Younger readers or older fans of picture books will be unfamiliar with the name of Graeme Base. He has combined verbal and visual wit, and sheer artistic virtuosity, in several books that are justly famous. Beginning with the international bestseller Animalia, he went on to write clever books such as The Eleventh Hour, The Discovery of Dragons and The Worst Band in the Universe. Now he has created a whole new spectacle, a wonderful counting book called The Water Hole.

Base's new book has everything that catapulted its predecessors up the bestseller lists gorgeous artwork, witty text, hidden objects in the exceedingly tricky paintings, even secondary designs progressing separately from the main story. We have come to expect such things from Base. But there are some new elements as well.

In the time-honored manner of Peter Newell's The Hole Book (recently reprinted by Tuttle Publishing) and its literary cousins, Graeme Base has created a volume that has a hole in each page. However, as usual, he has applied his own spin to the idea. The elliptical hole, which grows ever smaller, is in the center of a water hole (nicely giving the title a second meaning). Alas, the watering hole is shrinking from drought. Beginning with the one rhino drinking, through the three toucans and on to the nine tortoises, each group faces a smaller water source. Finally 10 kangaroos face a dry waterbed.

Naturally Graeme Base couldn't end a book on such a sad note. Turn the page and you find a single raindrop, extravagantly magnified, smashing like a meteor into the parched earth. Again, turn the page and witness a growing rainstorm. And, as always with Base, prepare to be surprised and delighted by the shapes of the puddles, which beautifully unite earlier themes. In a lovely and satisfying final panorama, all of the animals are together at the water hole, in the manner of Edward Hicks' famous painting The Peaceable Kingdom.

You may notice that each group of animals hails from a different part of our planet. This is only one of the many subtle unifying ecological images that Base weaves into his magnificent new book. Buy it for the themes, the funny thoughts of the animals or simply for the wonderful way that Graeme Base draws a ladybug beetle.

comments powered by Disqus