For anyone who’s ever wondered what a cross between Aesop’s Fables and Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar would look like, then Renée James’s picture book PATROOSH, THE CHEEKY PELICAN may come pretty close to the outcome. This picture book follows the tradition of anthropomorphism in children’s fiction and introduces Patroosh, a pelican who is native to the coastline of New South Wales, where he is known for his relentless appetite for more – he is never satisfied! But there is a moral to the story: enter Seamus, a small seagull with a kindliness that counteracts Patroosh’s greed. One day, just as this gluttonous bird is about to help himself to the lion’s share of the seaside fare, he is stopped in his tracks – his legs become trapped and he cannot move. It is Seamus who frees Patroosh, illustrating a kindness and selflessness that is new to the pelican. Patroosh then makes a shocking gesture, snatching a fish from the hands of a human! Just as the reader begins to think that Patroosh has learned nothing at all, he delivers the fish to Seamus as a reward for his altruism. From this day forward, Patroosh is a changed bird and vows to share all that he has. The big bird has realized that generosity breeds generosity, and all’s well that ends well.
PATROOSH, THE CHEEKY PELICAN is an entertaining read for younger children and is beautifully illustrated by Edward Box. The book is certainly accessible, with short chunks of straightforward prose surrounded by plenty of free space and accompanied by colorful pictures that are illustrative of the story. The choice of the pelican as a protagonist is a judicious one, its long beak and large throat making it the perfect predatory character. Using animals as characters to teach a life lesson is an established literary trope in children’s fiction – because it works. The method is tried and tested; it enables parents and teachers to broach difficult subjects by sugar-coating them and creating distance. In this way the fish-guzzling Patroosh represents the dangers of greed far more sensitively than a human protagonist ever could. Even the euphemistic ‘cheeky’ softens the harsh truth. Aside from its positive message, this book contains all the ingredients expected of a traditional children’s narrative: the language is simple, straightforward, and not too dense; it is filled with onomatopoeic words (making it well-suited to reading aloud), and it contains internal rhyme. The rhyme helps make the narrative memorable and rhythmic, but doesn’t quite scan – aurally, it jars a little. This is a minor criticism, though – PATROOSH is unlikely to disappoint its young readers or their parents. It has all the hallmarks of the potential for serialization. What next for this cheeky pelican? Perhaps he has lessons to learn about the other six deadly sins …
PATROOSH, THE CHEEKY PELICAN is an illustrated children’s story that hits all the marks: appealing and memorable central characters, high entertainment value, and its function as a powerful educational tool.
~Amanda Ellison for IndieReader