Thursday, 22 September 2022

Human Town, written by Alan Durant, illustrated by Anna Doherty, reviewed by Pippa Goodhart


This is not a book to grab from a book box and read to a class of young children without having previously read and thought about what the story tells. 

In a family of elephants the children clamour for a visit to Human Town just as human children might clamour for a visit to the Zoo. The parents warn that it will be boring because, ‘There aren’t many humans left.’ When the elephants get to Human Town there are park rules to follow, including, ‘The hunting and eating of human beings in this park is strictly prohibited’. The elephants, and rhino at the gate, protest that they are vegetarians, but they know that lions and other animals are not, and might well eat humans. This will provoke thoughts of how most of us wouldn’t kill wild animals, and yet some humans do it for fun. Later, the elephant children are told that ‘humans eat cows and sheep and chickens’. Why do humans do this? ‘Because they are wild animals.’ Food for thought indeed. 

As we progress through the park we observe the humans’ love for ‘things’, their shopping and littering and polluting. ‘They don’t look after their environment’. They’re ‘always fighting’. We, and the child audience for the book, are made to feel pretty bad about ourselves. The story ends with the elephants contemplating the extinction of humans, and hoping that won’t also happen to them. 

This story is an important warning, but a heavy burden to land on very young shoulders who have little power to tackle the problems. On the other hand, we need children to grow up aware of their world, its dangers on personal levels but on global levels too. They are a generation who will be very much make or break for humanity, and need to be prepared for that. So I suggest sharing this powerful story, so cleverly relatable to a picture book audience child, as a way of introducing an ongoing discussion about what we can do to avoid that extinction, by stopping polluting and fighting, and by repairing the damage the humans who have gone before today's children have done.

Book Trust, or any good children’s bookseller or librarian, will have lots of suggestions for books which equip children with positive ways to help our environment and race. Just for starters, I’d suggest Emily Gravett’s lovely ‘Tidy’ picture book on the simple topic of littering; something which even very young children can tackle. Or look at this interview with Georgina Stevens whose ‘Stella and the Seagull’, illustrated by Izzy Burton, sees a child tackling business to reduce the use of plastics locally

This is an important book, a powerful book, beautifully illustrated and honestly told. But do handle it with some care in order to make the impact on children positive. 


Adelaide Dupont said...

Clean up the World happened this weekend past.

It would be good to have a book about all the different cleaner-upperers

[maybe a biography or anthology].

HUMAN TOWN does seem like a very dark sort of book - the sort which has humour for parents and children at the same time.

But in a group - a class...

Anonymous said...

Hi. I've used it a lot with classes of Year 1 to Year 3 children. It's amazing how clued up and opinionated even young children are about environmental matters. And it does have a joke about farting cars! Thanks for the thoughtful review, Pippa.

Pippa Goodhart said...

Thank you for the insight from having used 'Human Town' with children.

Hilary Hawkes said...

What a thought provoking book and I agree with handling the way it is presented to small children with care.