Picture books are a unique marriage of art and words. Occasionally, not even the words are needed. A picture book can evoke emotions so intense, you’ll wonder how so few images and words managed to resonate such an immense amount of feeling in such a short space of time. This is what I find so utterly attractive and astonishing in well-written picture books. Today, we reveal a few that not only take my breath away, but also astound me with their cleverness, humanity and sheer depth. Enjoy.
This is a beautiful non-fiction picture book about one of the world’s most beautiful and avant-garde poets. The title alone is summary enough of E. E. Cummings however it’s Burgess’ detailed insight into the discovery of this title that truly enchants (unless you are already intimately familiar with Cumming’s work which I, ashamedly, am not). As he states, ‘Cummings was a champion of small.’ There is however an enormous amount of his life covered in this pictorial glimpse, presented in modestly hued yet inventive and playful page spreads, all interwoven seamlessly with some of Cumming’s anomalous verse.
If this does not entreat young readers to ask more about the poet or inspire them to write poetry of their own, nothing will. A fantastic classroom book to launch discussions into the exploration of language. Highly recommended for poetry addicts, primary schoolers, and lovers of history.
Enchanted Lion Books April 2015
This book is truly astounding, wrenching, meaningful, and unexpected. Essentially a graphic picture book it transcends the comic book feel by using wordless, monochrome illustrated panels throughout. Each vary in size but the content always includes our main character whom we come to know as a young boy deeply anxious with the world around him.
This boy tries to fit in at school but he is neither funny enough nor sporty enough or academic enough to stand out let alone feel useful or valued. Slowly, piece by piece his mental wellbeing is violated by tiny insidious feelings represented symbolically by corrupt looking, sharp edged small things. These invaders amount to feelings of utter despair, loneliness, sadness, depression – hopelessness. His sense of self begins to erode, cracking and chipping away as the bad feelings ravage his confidence. It is devastating to witness and makes you want to shout out to him, that it’s ok, hang on, things will get better.
However, they don’t and slowly the old he diminishes. Irritated by the achievements of others, including his sister’s, he is unable to find comfort from those closest to him. Becoming more and more damaged and overwhelmed by the small things, he finally realises that he is not the only one who suffers such sensory assault. Hardly anyone is perfect or right or whole all the time, not even his sister as depicted by her musical frustrations and limitations. With this realisation comes regrowth and slowly the boy’s dilemmas are dealt with and his erstwhile invaders begin to fall away. It is then, when he is able to see more clearly, that he realises we are all being constantly attacked by these anxieties, these small things, but that we only need to reach out to get help and find comfort.
Tragically, Mel Tregonning’s realisation did not come soon enough despite her acute grasp of the universal feeling of hopelessness. She portrayed fear and anxiety in a way the very young can appreciate, with extreme eloquence and beauty. Small Things was an accumulative journey through her artwork by her family and illustrator, Shaun Tan who completed the final three illustrations for this story following her death. This truly remarkable book will resonate with readers of every age, school goers notwithstanding. There are no bells or whistles about this book, just sheer undiluted honesty.
Allen & Unwin August 2016
There are two pages dedicated to the backstory – ‘a brief history’ – of this arresting picture book, which really constitutes a narrative worthy of YA adulation. This volume is a collection of young protagonist, Liberty Crisp’s, complied by her after she fled from her Saraswati home following an attack by wild Mechanica.
The evolution or rather development of these Mechanica, human-created life forms engineered to replace the creatures made extinct by our own selves, takes place in the not so distant future – the end of the 22nd Century. It is only when they become damaged, wild and designed to destroy, that the Homo-Mechanica wars erupt and rage for the next 35 years.
Wonderfully detailed and enthralling as the background is, it is Balchin’s, read Liberty’s meticulous recordings that truly astound. Each robotic creation is handsomely rendered and accompanied by details of the species. What is even more stupefying is that it is not at all difficult to believe that these creatures will one day exist, if they don’t already. Superbly original, Mechanica is an inspired, introspective look at our homo sapien failings and a stunning reminder for us to respect our planet’s natural resources and environments better. A must read / see for students seven years and above.
The Five Mile Press September 2016