Picture Book Snob
Look closely enough and what you see might surprise you
Betty Binoculars by Suzie Laverty and Emily Hamilton
"Everyone thinks that Betty is peculiar for always carrying binoculars. She thinks that they are peculiar for not seeing the world as she does."
Betty takes her binoculars with her everywhere she goes, and everywhere that Betty goes, something extraordinary happens, although no one else notices. Are Betty's binoculars enchanted, or is there magic all around us that we might see if we just looked a little closer?
Betty Binoculars is a beautiful book with stunning illustrations that celebrates the complex and vibrant interior worlds conjured by a child's imagination.
Betty's binoculars can transform the dullest of scenes into something spectacular. Through them, we see a dinosaur skeleton come to life, mermaids frolicking in an indoor pool and a zoo full of party animals. A cat-burglar strikes at the premises of a fishmonger who bears a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. Pirates land on a beach and marshmallows flee a campfire.
Most of the other characters in the book are preoccupied or distracted. They rarely look in the same direction as Betty's gaze. The story suggests that we are all missing out on everyday magic because we're not paying enough attention to the world around us.
Every illustration is incredibly dynamic, detailed and colourful. Although the text is quite short and simple, you could spend hours looking at everything happening on each page. My kids particularly enjoy the scene with the mermaids and pretend they are racing.
This is a great book for opening a dialogue and it would be a brilliant story for use in a classroom. There's lots to discuss and so many opportunities to encourage children to examine their surroundings and be creative about what they observe.
The bright and intricate illustrations will appeal to young children who also enjoy repetition (which is important for early brain development). The phrases "nobody even glimpsed, spotted, gazed at or saw" and "but Betty saw it all" appear throughout the text. In addition to this, there are lots of sound words and alliteration which children love too. This has diversity in the ethnicities represented and we also see children in wheelchairs.
Betty Binoculars reminds me a little of Pollyanna and Mary Poppins, books and films I enjoyed as a child. Just like the characters Pollyanna and Mary Poppins, Betty is a transformative force within her universe. In the story, everything is grey, including all the other people, except for Betty and what she witnesses. But the final page is entirely in colour, demonstrating the effect that Betty has on those around her. As in Pollyanna and Mary Poppins, Betty helps everyone to appreciate the beauty and charm of their surroundings.
I discovered Betty Binoculars just by chance on Instagram, and I'm so glad I did. We have The World Made a Rainbow by Michelle Robinson, which was also illustrated by Emily Hamilton (reviewed here). I was quite taken with Emily's artwork and my search for more of her books led me to her Instagram page featuring images from this book. Intrigued, I was delighted to get hold of a signed copy directly from Dudley Doodle Books, a brand new independent publishing company.
When placing my order, there was the option of including my children's names. When the book arrived, there was a personalised inscription from the author and illustrator inside the cover. It's lovely to have this in a book and makes it even more cherished.
Betty Binoculars is the first book by Suzie Laverty who also established Dudley Doodle Books. In a remarkable coincidence, Suzie and Emily discovered they lived on the same street in Devon after they had agreed to collaborate. They were working on the book for two years and had an elaborate launch planned only to have it cancelled by Covid-19. Suzie and Emily had a successful virtual launch instead, encouraging children to be creative and attend with their own binoculars made from toilet rolls. There are lots of resources and activities for children based on this story available to download from Dudley Doodle Books.
Delightfully quaint and charming, Betty Binoculars is a fantastic debut and a lively and colourful addition to our bookshelf. Emily Hamilton has become one of my favourite illustrators and I'm really looking forward to seeing what Suzie Laverty and Dudley Doodle Books do next.
Title: Betty Binoculars
Author: Suzie Laverty
Illustrator: Emily Hamilton
Publication Date: 27th April 2020
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