Pass it on with Telephone

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Hey, this book is tops, pass it on…

Based on the premise of the childhood game ‘telephone’, Mac Barnett’s latest picture book, Telephone, is a simple but very funny example of what can happen when a message gets lost in translation.

Mother Bird gives another bird a message for little Peter – “Tell Peter: Fly home for dinner” But passing messages on isn’t as simple as it sounds and each subsequent bird understands Mother Bird’s message according to its own very particular interests. The call for dinner turns into a message about lobsters, rock stars, monster trucks and wets socks. What?!

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The text is delightfully silly, and the illustrations by Jen Corace are a perfect match – there’s subtle humour in having an ostrich, a turkey, a toucan and an owl all sitting on the same telephone wire. Each bird is portrayed in a way that suggests their particular interests (which in turn matches the spin they put on the message). For example, there’s a goose wearing aviator goggles who says to the ostrich sitting next to him on the telephone line “Tell Peter: Prop planes are for fliers” and likewise, the ostrich, dressed as a maid and perched precariously on the line while hanging out laundry, says “Tell Peter: Put your wet socks in the dryer.”

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At its simplest, this book is a funny example of how misunderstandings happen, however, older readers will appreciate the more subtle message that a person’s own interests can influence their interpretation of the world around them.

Telephone is suitable for children aged three years and over. Find it at Book Depository, which delivers free to Australia. For more from Mac Barnett, see our previous review of his superb modern fable, Extra Yarn.

Katrina Whelen

Katrina studied planning and design, did the hard yards working in a big office building and then traded it all in for a relaxing (!) life at home with four children. She now fills her time with writing, completing a degree in genetics and taxiing her children around Melbourne to their various sporting commitments (not necessarily in that order).

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