Poetry Box review: Sandra Morris’s North & South: A Tale of Two Hemispheres

North & South: A Tale of Two Hemispheres, Sandra Morris, Walker Books, 2021

This week I am reviewing three New Zealand picture books that have caught my attention. On Tuesday Melinda Szymanik and Malene Laugesen’s beautiful Moon & Sun with its friendship wisdom, and on Wednesday Elena de Roo and Jenny Cooper’s sublime long poem Rush! Rush!, an exhibition of word joy and picture exuberance.

Today Sandra Morris‘s North & South: A Tale of Two Hemispheres. This magnificent book was motivated by climate change, by a need to join together to do our utmost to save our precious planet. Sandra has used her strengths (writing and illustrating) to draw us close to Earth. I love this book so much. I love the care both author and publisher have put into the book; it makes the subject matter doubly precious.

The book is divided into the months of the year. A double page for each month with the northern hemisphere on one side and the southern hemisphere on the other. Each hemisphere features particular animals and both animals are linked by a theme. This carefully planned focus is genius. We slow down and we look at an animal in detail. The connecting themes range from ‘Cunning Camouflage’ to ‘Mothers and Babies’, ‘Feisty Feathers’, ‘Showing Off’, ‘Building a Home’ ‘Armoured Animals’ (there are twelve!).

We explore the way animals manage the different seasons and climates.

In the deserts of Western Australia, some

honeypot ants have a special role as food larders.

During the flowering season they gorge on nectar

so their bellies swell up like balloons.

Sandra also includes the conservation status of the selected animals and the threats they face. There is a glossary and an index at the back.

The illustrations are simply divine. You feel like you are with the animal, you are discovering the animal, and you are most certainly absorbing its preciousness.

The writing is equally sublime. Factual books can rely on matter-of-fact writing and be very good indeed, but Sandra’s sentences bring the subject matter to life so beautifully. The sentences flow like honey – she dips into the poetry pot and uses alliteration and words that sound good in your ear. She keeps things simple but she makes words sing and thus makes the animals so alive.

With his beautiful

bright-blue feet, the

blue-footed booby

steps, struts, stomps

and, pointing his bill

skywards, makes high-

pitched whistles.

I learnt a lot as I lingered over animals I knew very little about along with those I did. Such fascinating facts. Such fascinating connections. Sandra spent a lot of time researching before she started writing and it shows. She had to ditch some animals after sadly discovering they were now extinct. Her chosen animals are very much alive but in many cases very much under threat.

The green tree python mother guards her eggs,

keeping them warm by coiling her body around

them in her nest in a hollow tree. January marks

the end of the mating season.

 

More than any book I have read in ages, North & South makes me feel the precious of both wildlife and the planet as an interconnected whole. When I read the list of things at the back of the book I can do to help stop climate change, I know I want to do better.

This beautiful, lovingly-produced, wisely-structured, astutely-researched, goose-bumpingly illustrated and word-nectared book is an utter JOY TO EXPERIENCE.

A sumptuous book we should gift every child this year, put on every school bookshelf, on every family kitchen table and then take time to read for ourselves with an excited swarm of children.

Sandra Morris is an author and illustrator from New Zealand. She gained her Masters in Fine Arts in 1990 where she completed her first picture book, One Lonely Kakapo, which won her the Russell Clark award for illustration in 1992. She has since written and illustrated Discovering New Zealand Birds, which was a finalist in both the Aim Children’s Book Awards and the Non Fiction Library awards. Sandra also holds a Graduate Diploma in Plant and Wildlife Illustration from the University of Newcastle, Australia. It was while she was in Australia that she developed a love for field sketching and this work has been exhibited in museums and galleries. Sandra also runs her own illustration agency promoting New Zealand illustrators overseas. Sensational Survivors was her first book with Walker Books. It was a finalist in both the Non-Fiction category of the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, 2011; and the Elsie Locke (Non Fiction) Award, LIANZA Children’s Book Awards, 2011; and also named as a Notable Young Adult Fiction, Storylines Notable Books List, 2011.

Walker Books page

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