Augustus and his Smile is a beautiful picture book by the classic children’s author, Catherine Rayner.
I love Rayner’s work as an artist and for me, her picture books hold up almost entirely on the strength of the pictures rather than from any originality in terms of story. In fact, if you showed me the stories without the pictures, or illustrated by someone less talented I would probably dismiss them out of hand.
That’s not to say that Rayner cannot write a story. She can. But her stories are hallmarked by simplicity. There are few words, and they rely heavily on the pictures that accompany them to bring those words to life.
There is a certain amount of poetry to the sparseness of the stories, but that wouldn’t work alone for a child’s book, and her stories really are a symbiosis of words and pictures.
In this story, Augustus the tiger has a problem in that he has lost his smile. He is not sure where it is gone, but he misses it, and sets off to find it.
Augustus travels far and wide before learning a very important lesson about where smiles come from and what they mean.
The story is rather saccharine for my taste, and certainly too old for my children to appreciate, but it would work very, very well with pre school and early years children from the ages of two to, say five.
It would be an excellent story to have in school to help younger children understand and recognise emotions and where they come from. It is a lovely book to share with a child, particularly if your child is really stimulated by pictures, as these illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and full of a charm and beauty that makes them a joy to look at.
The story is suitable for both girls and boys, but I think boys will be more easily bored by it because Augustus is not a typical tiger and there is not a lot of leaping and pouncing going on here.