I’ve always loved Ben Brown and Helen Taylor’s books. So far their books have been mostly about native New Zealand wildlife and they’re beautiful books. Their latest book, The Great Orlando, is something completely different, but absolutely stunning.
From the very first page you know that this is not a happy story. ‘The Great Orlando,’ otherwise known as Sunday Jones lives in a ‘rough, broken house with an unkempt lawn and a dead lemon tree in the front yard.’ His father is a cruel, miserable man, but his mother cares for him, protects him, and tells him bedtime stories of The Great Orlando. When his mother dies, Sunday Jones is left with his father who makes his life a misery. When he gets the chance to enter the school talent show, he transforms himself into The Great Orlando and is finally able to escape his miserable life.
The Great Orlando is a dark, multi-layered story about a boy who wants to escape. Ben and Helen introduce us to Sunday Jones, a boy with a father who makes life hard for him, but holds onto the dreams his mother gave to him through her stories. Ben Brown weaves his magic on the reader with his words and shows us a snapshot of Sunday’s life. I particularly like the way Ben describes the mother’s love for her son. This story also shows us how versatile Helen Taylor is. It’s a completely different subject matter to her previous illustrations but they match the text perfectly and I really love them. They’re quite dark and eerie, which matches the tone of the story, and I like the symbolism she’s used throughout the book (the shadow of the bull in the background and the butterfly). The Great Orlando is the perfect picture book to share with older readers who will appreciate both the story and the illustrations. I hope The Great Orlando sees some success outside of New Zealand for this talented duo.
4 out of 5 stars