I do love a book full of holes.
Tights with holes? No thank you.
A bike tyre with a hole? What a pain.
But a book with holes? Yes PLEASE!
There are some all-time classic books with holes in them: Carle’s Very Hungry Caterpillar and the Ahlbergs’ Peepo. More recently there’s the exuberant Peck, Peck, Peck by Lucy Cousins, which I adore. But a new contender to join the ranks of honourably holey hits is It’s an Orange Aardvark! by Michael Hall.
The tale of a small colony of carpenter ants chewing holes in a tree stump, this book covers everything from learning about colours and similes to group dynamics and animal biology. It’s a wonderfully enjoyable read which explores both curiosity and fear. It really packs a great deal within its covers at the same time as being a visual and tactile treat.
A band of formic brothers are creating holes in their stump to look out on the world outside their home. One is enthusiastic to see what lies beyond their threshold. Another is terribly worried about the dangers that lurk beyond their known and safe world. As they make each window their stump is flooded with colour. What could be the cause of this? Is it something to embrace and delight in or could it be a threat?
The naysayer is convinced there is an existential threat to them all in the form of an aardvark waiting to gobble them up. As each different colour floods the stump, this poor ant must come up with increasingly outrageous explanations; could it really be a (blue) pyjama-wearing, (red) ketchup carrying, orange aardvark guiding a group of green geckos?
With a hint of Klassen-style ambiguity in the ending (what really was the source of all the colour?) this book is full of delicious tension, punctured with lots of humour as well as holes which let the colour flood from one page to the next. The bold illustrations appear to be made from collage, mixing watercolour and tissue paper. The torn edges suggesting the tree stump sides give an additional handmade, personal feel to the images, and the use of black and grey pages ensures the colours sing and pulse as they shine through.
The somewhat American language (“Sweet!”, “Neat!”) may niggle some readers elsewhere in the world but this is a small price to pay for such an inventive, enjoyable read. I do hope it will be released as a board book so that it can be fully explored with the fingers, hands and mouths not just of aardvarks but also of the youngest book devourers.
Taking the lead from the concentric rings of colour flooding through each hole as it is created in the tree stump, we used tissue paper circles of various sizes to create suncatchers which explored colour depth. You can buy ready cut shapes of tissue paper, but we used regular sheets and cut out a series of circles of various sizes using plates, bowls and mugs as our templates.
We layered our circles over a sheet of contact paper large enough to then fold back over the concentric circles to enclose them entirely in see-through plastic. An alternative would have been to use laminator sheets, if you have ones which are larger enough for your largest circle.
Once a we had a selection of coloured tissue paper/contact paper circle sandwiches we stuck them on our patio doors and let the light flood through them.
Whilst making our concentric sun catchers we listened to:
Other activities which would go well with reading It’s an Orange Aardvark! include:
What’s your favourite book with holes in it? What’s the most annoying (non book) hole you’ve ever discovered?
Disclosure: I was sent a review copy of this book by the publisher.