Inspiring Young Readers
You’re Safe With Me by Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Poonam Mistry
The first word that came to mind when I first saw this picture book was ‘sumptuous’ and so it is from start to finish. The densely coloured decorative cover shows a symmetrical image of four stylised animal faces set against richly patterned green leaves and deep red flowers all picked out with tiny coloured dots. Some other words that came to mind were ‘exotic’ and ‘sensuous’ - and all this even before opening the first page. It is obvious from the content of the story and the artistic style of the pictures that both the author and illustrator are heavily influenced by traditional folklore, Indian art and the wonders of the natural world.
The gorgeous end papers show more repeated floral and leafy patterns rather like a William Morris wallpaper design but one that is disturbed with several downward dropping raindrops - all very soothing, and on the edge of being overwhelming. The next turn of the page woke me up as it swoops to a close up detail of two creatures staring out of the foliage drawn in black and white, almost allowing the reader a deep breath before the story begins.
The first double page spread shows four baby animals looking up at the huge moon in the starry sky. We often see monkeys and tigers in picture books but the loris and the pangolin are two animals are not very commonly included, which hopefully means that children will be learning some new vocabulary and might want to find out more about them as well.
This is an effective and memorable picture book because, like all the best ones, it manages to marry together the illustrations with the words in a seamless way. For instance I love the way that the simple text on these pages is enclosed in the middle of the moon and so doesn’t interrupt the rhythm of the illustration. The story continues showing Moma Elephant rocking the animals in her trunk with the comforting refrain ‘ You’re safe with me’.
More superlative words like ‘ breathtaking’ and ‘enchanting’ were needed as I sat enjoying this book on a recent train journey and I almost missed my stop as I was so engrossed! The magic lies in the way in which the simple words combine with the exquisite illustrations to pull in the reader so that they feel as if they are actually inside the trees with the animals. Each double page spread is also completely different in structure which keeps it visually stimulating. As the story unfolds we learn about how the baby animals are very anxious about the wind in the trees, the loud thunder, the flashes of lightening and the noisy river but are repeatedly reassured by wise Moma Elephant who soothes them with simple explanations:
“Don’t mind the river” whispered Moma Elephant.
“She takes the rain back to the sea, so
the sea will never dry up.”
The final pages show her looking down lovingly at the sleeping animals as they lie contentedly curled at her side. I strongly suspect that this very unusual bedtime story will be one that becomes a firm favourite with many children and their parents, if only because it is designed to gently lull them to sleep. However, the extraordinarily vivid illustrations deserve much closer attention in the daytime and will undoubtedly inspire some imaginative storytelling and art work by children of all ages. For these reasons, it is one that should be bought, enjoyed and treasured by anyone who loves beautiful books.