A children’s book reviewer’s recent proclamation to ‘only review good books from now on’ got me wondering. What constitutes a good children’s book?
Is it something that causes your mouth to twitch into happy crescent-moon-shapes with each page turn? Is it a bubble bath for your heart, leaving you awash with warm joy? Or does it seize hold of your senses so tightly you forget to breathe? Perhaps it alters your understanding in some inexplicably magic way so that you feel you are living in a world infinitely more meaningful than the one you were in before you opened it?
This is an exceptionally good picture book. Employing flawless intent with exquisite subtlety, author illustrator, Peter Carnavas, ushers us along one small boy’s life journey as he attempts to fathom that most ponderous of human dilemmas: the meaning of life. It’s a rather weighty concept for young readers but Carnavas’ signature, sparse narrative style allows the reader to drift across the pages with minimal effort and maximum reward. I find the text as alluring and intense as the scent of summer jasmine. It is pure pleasure to inhale this boy’s story.
The boy, whom my seven year old declared to be Peter himself, lands one day on a page, previously unadorned and bereft of colour and life. Gradually, ‘things start to grow…’ and so does the boy. He experiences a myriad of miraculous life moments. He plants trees, rides horse, even plays the accordion. He climbs mountains, saves lives and puts out fires.
He finds love and repeatedly encounters the enormity of the world around him in the most unassuming of places. Yet one thought plagues him; why he landed on the page in the first place. In order to find the answer, he makes a dramatic decision; to try something he’s never tried before. How far he leaps, where he lands and what he discovers is all part of the spellbinding magic of this beautiful tale.
Peter Carnavas’ adroit use of white space and heart-melting water colour illustrations convey compassion and humility in a way young readers can easily comprehend and love and dare we hope, emulate. Gentle suggestions bubble to life through all that surrounds the boy; all those he ever loved and cared for. Is it pure whimsy or for higher purpose that we exist? What does happens next? Or are we simply here because, as assured to me by Miss 7, ‘we were made and that’s it.’
She may be right. Joyfully, like most young of mind and of heart, the Boy on the Page is dripping with sincerity without undue sentimentality and is utterly enchanting to experience. Share it with someone you love to read with or simply savour this ‘good read’ on your own.
Suitable for readers 5 – 10 years and those seeking transcendent meanings in life… Oh and we love little pig’s presence too!
View more of Peter Carnavas’ work here.
New Frontier Publishing September 2013