My enthusiasm for the work of Justine Clarke has been well-documented on this blog. Regular readers may recall me reminiscing about a letter I received from Clarke in 1988, when I was a keen teen drama student with big dreams and an unhealthy interest in spelling. It turned out these were two quirky personality traits shared by the actress formerly known as Roo, and by making me feel part of her world she won herself a life-long fan. Justine has come a long way from Summer Bay and I have grown up watching her go from strength to strength as an actor, singer and all round entertainer, always with fond memories of how much she meant to me when I was young. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy that I’m now able to share my enthusiasm for her talents with my own youngsters. The Gobbledygook is Eating a Book is her debut children’s title, perfectly pitched at the preschoolers who so enjoy her music.
In recent years, Clarke has made a big name for herself in the world of children’s entertainment. Several CDs and DVDs complement her lengthy stint as a Play School presenter, making her a household name amongst Australia’s littlest groupies. And, let’s face it, kids are a discerning bunch; if they don’t like you, you’ll know about it! In my world, Clarke’s CDs are on high-rotation in the car. They offer simple, but never condescending, lyrics to which my children can relate whilst providing a musical sophistication (jazz bar meets jazz hands?) which I can almost still tolerate after the 57th repeat on a long journey.
The Gobbledygook, co-written with song and screenwriter Arthur Baysting, contains a lot of the same imagery as Clarke’s musical offerings. There are animals, dinosaurs, kings and queens, and faraway lands to be explored. This time, however, they are investigated via a feisty young girl who instructs the mischievous Gobbledygook in the ways of reading. Completely unafraid of this furry fellow – who shows up in her bedroom gobbling stories like a library-bound Cookie Monster – our heroine takes it upon herself to point out the joys to be had from reading, rather than shredding, one’s books. The ungainly Gobbledygook is gradually convinced, eventually curling up to sleep after tackling everything from cooking to space exploration.
This is an imaginative, accessible picture book which celebrates the entertaining and educational possibilities of reading on several levels. Firstly, the storyline itself is instructive, suggesting that reading is an essential way of making sense of the world, and that there is a book out there to suit every taste. Additionally, the gentle metamorphosis of the Gobbledygook from “coughing up clouds of … the silliest words you ever heard” to snuggling in bed with an edifying read, mirrors the development of children from the sketchy linguistics of preschool to cracking that magic alphabetical code which opens the door to the world of literature. Finally, the textured illustrations (by Tom Jellett) draw attention to the pleasure of paper itself, with some pages looking like scrapbook collages and the little girl’s well-loved library repaired with obvious wads of sticky tape.
This is a book that rejoices in ‘the book’ as an object as well as the importance of literacy. I know it’s going to become a firm favourite on the Charming HQ bookshelf. I might even let the kids read it once in awhile.
The Gobbledygook is Eating a Book is published by Penguin and I thank them kindly for my copy.
This review also forms part of my Australian Women Writers 2012 Challenge reading list.