Sunday, October 18, 2015

Two books from Book Island...

Azizi and the Little Blue Bird by Laila Koubaa and Mattias De Leeuw, translated by David Colmer, Book Island
There is a genre of picture books which seems to be aimed more at adults who like and work with picture books rather than at children. That’s fine – as long as potential buyers know what they’re getting. The blurb with this book says that it explores ideas of freedom and justice and meets the demand for more culturally diverse picture books in an increasingly multicultural society. It also says that it’s a contemporary fairytale inspired by the Tunisian Jasmine or Twitter revolution.
I consulted Wikipedia and read about the Tunisian revolution (which ousted a corrupt regime in early 2011); the significance of the use of jasmine in the story (it’s Tunisia’s national flower); and the connection to Twitter (many events of the revolution were announced and discussed worldwide on Twitter).
Having read the story before I consulted Wikipedia, I was rather flummoxed. I felt like a five-year old, needing to ask, “Why is he doing that? Who are those people? What’s happening? What does it mean?”
After reading Wikipedia, it all fell into place. This is an allegory, with the hero, Aziz, representing Tunisia’s youth; two gross and greedy rulers representing the ousted regime; and the bluebirds and garlands of jasmine representing the power of freedom and democracy (possibly via Twitter?). It will be up to teachers and parents to decide how much of the allegory they will explain. It’s certainly a book to use with children of primary-school age, not pre-schoolers – in fact, I would go so far as to say that I’d prefer to recommend it for intermediate ages and up, so that students can understand the cultural and allegorical aspects.
The illustrations certainly have a similarity to the work of Quentin Blake, with a rich exuberance that is both childlike and vaguely old-fashioned at the same time. The usual rules of illustration relating to perspective and proportion have been banished – leaving wildly idiosyncratic pictures that had me poring over them in fascination. This is surely a book with a difference.
ISBN 978 0 9941098 6 6 RRP $29.99 Hb 340 x 235 mm (released October)

The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc, translated by Sarah Ardizzone, Book Island
This minimalist and low-key story has allegorical elements but is more traditional than the book reviewed above. It comes with a stellar provenance – it boasts award-winning illustrations, has received rave reviews in Canada and the US, and has achieved sales over 25,000 copies since original publication in 2013.The French-Canadian author/illustrator comes from Montreal and has been published in over 15 countries. Put simply, it’s a story about friendship. Lion finds a migrating bird on the ground with a damaged wing. He takes it home, cares for it, and then the snow comes. “But the cold isn’t so bad when you’re together.” Spring arrives, the birds migrate the other way, and Lion’s friend must depart. “Hey-ho,” says Lion sadly. But the seasons roll on, autumn comes again – and Lion’s secret wish comes true. The text is a masterpiece of brevity – a perfect example of text and graphic integration that shows aspiring picture book writers how it should be done.
The illustrations are rendered in fine line and coloured pencil, using sparse, stylized backgrounds and muted pastel colours to convey a sense that there’s a lot going on under the surface of the story. Many pages have no text at all, and there’s even a totally empty double spread to show the white-out effect of winter.
The blurb says it’s for ages of 4 and upwards, which I agree with. I can see parents reading it to youngsters as a shared experience, possibly with a bit of discussion about what the characters are feeling (in the absence of text explaining this). Teachers could do the same with small groups – but I don’t see it as being suitable for reading aloud to a whole class: the size is slightly smaller than standard picture book size. Finally, I can see children picking up this book on their own - children who haven’t quite developed their reading skills yet, but as they follow the story in the pictures and study the words, they just might find themselves reading…
ISBN 978 0 9941098 7 3 RRP $24.99 80pp Hb (released October)

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

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