Alison Green Books. First published 2015.
An imprint of Scholastic Children’s Books
Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty
Jealousy, mistrust and xenophobia don’t rush to the forefront of one’s mind when thinking about picture book purchases.
Yet “Abracazebra” touches these themes with a deftness of touch that is almost imperceptible to its young audience, but not totally.
When I asked my six-year-old what he thought the book was about, he replied: “It’s about being kind to one another.”
And yes, that is exactly the subtle message this wonderful book imparts.
With a feel reminiscent of Joanne Harris’s “Chocolat” where townsfolk are wary of exotic strangers, “Abracazebra” proceeds in a similar vein.
The story centres around the sleepy old village of “Yawnalot” where life proceeds in the same way, day after day.
The anthropomorphic farm animal children have nothing to do except watch Goat patching up his fishing boat.
But, one evening, in rides a stranger on a bike – Abracazebra – pulling a travelling stage show, ready to perform some magic for the inhabitants.
The animals gasped in sheer delight.
Their village had never shone so bright.
Abracazebra bowed down low.
“Please sit back and enjoy the show!”
And everyone cheered, except for Goat,
Who stomped away to mend his boat.
“They think she’s clever, with all her tricks,
But I’ve got important things to fix!”
Beautifully told in rhyme and illustrated gently with a pastel hue, the story tells of Goat’s jealousy and how he sets the previously-accepting inhabitants up to start questioning the sense of inviting a stranger to stay.
So he started to whisper in people’s ears,
Conjuring up their darkest fears:
“Abracazebra? I smell a rat.
You can’t trust an animal with stripes like that!
You don’t see stripes on a pig or cow…
…So why should we welcome stripes here now?
And, one by one, they all agreed
That she was an extra mouth to feed.
When signs start popping up around the town reading “No Stripes Allowed,” Abracazebra packs up her show and heads out of town.
But when the townsfolk begin to miss her and Goat overhears the smallest Kid in town crying over her loss, he begins to question whether he has done the right thing.
As you’d expect in a picture book, all ends happily ever after when Goat realises the error of his ways and enlists the help of the animals to get her back.
The final pages read:
Now Yawnalot is a happier place
Where they welcome any kind of face.
There’s a goat, I’m told, who serves up tea
Under the shade of the sycamore tree.
Well, if you go…
(final page turn)
You might just catch her magic show!
The last double page spread is a riot of colour and happiness, with Abracazebra performing her magic to excited onlookers.
At 727 words, “Abracazebra” comes from the same Alison Green Books stable which produced the husband and wife team’s earlier superb offering: “Snatchabook.”
“Abracazebra” is a little bit of magic!