There are only thirty two pages in a picture book. Not much space to say a great deal you might think. This month two new picture books arrived on my shelves that say a great deal through both their words and their illustrations and each time I look again at them I notice more or am prompted to think of other possible meanings. That’s the power of picture books; they provide a means of accessing important themes and prompting thought and discussion. I have attempted to review these two books below but I think everyone who reads them will probably have their own thoughts and opinions depending on their own experiences.
The Comet by Joe Todd-Stanton published by Flying Eye Books
Nyla and her Dad live in a place of tall trees and big skies. They enjoy spending time in the countryside around them, they share stories, cooking and playing. When Dad needs a new job they move to the city, a very different world to the one Nyla knew before. A grey world, a noisy and busy world where Dad is always busy and Nyla can think only of what she is missing. Then one night she sees a comet in the night sky. As it glows before her Nyla is desperate to follow the light, perhaps to a place she can call home.
This is such a beautiful book. From the stunning cover to linger long over, the endpapers contributing to the story and the many small but important things to spot as you read this is a book to savour. The disruptive effects of moving or of change are feelings even the youngest child may experience and this kind and thoughtful story offers hope to a worried little person or perhaps even an older person. There are many layers to explore within the text and pictures including the power of imagination, the importance of noticing the wonder in the world and how it is possible to create a home and sense of belonging in a changing environment if you are open to new experiences.
The illustrative techniques used are clever and elements of the story are contained in the pictures showing the reader much that is not expressed in the text. The first double page spread from the window of Nyla and her Dad’s home is one of family detail that explains more about this little family and we watch the two of them, very much a pair, over the first few pages. The shrinking of the frames once they are in the city emphasise the constriction they must feel and portray the loss of joy more eloquently than words may do.
The story changes once Nyla spots the comet and it is from this point that I think interpretations may vary. I am reluctant to reveal too much but the return of happiness is depicted in a wonderful and touching manner. The switch from horizontal to vertical aspect on the final pages is well done too. I keep going back to this lovely book and each time it makes me smile. A hopeful and rather special book.
When Creature Met Creature by John Agard and Satoshi Kitamura
It is rather fitting that a story centred around friendship should be created by an award winning duo who became friends themselves. This thought provoking picture book is about more than friendship though, it demonstrates the power of language and communication both to form bonds and also to enable understanding of ourselves and others.
Creature-of-No-Words lives a mostly easy going life, content to be ‘furry and never in a hurry.’ He enjoys playing with pebbles, gazing at the sea and enjoying the feelings of warmth, happiness and security even though he does not know how to describe them. When things go a little wrong for him he can sense it is the case but not articulate why. One day another creature spots him and recognises that something is causing Creature-of No-Words unhappiness. She approaches and consoles him in a kind and understanding manner. This Creature-of Words is able to articulate his emotions and provide him with the vocabulary he needs. The two new friends now live together in a world of words and shared understanding. However so sure is their friendship that sometimes they do not need words at all and are happy to sit in companionable silence. Surely, the sign of the best of relationships.
This profound and rather beautiful book could be interpreted in many ways and it encourages the young reader to reflect upon what they have read. Kitamura’s distinctive illustrations are stunning and work in perfect partnership with the text. There is a slightly surreal feel to the artwork giving the creatures an alien look yet there is a vulnerability to their expressions, their demeanour and behaviour increasing their appeal. This is another book with many layers of possible meaning. It could refer to the acquisition of language in young children, encouraging readers to think about younger siblings or toddlers frustrated by the inability to explain what they want or need. Does Creature-of-No-Words not know how to explain his emotions or maybe not understand them himself? In the past I have worked with children with selective mutism and used with care this book may help children in a similar situation. All kinds of discussion could be sparked by this clever book. The final pages are just lovely.
The Comet by Joe Todd-Stanton is published by Flying Eye Books and When Creature Met Creature by John Agard and Satoshi Kitamura is published by Scallywag Press and both books are out this month. I should like to thank the publishers for my review copies.