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Belonging by Jeannie Baker

This is a tremendously thoughtful and well put together picture book.

It has no words at all.  Each double page spread shows the view of a neighbourhood from the window of a house.  You see the window frame and the sill and the wall beside it, but the majority of the picture is taken up by the view.

In the first picture, a ‘New Baby’ card stands on the window sill.  Each picture after that progresses the story by about two years of the child’s life until she is grown up, married and has a child of her own.

The story starts with the picture out of the window looking fairly grim and industrial. As the years go by the neighbourhood becomes friendlier and greener, until the urban landscape merges into a beautiful and quite literal urban jungle.

The story is thoughtful and clever as it shows how the girl grows into her life and nurtures the community that surrounds her.  It also suggests how we as human beings can live in harmony with the world around us, and that even cities can be green and verdant places.

This book would be a fantastic educational aid to talk about building communities and families, and also how we can nurture and enjoy our environment, no matter where we live.

The fact that it is a story that does not use words is also a really interesting way of approaching narrative, and getting the children to help create what is actually a very sophisticated and thought provoking story.

It is not a great book for sharing with large groups, as the details would get lost and the children really need to interact with the book to appreciate it fully.  It would be best shared with small groups of two or three children at a time who could work together in teams to create a story.

The long time line in the story and the themes it engages the reader in mean that this is probably suitable for children aged six and up.  It would be much more difficult to use with younger readers unless they were fairly sophisticated.  I think it would appeal more to girls, as it is a girl who is the main character in the story and it deals less with action and more with nurturing, emotions and family.  It could be used to engage boys if a) they were particularly sensitive and b) if they were interested in the environment.