by Rebecca Bender
Rebecca Bender's first book with Giraffe and Bird (Dancing Cat Books, 2010) just won the Ontario Library Association's Blue Spruce Award and it's easy to see why it was the choice of young readers between ages 4 and 7. It's a story of the ups and downs of friendship which young readers experience on a daily basis. If schoolyards had walls (as some undoubtedly and sadly do) and the walls had ears, they would hear the refrains of, "He doesn't want to be my friend anymore", "Want to be my friend?", "You're not my friend" and "Are we still friends?" Friendships are often dynamic, sometimes ephemeral and may be inclusive or exclusive. But Giraffe and Bird's friendship, while occasionally acrimonious (see Giraffe and Bird, 2010 for details), is founded on loyalty and support.
In Don't Laugh at Giraffe, a visit to the watering hole on a hot day has Bird and eventually all the animals heeyawing, guffawing, howling and cackling as Giraffe attempts to drink from the shallow pond water. Nervous and knees a-trembling, Giraffe ungracefully falls into the water. Only Bird notices when an embarrassed Giraffe slinks away. Luckily, the ally in Bird finds the means to help Giraffe return and to have some fun.
Rebecca Bender's experiences in design and publishing (now as art director/designer at Pajama Press) have served her well, helping her create the touchable, plush animals that are Bird and Giraffe. Bold acrylics fill the pages (try and find large sections of white anywhere) bringing the richness of the settings to act as companions for the distinct characters on which she focuses. But Rebecca Bender goes beyond just drawing animals in bold colours: she creates personalities with expressive visages (hard to do on a small bird) and morphologies, with lessons to teach and learn. Recognizing that we're all a little bit Giraffe and a little Bird makes them even more endearing.