The Cleo Stories: The Necklace and The Present
Allen & Unwin, 2014
hbk, 64pp., RRP $A16.99
This is the first in a series of books about Cleopatra Miranda McCann, an independent and creative young lady who is very comfortable in her own skin.
In the first story, The Necklace, Cleo is going to her friend Nick’s birthday party. He will be 6 so she’s making him a special card with lots of balloons and gold stars on it. When her mother shows her a pretty party frock to wear, Cleo chooses her Christmas t-shirt and spotty shorts instead. At the party, Cleo’s card is left on the table with the presents while everyone oohs and ahhs over Isabella’s card which plays Happy Birthday when you press a button. But Cleo is not fazed. She joins in the party fun, playing Pin the tail on the Donkey and Hide-and-Seek. But she is quite envious of the beautiful necklaces her friends are wearing and wants one too. But her mother says such gifts are just for special occasions and Cleo’s birthday is ages away. But as she and Nick take a break from their game of shipwrecks, she spots Uncle Tom with his shirt off. And that gives her an idea….
In the second story, The Present, Cleo is counting the days to her mum’s birthday and is agonising over what to get her. Her brain is “as empty as the garbage bin after the truck comes and takes everything away.” Dad suggests she do a painting but that’s what she did last year. Nick suggests a food whizzer but Dad is the cook in the house. Dad suggests they get something together but Cleo is determined it will be something just from her. She decides that she will glue the bowl she broke back together but Superglue and little fingers are not a good combination. On the morning of mum’s birthday she STILL doesn’t have a present. And then she has an idea…
This is the latest in a line of collaborations between Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood and once again, it is a winner. The clever, creative, free-spirited Cleo is charming and Freya’s illustrations complement the text perfectly. Based on Freya’s daughter Ivy, they are gentle but capture the quirks of childhood so well. The sequence of trying to get unstuck from the Superglue is superb – who hasn’t “done a Cleo” in their time? There are clues to Cleo’s creativity in the bedroom scene (many of them inspired by Ivy’s creations) and so her out-of-the-box solutions are not a surprise.
Newly independent readers, or those who are nearly so and are ready for a slightly longer but complete bedtime story will love her and her imagination. There is more text than usual in a picture book, but not so much that it is too daunting a task to read. A perfect stepping stone that will delight any little girl.