June 30, 2012


by Sean Cassidy
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
32 pp.
Ages 3-5

For little ones fascinated with porcupines, Kazaak! by Canadian illustrator and author Sean Cassidy will delight them with a lovely story of learning one's strengths while teaching them more about these prickly little fellows.  In Kazaak!, they are little fellows: Russell and Spike.  Russell, slightly larger and definitely more worldly, is sharing his expertise about quills with his little friend who is unsure how to work with them.  You see, Spike's first quill-cleaning experience provides a pointed lesson to start the story.

Even while sensing Bear in the forest, Spike is full of questions and continues to take note of Russell's lessons, including how quills can be used for camouflage, for gathering food and for creating noise that deters predators. The best lesson is Russell's swinging and arcing demonstration of his quills kazaaking some ripe berries and a carrot, ready to eat. 

Unfortunately, immediately after showing Spike how he can leave his quills behind when stuck to a tree, Russell is left vulnerable to Bear who moseys along looking for his lunch.  But without his quills, Russell is unable to camouflage, make noises or kazaak Bear, except to tickle him.  Luckily Spike has paid attention to Russell's lessons, and uses his new-found knowledge and a little trickery to appease Bear and rescue his friend.  Most importantly, Spike recognizes that, "...quills are the best!"

Karate has "kiai" and tae kwon do has "kiap" but Sean Cassidy's porcupines have "kazaak" - noisy, emphatic and powerful.  And learning about one's strengths is just as powerful, whether one is a prickly porcupine or a worried child.  While Russell is willing to teach and demonstrate, it is only when Spike must rescue his vulnerable and ridiculed pal that the sweet evidence of that learning is demonstrated.  While rural myths may play up the idea of porcupines throwing their quills, which they cannot do, Kazaak! correctly shows Russell and Spike only detaching their quills when brushing up against trees, or berries, or perceived enemies.  

With deft hand, Sean Cassidy has created soft cushions of quills, still purposeful but honest, in captivating outdoor settings of green fields along forests of wildflowers, rocks and deciduous trees.  Russell and Spike's charming forms, particularly their tubby bellies, in the rich acrylics of Sean Cassidy's detailed drawings, will delight young children into learning.  And with summer here now and lots of children involved in outdoor activities while camping, at the cottage or at parks, Kazaak! is a perfect picture book to start off your child's summer reading.

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In addition to Kazaak!, Fitzhenry & Whiteside's  Tell-Me-More Storybook series also includes Bye, Bye Butterflies! (Andrew Larsen and Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli, 2012) and Tooter's Stinky Wish (Brian Cretney and Peggy Collins, 2011).

1 comment:

  1. This looks super cute! Prickly animals + martial arts means it will be a sure winner with boys!