‘Surprisingly re-readable.’by Daniel Brown.
PeliCAN’T Do It is an engaging picture book for 4-7 year olds that explores individuality, sibling rivalry, and a growth approach to strengths and skills. Penned by Cate Sawyer, an experienced children’s book author, with the unique illustrations of Kyle Tweed to make the story of PeliCAN and PeliCAN’T the pelicans surprisingly re-readable.
As an adult reading PeliCAN’T Do It, I found myself taken back to a childhood of friendly fauna faces and simple stories. I remember classics like Possum Magic and Edward the Emu from school, but it was the simple art style of Grug that impressed on me the most. He wasn’t much, just a clump of leaves off a burrawang tree that I mistook for something more like a grass tree (common where I lived), and a few concessions to form that made him more functionally human shaped. But it was the eyes that did it. On a character with little potential for expression, I read depths into the eyes of a burrawang tree, or a snake, or any of the other strange characters that they interacted with.
“It was the eyes that did it”
And that was the first thing I noticed about PeliCAN and PeliCAN’T, twins with very different perspectives. The book presents them as differently fortuned and draws attention to it early on as a way of telling them apart, but the detailing around the eyes was always the first clue for me. Of course, kids will love the road-runner style humour and rich, bright colours, but it’s the emotional journey told through those expressive eyes that gives the story its value. Personally, I was a shy child (to the point of making little eye contact), but as an adult my own strengths and skills revolve largely around dealing with people and trying to understand their emotional journeys. I’ll never know the full impact my childhood reading had on me becoming that person but, like PeliCAN’T, it isn’t something I started out with, but learnt along the way.
“Never know the full impact”
The second thing I noticed about PeliCAN and PeliCAN’T was the relatable everyday-ness of their actions that sat somewhere between those of a pelican and those of a child. While some stories feel like their characters are simply humans with animal faces, these two remind me of both pelicans standing in rows along the jetty and children playing hopscotch in the street at the same time. The combination takes me back to family holidays in sleepy fishing towns where fish & chip shops sit alongside antique stores on the beachfront. It’s not made clear exactly where the story is set, but with pelicans, hills hoists, and an octopus scattered throughout the pages, there are enough cues for children to connect it with any pleasant road-tripping experience.
“Takes me back to family holidays in sleepy fishing towns”
The third thing I noticed was the small details easily glanced over on a first read through. Not just the ones it asks you to go back and check on towards the end (all the more significant by that point), or the fun little activity on the last page, it’s also things like the slight webbing on a surprisingly well scaled octopus tentacle. And I can’t help but think that the more accurately we show children animals as animals the more likely they are to appreciate the real thing when they see it. But also, there’s a re-readability introduced with such details. I know that any children’s book is going to be read time and time again, but PeliCAN’T Do It holds layers that can be investigated one by one to bring some variation into the mix.
“Fun little activity on the last page”
Perfect for anyone who has young children at home with their own unique talents, or knows someone who does! I recommend PeliCAN’T Do It among other Australian classics to foster a healthy appreciation of our native wildlife, a gift they can keep with them as long as there are pelicans in the skies!
Pelican’t Do It is available here.
Daniel Brown is a strange combination of aspiring editor and community worker, which means he uses language like ‘walking beside the text’ and always tries to see the strengths in a work. Turns out this makes for addictive critiques, so he decided to veer out into reviewing.