Newest Review: ... the text and the illustrations. For example, when visiting Uncle Bob the text says that Sunny "Just doesn't fit in" while the ill... more
Stay safe, stay together!
Meerkat Mail - Emily Gravett
Member Name: StampedingTurtes
Meerkat Mail - Emily Gravett
Advantages: Excellent picture book, postcards, everything!
Ok, so I'll admit it, I recently purchased Meerkat Mail under the pretence of using it on my placement to discuss people and place and animal habitats. The REAL reason, however, is my increasing love for Aleksandr Orlov of Compare the Meerkat.com fame. Simples!
The story is very simple and a great sentiment. Sunny Meerkat lives in the Kalahari Desert with his very large family. Sunny feels very hot and crowded by his large family, whose motto is "Stay safe, stay together". He is tired of doing EVERYTHING with his family and decides to head off to visit some of the Meerkat's many cousins in various parts of the world.
Sunny travels around the world visiting various animals that are related to the Meerkat. This is a wonderful way to look at the variations within a species. The story takes Sunny to visit various kinds of mongoose. During each visit he writes a postcard to "The big Meerkat Mob" at home. These postcards actually contain wonderful snippets of information about the particular species of mongoose Sunny is with at the time. I will mention more about this later.
Throughout the story we see sunny in various situations which make him miss home more with each turn of the page. The story - being a children's picture book - ends very happily with Sunny returning home and appreciating all the things he once wanted to escape.
The main character is obviously Sunny. He is a young meerkat who is fun and has a sense of humour. As we get to read his postcards home we get a little insight into his personality and this allows the book to contain some first person narrative from him. We learn of his opinions and how he feels in each situation.
The pictures in the books also show a very large family of meerkats including young children and very old grandparents. This gives us an idea of the generational range within the big meerkat mob.
We learn a little about characters such as Uncle Bob through the post cards. There is also a jackal - the mob's mortal enemy - who peeks around corners and comes in at the sides of pages but never actually interacts within the story.
Language and text
The language is very simple and easy for young children to understand. The book contains lots of humour which often needs interaction between the text and the illustrations. For example, when visiting Uncle Bob the text says that Sunny "Just doesn't fit in" while the illustration actually shows Sunny's rear end and tail sticking up from the nest while trying to escape danger!
The text itself is usually written in very short paragraphs and also with little parts trailing across the page. The book contains loads of environmental print. For example, there is a page containing a blackboard which the young meerkats are reading from. All of the information is on the blackboard. These kinds of things are always fun for kids and bring them that much closer to the story, as they are actually seeing what the characters are seeing and the text makes sense to them in that context.
I love the page which contains Sunny's goodbye note. It almost looks like a photograph of a real note. We see that his handwriting is childish and a little messy. This is great for children as they can see that although he is young like them, he is writing something useful and meaningful.
Illustrations and things
Emily Gravett actually illustrated this book too. I think it is one of the best illustrated books I have come across. The pictures manage to look a little childlike and cartoonish while also looking like beautiful watercolour paintings! There is a nice balance between real artwork and pictures that children like to look at.
The front cover is great! It looks like a package wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. I don't know about you, but I find brown paper packages mysterious and irresistible. I would actually love to have all my birthday presents wrapped in brown paper and string. There is something so charming about it.
On the inside cover we have a little note from Sunny explaining what the book is about. The following double page spread (and two similar pages at the back of the book) is fantastic. It introduces us right away to Sunny's family. It is the family photo album. I spent ages with a class, pouring over all of the photos and having a laugh discussing all of the different characters and what their personalities might be. These pages offer excellent opportunity for discussion for younger children and excellent creative writing opportunities for older children.
These pages also contain a newspaper clipping which readable and contains a news report about the Meerkat Mob and an advert. This provided much discussion on news reports and the press!
This is one of those great picture books which contains lots of interaction between the text and the illustrations. The illustrations themselves also let us see different elements within the story and at times, tell a story of their own. An example of this is when Sunny is staying with Great Aunt Flo on the Marsh. The text doesn't mention anything about the Jackal but he takes up about half a page, looking on at the scene with a torch held in his mouth! This is wonderful as it gives lots for the children to discover and to discuss.
Quite often, the illustrations show the actual habitat of the mongoose, and also contain images of the meerkats using everyday objects - babies wearing bibs for example. The mix of reality and fiction creates a nice atmosphere in the pictures. It is clear that the story has many fact based items, but it is also clear that it is a work of fiction. This again, can provide good points for discussion.
One of my absolute favourite illustrations is a double page of blackness representing the Malagasy Mongoose's nocturnal habitat. They are shown on the post card on the left page as a dancing pair. The page on the right is black, but we see shadows in the background whirling and dancing and we get the impression that the Malagasy Mongoose is a real party animal! Sunny is in colour, slumped, in the foreground looking very glum and holding a balloon with a party hat! It really makes me giggle because I've felt exactly like he feels!
This was going to be within text or illustration... but really, they're so brilliant that they deserve a section of their own!
Each postcard is hand written my Sunny. The story really comes from three different points of view. There is the point of view of the narrator, the illustrations, and Sunny himself who writes the postcards.
Each post card contains information either on the front or the back, about the particular kind of mongoose Sunny is staying with at the moment. The post cards do look like the kind you would pick up were you visiting that particular area and had an interest in wildlife! The postcards also contain Sunny's written address. The address changes slightly from post card to post card and usually contains some humour linked to what Sunny doesn't like about his current place of residence. There is also a stamp and a postage stamp on each card. The written section by Sunny usually contains more information that the main text has given us.
The Postcards give lots of opportunity for interaction as the children can lift them and read the back. It gives the impression of having more involvement in the story - they are holding something that Sunny has written. Reading the postcards you begin to feel like you are part of the big meerkat mob!
This is one of my favourite picture books. The pages are thick and of a very high quality matt finish which is excellent when a class full of children are handling it and looking at the postcards. The illustrations are actually quite beautiful. They seem to capture the very essence of what a meerkat looks like, yet still manage to look appealing to children. The expressions on their faces alone are enough to make me laugh!
The story is so simple but has a wonderful message. It lets children see that it is ok to explore other things and that although sometimes the grass is not greener on the other side, it is ok to go and find that out for yourself. It also promotes the idea that home should be a place of warmth and safety. The large family that Sunny has may help children to understand the importance of relatives out with the family unit. Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents and Cousins are all in this book and each has an important place in Sunny's life. I think sometimes children do need reminded of the importance of their relatives.
This book is excellent for teach a class many things. I used it for creative writing and for looking at different forms of correspondence. But it could also be used to explore geography, animal habitats, the postal system; the importance of family... the list could go on and on!
The book is also a great one to have at home as many new things are discovered with each reading. I think that is the real beauty of this book. At first it seems like a simple children's book, but there are just so many things to discover. Little detail in the illustrations pop out with each reading!
Author: Emily Gravett
Price: £5.99 (and worth every penny!)
Summary: Wonderful and humerous picture book!
- Under the Sea - Jessica Greenwell
- Out of Sight, Out of Time - Ally Carter
- Starting School Sticker Book: Over 100 stickers - Felicity Brooks
- Building Site - Felicity Brooks
- Wintercraft - Jenna Burtenshaw
- UsborneTouchy Feely Books: That's Not My Baby - Fiona Watt
- Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume
- Withering Tights - Louise Rennison