva Katzler, Illustrated by Jess Mikhail
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Review by Hereward L.M. Proops

The other morning, my three year old daughter came into the room and loudly proclaimed that she was a princess. “Of course you are, darling,” I said, removing the pair of underpants from her head.

This is a great example of the power of a child's imagination. That a simple pair of underpants can be magically transformed into a princess' crown simply because a child wills it is truly one of life's great pleasures. I'm sure there will come a time in the next ten years when my little girl will decide that she no longer wishes to play games with me but in the meantime, I embrace any opportunity to goof around with her and catch a glimpse of that wonderful childish imagination.

Eva Katzler, author of “Florentine and PigHave a Very Lovely Picnic”, clearly knows the importance of interaction between parents and their children. In her introduction to the book she recounts her experiences as a child helping her parents in the kitchen or the garden and how she believes this positive interaction helped her develop as a person. She goes on to explain that the world of Florentine and Pig is a safe, imaginative one which encourages families to read, play and create together. Indeed, describing the book simply as a children's story does not do it justice because it also contains recipes and detailed instructions for craft-based activities. A parent and child can read through the book and then bake a recipe from the story they have just read. Such a simple concept but executed with a keen sense of what children want and what they are capable of.

The story is simple. A young girl (Florentine) lives with her mute animal friend (Pig). One morning she decides to go on a picnic and she and Pig set about organising it. When Florentine realises that Pig has eaten all of the apples, he bravely clambers up into the tall tree in the garden (armed with a wooden spoon and a jam sandwich). When he returns with the treasured apples, they head into the kitchen and start cooking up a feast.

It is gentle, undemanding fun but written with such an infectious sense of playfulness and joy that the duo's rather straightforward task seems like a much bigger adventure. Parents reading this to their children will undoubtedly find themselves reminded of their own childhoods before iPhones and videogames, when the staircase could become a mountain in need of climbing and a secret den could be built with cushions and blankets behind the sofa. When reading the story, parents will identify with the organised, creative Florentine whilst children will gravitate towards Pig, a playful, adventurous character with a fine taste in knitwear. Forget the dark gloominess which has taken over teen reads and is worryingly making incursions into books for younger children. The world of Florentine and Pig is saccharine sweet and exceedingly nice. The skies are blue, the grass is green and every page is a veritable explosion of bold, bright colours.

Illustrator Jess Mikhail (whose work in “I Love You Little Monster” I have praised in a previous review) manages to bring Katzler's delightful story to life with pictures that combine a childish simplicity with a wealth of wonderful little details. The chunky knitted jumper that Pig wears, the flowery wallpaper, the picnic blanket all leap off the page as Mikhail makes use of a combination of traditional drawings and digital collage, much like Lauren Child's “Charlie and Lola” books.

The half-dozen recipes and instructions for making special picnic bunting are provided by Laura and Jess Tilli. Child-friendly instructions enable youngsters (with a bit of help) to create delicious and healthy snacks such as “Apple and Carrot Muffins with Sunshine Lemon Icing” or “Cheddar Cheese and Pumpkin Seed Bites”.

It would be enough that the book has a fun story and is beautifully illustrated but the addition of the recipes and activities helps to make “Florentine and Pig Have a Very Lovely Picnic” an absolutely essential purchase if you have small children. This is a truly magnificent book and I fully expect to be hearing a lot more of Florentine and Pig in the future.

Read the author interview here.

Hereward L.M. Proops

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