Review by RJ McDaniel
Groundwood Books, May 2018
32 pages, Hardcover, $18.95 CAD, 9781554989126
Ages 5-8, Grades K-4
Advanced vocabulary is often presented in such a way to children that it seems to be a chore. In A Storytelling of Ravens, author Kyle Lukoff and illustrator Natalie Nelson welcome readers into the world of unexpected, well-chosen words through fanciful narration and charming mixed-media collages.
Each spread in A Storytelling of Ravens illustrates a different collective noun for a group of animals: a “trip of sheep,” a “shrewdness of apes.” Lukoff plays on the particulars of each noun in his text to delightful effect, building whole narratives in single sentences. Nelson’s collages are no less rich in detail and story, with each viewing offering more for the reader to see.
“The smack of jellyfish,” reads one spread, “had never seen a glass-bottomed boat before” — and there they are, googly-eyed and chalky-tailed, as colorful, simple figures with photorealistic cut-out hands peer down at them. The emphasis on the hands in the collage evokes the tactile sensations of a “smack,” while the figurative depiction of jellyfish as bright orbs with big eyes plays on the humor of the text.
Having collective nouns as the focus of the book offers many opportunities for textual and visual humor — opportunities of which Lukoff and Nelson make fantastic use. A standout is the titular “storytelling of ravens,” who find themselves waiting for a long-winded compatriot to finish recounting the story of the great storm of ‘78 for the sixteenth time. Each member of the storytelling is given their own personality by Nelson through variations in shape, size, hair color, and expression; Franklin, the storyteller, declaims on the opposite page, his eyes closed and his green wing outstretched. Readers will find plenty in these dynamic scenes to expand upon in their own imaginations, making each small story in the book a possible starting point for so many more.
Many of the words used in A Storytelling of Ravens will be entirely unfamiliar to readers. Even words that might be familiar find themselves placed in unexpected contexts. But instead of assuming vocabulary to be a deterrent, Lukoff and Nelson invite young readers into the pleasures and delights of learning and wordplay. With depth and whimsy enough to furnish many rereadings, A Storytelling of Ravens seems sure to inspire many future exaltations, shrewdnesses, and storytellers to seek out and create new worlds of their own.
RJ is an MFA student at UBC and an editor at Young Adulting. They have worked as a writer and editor since 2017, and they are currently at work on their debut novel. A recovering sports journalist, they still watch more baseball than any well-adjusted person should. Other passions include bird-spotting, cat-bothering, knitting, and Succession.