by Emma O’Connor
Under Grandma’s Table (2+) by Emma O’Connor,
Illus. Rachael Gray, The Book Reality Experience, 42pp; £12.99
If you buy just one brand new children’s book in 2021, let it be this one! Together, the Edinburgh-based author, Emma O’Connor, and illustrator, Rachael Gray, have concocted a treat. Rather like Sendak’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ this is a visually and linguistically stimulating celebration of that most precious gift of childhood: the imagination.
Do you remember how thrilling it was to build a den when you were small? Well that’s exactly what the little girl in this book does. Yet this is no ordinary den. It’s a ‘secret land of mystery’. Each double-page sees the child transforming into a new character – a tiger, a monkey, an explorer, a pirate, a knight, an astronaut, a pilot, an eagle. (I could go on!)
As with so many of the best children’s books, this one was inspired by real life. While growing up in Australia, the author, Emma, would play under her grandmother’s table, upon which she also learnt to bake. Years later, on moving to Edinburgh, the table came too and was enjoyed in the same way by her two young sons. Emma still remembers the moment of inspiration for the story: ‘I was speaking with a friend, and the kids were playing, and he said something about them playing under there... and the story was suddenly parked in my brain... all at once. It was remarkable.’
Let’s face it, most very young children (and a lot of adults!) are not interested in reading or hearing reams of text. It’s all about the pictures. But what text there is needs to be beautifully crafted, even poetic, thus enriching the child’s vocabulary and ear for language. And this is exactly what Emma O’Connor does so well. The young girl in the book certainly speaks melodiously:
‘Sometimes I’m gazing at
the night sky, lost amongst a
Or sneaking softly
through a deep dark maze.’
Yet it is the illustrator, Rachael Gray, who really brings this story to life using hand-drawn images on Procreate. A young child will love pouring over the pages in a richly nuanced game of ‘Spot the Difference.’ Rarely have I seen a children’s book with so many graphic opportunities for language enrichment.
More about the author:
As an advocate for young people's mental health, Emma O’Connor supports children suffering from anxiety. You can learn more about her initiatives at: www.everydayhappy.co.uk