Children's book review: Hong Kong writer Jupy James' Hazel Brown - A Very Special Vet
Locally written picture book lets children practise names of animals
While a number of Hong Kong picture book writers and illustrators tend to feature local themes in their creations, Jupy James (the pen name of artist and educator Chu Lai-ping) chose a neutral setting and theme for Hazel Brown - A Very Special Vet.
The story is set in a town that could be anywhere, so much so that my three-year-old daughter, who is very concerned about location, asked me where exactly the town was. The non-specific nature of the setting and characters has the advantage of allowing the book to travel beyond Hong Kong and appeal to children everywhere.
The book was inspired by James' daughter Hazel, who was born in 1995 and is passionate about animals and fascinated by the role of the veterinarian.
The narrative revolves around the practice of Hazel's father, a veterinarian "who helps sick animals to feel better". Hazel wants to be a vet, too, and in a move typical of children's stories, she wanders into a secret garden where her dreams come true and she is able to put to good use the things she learnt watching her dad, while adding her own innovative touches.
James' artistic talent and the simple yet amusing storyline make the book a good read for children. In addition to colourful full-page illustrations, the book features smaller drawings on every page, which worked well for my children as there is more than one thing going on per page. What makes the illustrations appealing is the quizzical expression on the faces of the human characters, mirrored in the animals.
Parents can take the opportunity to practise the names of animals and point out their significant characteristics to their children. My children, for example, were particularly taken by the chameleon that has a cameo in the story.
The problems of the animals and Hazel's inventive solutions provide humour and an element to the story that even adults would enjoy.
Verdict: preschoolers like to imitate adults and role play, so the storyline will strike a chord. The language is simple and the number of words per page ideal for children in the three- to five-year-old age bracket.
The author notes that more entries in the Hazel Brown series will be coming up, and we look forward to accompanying her on more adventures.