Chameleon, calm down! A picture book from Brazil

posted in: Laurent Cardon | 20

Photo: Sergiu Bacioiu
Photo: Sergiu Bacioiu

calmaGisele at Kids Indoors is a passionate sharer of children’s books. She happens to be based in Brazil, but thanks to blogging, our paths have crossed, and recently we swapped a few wordless picture books with each other. She sent me some real gems, but our absolute favourite has to be Calma, Camaleão! [Chameleon, calm down!] by Laurent Cardon.

As we turn the pages of this gorgeous book, we share in the delights of a young chameleon as he discovers he can change his colour depending on his background. He plays joyously with this ability (as any baby does when they discover a new activity they can master), and one day discovers, quite by chance, that not only can he change colour, he can also change form.

He bumps into a chicken and suddenly has a chicken’s comb. Whilst chasing after the chicken he then barges into a flamingo, and Boof! The chameleon has a flamingo’s beak as well as a chicken’s comb. This game continues with other animals until suddenly the party’s over and poor little chameleon is tired, confused and weepy. Along comes his mother, who reassures and calms her child down. The chameleon’s upside down world returns to normal, though his newly established, exuberant friendships with all the animals he met along the way remains.


Chameleons are one of those animals which pop up in children’s books rather a lot. There’s Eric Carle’s Mixed-Up Chameleon, Emily Gravett’s Blue Chameleon, to say nothing of Mwenye Hadithi’s Crafty Chameleon amongst others. So why would I recommend you look out for this book?

The illustrations are amazing; full of humour, energy and a sumptuousness that I can’t resist. Cardon’s acute observations of body language and facial expressions lift the images right off the pages. The sheer excitement the chameleon experiences when he discovers his special abilities is infectious and Cardon’s use of colour on white pages adds to the dynamism his story exudes. Carle and Gravett are indeed illustrious illustrators, but this little Brazilian chameleon turns out to be my very favourite, one I’m sure you’d adore too.

Here’s a trailer for the book, which will give you a good impression of the narrative and Cardon’s illustrations. (Just as the book is wordless, this animation has no soundtrack).

As I said, Calma, Camaleão! by Laurent Cardon is entirely wordless so anyone anywhere can enjoy it, although it may be difficult to find via your normal book sources. Wolf, Wanted by Ana Maria Machado is also illustrated by Laurent Cardon, and this has been translated into English and is published by Groundwood Books so is rather easier to track down. I’ll certainly be on the look out for it, given how much I enjoyed Cardon’s Camaleão.

Having laughed so much whilst reading the book, M and J immediately announced they wanted a chameleon as a pet. Well, I couldn’t facilitate that, but I did promise I would get them some colour changing chameleons to play with… and here’s how we did it.

First we got a red cabbage and chopped it finely in our food processor, along with a small amount of water (about 150ml).


We then strained the cabbage mush through a muslin to extract all the purple liquid created.



I poured the purple liquid into a baking tray and we soaked sheets of blotting paper (you could use coffee filters instead) in the liquid and then left the now-purple pieces of paper to dry on the laundry rack over night. Once dry I cut out chameleon shapes and set up a colour changing station for the girls.

In a weekly pill box (you could use an ice cube tray instead) I lined up small samples of various (nearly) colourless liquids, including vinegar, lemon juice, water with baking powder dissolved in it, a sugar solution, a salt solution, water with washing soda dissolved in it and lemonade.

The girls painted with this liquids on the chameleons and saw how the different liquids changed the chameleons’ colours in different ways. Some colourless liquids made the chameleons turn blue or green, others made them turn various shades of pink.



What we’d done here is create our own litmus paper, and by painting the chameleons we were investigating the effect of different acids and bases, combining art and science in one easy and very satisfying little project!

Whilst our chameleons changed colour we listened to:

  • Karma Chameleon by Culture Club (an absolute favourite of mine when I was young!)
  • Why Chameleon Changes Colour! from Tinga Tinga Tales (lovely thumb piano on this one)
  • Million Chameleon March by Ellis Paul (a political kids’ song, which you can listen to for free on MySpace)

  • Other activities which would go well with Calma, Camaleão! include:

  • Experiencing something of what it feels like to be a chameleon with this great activity using party tooters. Do watch the video!
  • Using tracing paper to create a chameleon which can magically change colours just like Helping Little Hands did when they read another good chameleon picture book, A Color of His Own by Leo Lionni
  • Making a chameleon out of pipecleaners, using this tutorial form Lines Across.

  • And finally, the delight that’s come from swapping books with Gisele has encouraged me to commit to running another Perfect Picture Books by Post swap later this year. I’ll be announcing details in April so mark your diaries if your interested in swapping great picture books with other people around the world who, just like you, are passionate about fabulous children’s books.

    20 Responses

      • Zoe

        Thanks Rhythm and Stacey – I do really like these illustrations – they feel very alive to me. And the litmus paper worked so well – like magic!

    1. Zoe

      He he, Polly, this is a great book, and really fun activity, but not sure having a baby is the right way to celebrate 😉

    2. ReadItDaddy

      Fantastic post and love the activity around it too! We did a small piece on wordless books this week and how great they can be if you lack the confidence to read aloud to your children and like to let them ‘lead’ the story. This looks like a perfect addition to that list!

      Brazilian children’s books are amazing though, there’s a whole metric ton of talent down there and brazilian children’s illustrators are really wowing the world right now.
      ReadItDaddy recently posted..ReadItDaddy’s Book of the Week, week ending Friday 18th January – Our Big Blue Sofa by Tim Hopgood (Macmillan Children’s Books)

    3. Elli

      By amazing coincidence we were reading a chameleon book last night, and one that no-one has mentioned: ‘Chameleons are Cool’ by Martin Jenkins, in Walker’s fantastic ‘Read and Discover’ non-fiction series. It’s well written with some great illustrations, and nicely dispels the myth that chameleons change colour to fit in with their background.
      Elli recently posted..Pillow Fight

    4. Zoe

      Elli, Martin Jenkins is a non fiction illustrator par excellence I think – I don’t know his chameleon book, I shall have to look out for it.

    5. choxbox

      Wow. Amazed at your creativity every time Zoe!

      And we have one from Tulika called Colour Colour Kamini – Kamini is a quirky chameleon (and also the name of our piano teacher!) – you would love the book, I just know 🙂

    6. gisele barcellos

      Loved the post!! I stayed a few days without internet, had a little problem, so only today I saw this post.
      This book is great, my kids love it, too. So happy that you guys had so much fun with it.
      Count me in the swap, in April!
      I´ll try to find other Cardon’s wordless books to send you!

      And anxious to see the books you have sent us!:)
      gisele barcellos recently posted..TEMA DE FÉRIAS

    7. laurent cardon

      hello , I’m Laurent Cardon the author of this book .Gisele just sent to me your link, and i am very pleased to discover this incredible e most creative way to work with children on my book ..ehehe. And thank you very much to use all these words to talk about my wordless story.
      this book is the first one from a collection about how animals learn about their vital functions( the other books are from BIRUTA publisher, in Brasil : spider ,tadpole,firefly). i can send you pdf’s if you want to have a look,or seeing some drawings on my website.
      wordless books are my best pleasure, i did some more , like (FLOP, a historia de um peixinho japones na china). you have now my email adress to contact me ,if you want. and thanks again for all you did. nice to talk to you.

    8. Sarah

      Hi Laurent,

      I am a teacher and live in England and would love to use this book. Is it available to buy from anywhere?

      Thank you for sharing this,


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