Youngsters of 4 or 5 will enjoy the entertaining story of how Gecko outwits crafty Jack Kookaburra, but it is older children who will really learn about the endearing gecko from this book. The gecko of our story is not identified exactly, and as Elizabeth Pope from The Australian Museum says in the Foreword, this allows children not only in Australia but also in many other parts of the world to meet and know the story's hero in person, for geckos occur outside as well as all over this large continent of ours.
Leslie Rees is that rare author, able to prevent his excursions into the realms of fantasy from interfering with the true facts. Children will learn about the behaviour of a gecko from this book, but they will have fun doing so. Rees is able to convey a lot of information in a short story too. Plus your kids will remember what they've learned. To me this defines it as a true Living Book.
Leslie Rees had an extremely successful collaboration with the illustrator Walter Cunningham. The illustrations of this book - as with all by this accomplished artist - are accurate in their detail whilst still maintaining their appeal for young children.
This next illustration says it all for me. In it you see Jack Kookaburra failing in his attempts to imitate Gecko's party trick of climbing up the walls and on to the ceiling:
"Well, if he can do it, I can too."
"Why not try?" said Gecko.
"Yes, try," giggled some of the other animals.
Jack Kookaburra did try. He fluttered his grey-brown wings and managed to stagger a few steps up the wall. He fluttered harder and nearly reached the ceiling. Then worn out, he fell back right in the middle of a brown puddle on the floor.
Sam Wallaby hopped over to pick him up. He wasn't hurt and everybody laughed and laughed. Jack didn't like that.
The book was written in 1944. Sometime around 1970 it appears that Walter Cunningham's illustrations went out of fashion, and the book was reprinted with new pictures by Tony Oliver. Here's the 70s style Gecko:
...and here's Jack in the scene described above:
This early book of Rees' is probably not his best. His titles for older children have been reprinted far more often than Gecko and convey considerably more information within their stories. Gecko on the other hand is a far more enjoyable read. You feel less like you are reading a text book and more like you are reading a fun story. A fun story with beautiful pictures and lots of true information.
When we read Gecko, Jemimah thinks she's getting a story and I think she's reading her Natural History text. Yes, we're both happy with this one.
Yeah, I know. It's out of print. Aren't they all? Abe has a few. Look for one illustrated by your choice of the two illustrators above. Personally, I'd go for Walter.