In Her Element – review

Written by Jamila Gavin Illustrated by Jacinta Read

Published by Pop Up

Review by Louise Date

One of the Ten Stories to Make a Difference from Pop Up, In Her Element is the work of Jamila Gavin, an experienced and acclaimed Anglo-Indian writer and Jacinta Read, who makes her debut illustrating a children’s book. Following Sophie, a young girl with a disability, In Her Element explores the rich and sometimes overwhelming sensory world Sophie inhabits, even if communicating with people on the outside is difficult.

All images from In Her Element

Throughout the book, the ocean swirls into Sophie’s life, bringing her peace where loneliness sometimes threatens to take over. Challenged by other people’s ignorance, the non-verbal Sophie can often find that life has no place for her, but the memory of the sea helps keep her going, and the water can help others around her too. For some people, their element is earth, others are fiery, and some, like Sophie are for water.

The illustrations Read has created for the book are mostly watercolour, and give the dappled looseness of form that adds to the overall theme. Sophie’s face in particular comes off with a beautiful sensitivity that shows a great deal of emotion in very few marks. The layers used are very sensitively added, and the marbling and textures shown in a flat surface add an extra element of interest for children.

Gavin’s words are, as ever, beautiful. The narrative speaks volumes in very few pages, and is in a flowing cadence that will allow children to follow the story through its tricky storyline and challenging themes not often given coverage in children’s books: disability, bullying, acceptance, and a childhood unlike others. The interaction between Sophie and the other characters shows compassion, dignity and an understanding of many of the obstacles life can throw at us, children too.

For all the sentiment of the words, and the beauty of the images, they almost don’t fit together within the confines of the story. The completeness of Gavin’s writing feels too big for the 24 pages it inhabits, crammed in and allowed little margins, and Read’s illustrations fighting for room, unable to get into their stride. While it doesn’t detract from the overall impact on a young mind, it seems a shame that such a big concept was offered so little space.

If you have a young child who is getting into their stride with more complex stories and want to introduce them to points of view outside of the able-bodied populace, this is a book that can help broaden their horizons, and make story time a learning experience.

For other Ten Stories to Make a Difference Pop Up reviews – Match for a Mermaid – go here

Mistaken For A Bear here

31st August 2021

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