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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Chih-Yuan Chen
Age Range: Under_5
Once upon a time, a very strange egg rolled into Mother Duck’s nest. When a baby crocodile hatched, she thought nothing of it and raised Guji Guji along with the rest of her ducklings… as a duck. Everyone gets on fine until some big bad crocodiles turn up one day. The big crocs make Guji Guji question who he is and want him to place his duck family in danger. What will Guji Guji do? Is he a crocodile? Is he a duck? Will he save his family or side with his species?
This is a charming, unusual story. Beautifully translated, Chen Chih Yuan’s narration moves gently but builds up lots of comedy and suspense along the way. The story puts lots of emphasis on imagination, helped by Chen’s brilliant soft colour pencilled illustrations. The reader is invited to picture a baby crocodile comically attempting to be a duckling and can then feel the fear and uncertainty when he is confronted by the big crocs.
At the core of Guji Guji’s tale is the nature-nurture debate in a very simplified format; is he a crocodile by nature or has nurture made him a duck? Guji Guji comes to the conclusion that he just has to be the person he feels he is and that as long as someone loves him, it doesn’t matter who he is. This wonderfully hearting message helps tell children at an early age that they are all special as individuals and culminates in Guji Guji declaring he is a crocoduck.
Guji Guji is also an unusual hero; crocodiles have big sharp teeth and an appetite for smaller, fluffier animals, qualities which usually make them excellent storybook villains. Guji Guji however, is brave and kind and has bags of character in Chen’s wonderful illustrations. Whilst the beautifully illustrated ducks are a pleasure to look at on every page, they are secondary to the traditionally less appealing baby crocodile, showing that heroes can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
However, whilst the message of love is heart-warming, the story is also a little dark. The larger crocodiles are quite menacing. The soft pencilled pictures pick up the darkness and shadow of such nasty animals. The crocodiles look quite sinister and some children may be upset by the idea that they will eat the ducks. Whilst nature is cruel, this book is aimed at the under-fives, who might not realise that the hero always wins through. The violent nature of the punishment eventually meted out to the crocodiles also looks quite comic in some of the pictures and is certainly deserved, but some children may pick up on the painful elements and find it quite upsetting.
Overall, Guji Guji is a lovely story with a positive message and an engaging plot, although it may be a little dark for some.
Abby Phillips (2011)