Friday, August 30, 2013

KOALA LOU, by Mem Fox

Fox,  Mem. 1988. Koala Lou. Ill. by Pamela Lofts.  New York, NY: Gulliver Books, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers.   
ISBN 0-15-200502-1

In this sweet picture book, little Koala Lou loves when her mother tells her, “Koala Lou, I DO love you!” But when Koala Lou’s mother has more children, Koala Lou does not hear her favorite phrase quite as much and begins to worry.  She makes a plan to win the Bush Olympics, which would certainly win back her mother’s attention and get her to say again much she loves her little Koala Lou.  But after Koala Lou must compete with the tough Koala Klaws, she learns that mothers love their children no matter if they win or lose.


The plot of this picture book has a clear arc, united with the fun repetition of the rhyming phrase, “Koala Lou, I DO love you!” The plot is also supported by the strength of the illustrations showing so much emotion on the animals’ faces.  The art is realistic despite the cartoon appearance of a koala wearing red sneakers.  The use of soft colored pencils with careful, smooth shading makes Koala Lou look as soft as page 1 describes:  “There once was a baby so soft and round that all who saw her loved her.”  Readers will love her, too, especially young ones.

The art shows off the country of Australia beautifully, and includes species that some American children may have never seen before.  Koalas are perhaps one of the better known Australian animals, but in this book, we also read, “The emu loved her.  The platypus loved her,” and the animals are in the illustrations.  The colors are vibrant for many of the plants and birds even with the use of pastel shades, but gentle and warm for the koalas, emphasizing again the snuggly loveliness of Koala Lou.  

The theme of the picture book—the eternalness of family love—is one that certainly rings true and is celebrated in any culture.  But by setting it in their native country of Australia, with the Bush Olympics and a koala for a protagonist, Fox and Lofts provide us with a small, but authentic glimpse of their land and the plants and animals that live there.  The tree that Koala Lou must climb is a gum tree, and a kookaburra is the one who says, “Get set—GO!” both of which are found almost exclusively in Australia.  One of the baby siblings is shown eating eucalyptus leaves, even though they are never named in the text.   

The artistic renditions of the animals by Pamela Lofts are not just beautiful.  They also add to the story by injecting a great deal of humor and warmth.  When Koala Lou is sad about her mother’s busyness with her siblings, the wild-eyed expression on the mother’s face as she is reaching towards all the babies jumping on the tree limb is priceless.  And when the Bush Olympics begins, a small animal that looks to be specific to Australia (as I cannot name it) is holding a small “torch” of flaming twigs, bringing a giggle to the reader.  The text only says, “At last the day of the Bush Olympics arrived,” so the visual addition of the torch and the crowd of colorful Australian animals with their hats shows the excitement in the air.

The characters are anthropomorphized, of course, and do not necessarily reflect authentic Australian dress, customs or traditions.  However, they do reflect Australia’s unique wild life and the Australian bush.  The competition is, in fact, “The Bush Olympics.”  That particular part of Australia’s environment is authentically shared through the richly detailed art.  It does not reflect the urban side of Australia, which is also plentiful.  Australia is no more only made up of the Australian bush or Australian Outback than Texas is made up of only cowboys on a cattle trail, but this is just one book. It can only show so much.

The theme is timeless and the cuteness and interesting variety of the animals makes this a great book to share.  Both the author and illustrator are from Australia and because this was published there, there was probably no need for a guide to explain what each animal is.  However, as an American, I could only name a small handful of the animals shown in the illustrations and I wish I had a way to figure out the others.  An added guide to the versions published outside of Australia would have been a fun way to help parents and teachers really teach more about the fascinating country of Australia!

As discussed in Dr. Vardell’s class notes, Rudine Sims Bishop lists five broad functions of literature.  Of these, this picture book (1) provides knowledge by teaching about Australian animals through the characters, (2) offers a new perspective on the world by introducing entirely new species to them and helping them ponder the love of family, (3) promotes diversity by showing a new culture (even if it only shows animals) and (5) certainly provides enjoyment, which is its main function.  It is not particularly supportive of critical inquiry (4), but that is appropriate, considering its audience.


"Lofts' colored pencil drawings in Koala Lou are soft and realistic, while Denton's ink lines for Night Noises are brash and cartoonlike,with deep colors playing a prominent role.  Of the two stories, Koala Lou is most likely to appeal to younger children, who especially treasure physical expressions of affection." -- Booklist, November 15, 1989.

"Lofts's colored-pencil drawings portray the Australian flora and fauna beautifully, including a few of the more exotic species...Koala Lou celebrates the eternal love of a mother for her child without the sentimentality of Robert Munsch's Love You Forever." -- Publisher's Weekly, August 11, 1989.


  • For young children, tying this book with nonfiction books about Australia could be a fun tie in to a study Australia.  One possibility is E is Echidna:  My Australian Word Book, by Bronwyn Bancroft.  Children could make their own Australian word book, as well.  Or choose a book set in contemporary, urban Australia to show the variety of lifestyle found in their country, just like in ours.
  • Assign pairs of children an animal from the story and have them do a report on it and share with the class, in order to learn more about the wildlife of Australia.
  • Mem Fox is well known for her other books which could be paired with this one for an author study.  Some possibilities include Night Noises or Possum Magic.
  • Read the book in the form of a reader’s theatre.  There are many animals.  Face masks could even be made to represent each type of animal if crafts were incorporated as well.
  • Teach and sing the children’s song/nursery rhyme, “Kookaburra,” which is a classic, fun song includes both kookaburras and gum trees.  The first stanza, for example, goes: “Kookaburra sits in an old gum tree/Merry, merry king of the bush is he/Laugh, Kookaburrah! Laugh, Kookaburrah!/What a life you lead!”


I enjoyed the story, but found myself wishing I knew what the other animals were.  It is hard to search for, “animal from Australia with white stripes on its back and a scraggly tail.” But I love the emphasis on the unchanging quality of a mother’s love.  I think that is a message that children can never hear enough. 

Works Referenced:

Brancroft, Bronwyn.  2012.  E is for Echidna.  North Pomfret, VT:  Trafalgar Square Publishing.  (an international book.)
Fox, Mem.  1983.  Possum Magic.  St. Louis, MO:  Turtleback Books. 
Fox, Mem.  1992.  Night Noises.  St. Louis, MO:  Turtleback Books.
Vardell, Sylvia.  2010.  “Overview” Culture 1 International Lit: Overview.  Texas Woman’s University.     Blackboard class LS 5653, Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults.  Web.  Accessed       August 28, 2013. 

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