Friday, 1 June 2012

The Aminal by Lorna & Lecia Balian

Originally published in 1972, The Aminal is a much loved title from my childhood. I think the copy in our house actually belonged to my older sisters but I remember it distinctively because of the funny title.  Oddly, the twist at the end (we'll come that later) is not the part that stuck with me.  It was the build up that I can recall most and I think that's really the key to this book.

Patrick is having a picnic alone in a field when he befriends a creature to keep him company.  There are no illustrations of his friend so we can only guess what Patrick has found.  He calls it an 'Aminal' and decides to take it home in his lunch sack.  On his way home Patrick runs into his friend Molly and tells her that he's caught an Aminal. It's 'round and green and blinky-eyed with lots of pricky toenails' he tells her. And so begins the rumor mill that makes up the crux of this story.

Molly then runs into another friend, who in turn runs into another friend and another until the story of Patrick's Animal has been retold several times over. Each child has their own idea of what the creature looks like and the Aminal grows bigger and scarier with each page. By the time the rumor has made its rounds the unidentified creature is thought to be over 100 feet long with green fur and snakes on its tail!

Patrick's friends convince themselves that he's in real danger as clearly a little boy shouldn't be left on his own with a giant, hungry, green monster. They run to rescue him and at first the Aminal is nowhere to be seen. The collective panic rises as the children wonder where it's escaped to.  Patrick, however, remains calm and crawls under his porch to find the Aminal and show it to everyone else.  I won't spoil the end completely but it turns out he's brought something home that indeed is green with pricky toenails...only it's not scary at all.

The target reading age for this title is indicated as 4 years and older.  E was happy to flip through the pages with me and enjoyed looking at all the different pictures, but the story is too long for this 2 year old's attention span.  I found a great suggested reading exercise online to accompany this story: describe an unnamed object or an event with a limited amount of detail and ask each child to draw their impression of it.  It will prompt them to listen and use their imaginations whilst also learning about differences.

One note, if you can find a copy of the original edition then it's well worth the money.  The illustrations in the re-issue (2005) have been colored in and it looks and feels less mysterious than the original.

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