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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

In The Beech Forest, Gary Crew, illustrated by Den Scheer. Melbourne, Ford Street Publishing 2012

First, let me say this is not the kind of picture book you read to your five year old. It’s aimed at an older age group, around ten upwards. You can give it to your older child … if you can bring yourself to part with it.

The storyline is simple: a boy leaves behind his computer games for a walk in the beech forest. ‘A beech forest,’ his father told him. ‘Antarctic beech: ancient, primal. The oldest of trees.’

But as the artwork suggests, he doesn’t really leave the computer games behind. Among the gnarled roots of these ancient, primal trees a damsel confronts – and defeats - a monster that might be a part of the towering trees. By the end of his walk, the boy will have a more positive view of the forest and the earth of which we are all a part.

So, what happens when a well-known writer of dark YA tales combines with a young artist who completely understands his theme?

You get a book that is beautiful to look at and teaches you something at the same time.

Den Scheer’s exquisite sepia-to-colour pieces don’t simply illustrate the text, they interpret it. Computer game monsters that fight in the forest of the boy’s mind are nevertheless a part of the forest through which he is walking. The style suggests woodcuts. Each piece of text or art is framed in stone. Fossil leaves in the stone suggest the great age of the forest, a nice touch.

If this book doesn’t end up on next year’s CBCA shortlist or the Crichton Awards for new artists, there is no justice!

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