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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Big Panda and Tiny Dragon by James Norbury

Big Panda and Tiny Dragon are an unlikely pair of friends. Despite their different species and size, these two travellers can learn a lot from each other. Journeying through the seasons of the year – starting with spring and making it full circle to spring again – Big Panda and Tiny Dragon enjoy the little moments on the road and ask the big questions.

Their friendship comes to life in both black and white and colour illustrations, which use simple shapes and brushstrokes to convey a lot of character. In particular, Tiny Dragon, manages to demand attention despite the tiny space he occupies on the page.

James Norbury is a Welsh artist and writer. As he explains, a chance encounter with a book on Buddhism in a secondhand bookshop opened up a new world for him, one that helped bring him out of a difficult place. Planning to help others get through difficult times by starting a support group in his local community, Covid and the inability to meet in person meant he started drawing pictures instead. Big Panda and Tiny Dragon comes from his desire to help people cope. Sprinkled with humour and warm fuzzy moments, the travels of Big Panda and Tiny Dragon and the simple, universal truths they convey are accessible for both adults and children, and will no doubt find a wide audience.

This is a beautiful hardback, with thick paper – good to know for those who relish the feel and look of a book. Rather than a traditional narrative, this is a read you can dip in and out of. Big Panda and Tiny Dragon’s conversations are a series of wise quips that invite you to come back to your favourites again and again. The book is divided into the four seasons, Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Like chapters, these sections provide needed structure and form, and I personally enjoyed reading the book a season at a time.

Big Panda and Tiny Dragon appeared in my letterbox the evening that New Zealand’s most recent lockdown was announced. Arriving at the beginning of a time that has been overwhelming for many, the book simply could not have come at a more perfect moment. Its calm, meaningful, deep, but also at times light-hearted messages are comforting reading, suggesting that there always is a light at the end of the tunnel. This simple book with weighty undertones is not just an inspirational quote book. It connects with everyday life, depicting a journey with no particular end in sight, and Big Panda and Tiny Dragon feel like familiar friends.

What are the most important things in life? Being together. Ah yes, and the friends always find time for a bracing cup of tea.

‘I wish I had met you earlier,’ said Tiny Dragon, ‘so we could have gone on even more adventures together.’

Reviewer: Susannah Whaley

Penguin Random House


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