Reviewed by Stephnie Burton
Library Life October 2016, Issue 450
When I first started in the library sector I assumed that my colleagues would be the stereotype with tight buns, a love of shhhhing and a little boring. But as I got to know them it turned out they were anything but. They were amazing in a work context but outside of that they also had extraordinary lives. I have worked with a roller derby super star, a singer in a heavy metal band, and a steam punk enthusiast. And that list is still growing as I currently work with a children’s illustrator, Sarah Harmon.
Sarah has worked with writer Gay Hay to create the picture book, Will there be puffins? it tells the story of 6-year-old Angela’s travels to Shetland where she explores both the lands and her ancestry. She only knows about the Scottish Archipelago from her grandmother Ruby’s memories. These are placed in italics while Angela’s are left in plain text as she makes her own memories and connects what she sees with her grandmother. The puffins are also a great device as they too start out in Shetland but as they grow, they leave and have their own adventures before eventually returning home. This is a terrific analogy for immigrants and families of immigrants because even though they leave their home countries they still feel a deep connection to it. There is also a treat at the end of the book as it gives more details about both Shetland and puffins for the interested reader. These especially show the dedication both Gay and Sarah have for the subject material.
The illustrations are beautiful, rich with detail and work well to tell the story of Angela’s Shetland holiday. Every page is a visual feast for the reader and each reading will bring more to discover. I was particularly taken with the last few pages which work really well at conveying the families wonder at finally seeing the puffins. These were the richest and most vibrant, really embracing bright colours as well as the blacks of the birds. I would recommend this book for children aged 6+ due to its complex theme and the level of detail inherent in the illustration. I believe this would be distracting and overwhelming for younger children. As this is an intimate story and in parts about the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, I think it would be really special to be read as such. It would be a terrific start to a conversation about one’s own ancestry and family history.