It’s wrenching when something or someone you love is lost. No one knows this better than Rachel Noble who was inspired to write Finn’s Feather after the loss of her son, Hamish. However if you think this story is a maudlin narrative on grief and loss, think again.
Finn’s Feather embraces all the love and joy families share for one another. It is a sublime examination of the emotions of heartache, anguish and sorrow expressed through the eyes of a child, which makes it immediately relatable and real. When a parent carries the burden of grief, children often slump along beside them under the same weight but unsure of why they are even there. The way they might experience the loss (of a sibling) understandably has to be different from the despair their parents are experiencing. This is precisely what Finn is going through after he discovers a pristine white feather on his doorstep one morning.
For children fortunate enough to grow up with grandparents the bonds they create can be intense and everlasting. Should something happen to their beloved grandparent(s), accepting that change whether through loss, illness or disability may be difficult to cope with. This handful of picture books celebrates the many golden moments grandparents provide invariably enriching their grandchildren’s lives whilst also gently exploring ways to cope with the inevitable experience of change.
This is another glorious picture book by the gifted North American duo, Terry and Eric Fan. Ocean Meets Sky is a sumptuously articulated story about a small boy’s way of remembering his grandfather and dealing with his passing. Suffused with heart-hugging illustrations, the simple narration, which centres on a young boy searching for his grandfather aboard a boat he built himself, escorts readers to the moon and back, cultivating hope and collecting wonderment along the way. The hardback version, embossed with gilt images, comes with a gorgeous, eye-catching dust cover which is almost reason enough to open it and venture in. Collectable and memorable, full points for this magical and reassuring reading experience.
From our very own Boomerang Books blogger / word smith extraordinaire, Dimity Powell, together with the divinely talented illustrator, Nicky Johnston, we have a very special feature here today! I have had the utmost pleasure in reviewing their gorgeous new book, The Fix-It Man, and in finding out more about their collaboration. Enjoy!
Poignant, perfectly pitched and picture perfect. The Fix-It Man is a story that so effectively and sensitively captures the heartache and love between a little girl and her father when dealing with loss. Dimity Powell’s words are paced at a gentle rhythm that allow its readers space to breathe and take in the deeper meaning at the heart of the tale. The illustrations by Nicky Johnston encapsulate adversity and strength with their unmistakable emotive intensity.
A little girl has complete faith in her dad to fix anything. “It’s what dads do.” Whether it’s super gluing kites, mending the dog’s kennel or piecing shattered teapots back together, Dad is at the heart of turning bad days into good. But even her dependable, handy father can’t fix Mama. And there is nothing more shattering than that moment. That wordless moment of grief in the slimmest of moonlight that father and daughter lay wrapped up in Mama’s quilt, sure to be the first of many sleepless nights. Hearts break and cracks widen, but with a little bit of optimism and a whole lot of love, they know they can fix things together.
Superbly narrated and delicately illustrated, The Fix-It Man is a reassuring story that gently addresses the themes of love, life and loss in a thoughtful way. Being able to embrace life and cope with death at the same time shows great resilience. And for readers from age four in similar circumstances, this book offers an invaluable sense of hope and comfort.
Congratulations on the release of your newest picture book, The Fix-It Man!
DP: Thanks, Romi. Dancing on clouds happy about it.
Dimity, this is your debut in the picture book arena! Where did the foundation for this story come from?
DP: Like many story ideas of mine, it evolved from a real life incident, which developed into a thought, which led to a question, which resulted in a small movie inside my head. The hard part was extracting the best bits and shaping them into a picture book text. I love the belief small children have in their parents, that they can fix anything and everything. I wanted to explore the reaction of a child when this belief is challenged, when their fixer suddenly needs fixing, too.
How did you find the whole publishing process with EK Books? How much input did you have with Nicky’s illustrations?
DP: A veritable dream. Likewise, Nicky is a dream to work with. She is dedicated and meticulous and included me in just about every step of the process from rough drafts to finals. This was something I had not expected so it was a joy to correspond with her and give feedback on the images as they developed. There was never any real need to clarify the relationship between her images and my text; Nicky just seemed to know what was going on in my head. There was however, a lot of discussion between us and our publisher about the various nuances and symbols; all the tiny details used throughout the visual narrative. It was a real team effort.
What do you like about Nicky’s style? How do you feel her illustrations have complemented your text?
DP: Everything! Nicky’s current style is perfectly suited to this story and exactly the way I envisaged this family to be. The emotion projected in Nicky’s images is poignantly powerful.
Nicky’s illustrations more than just complement the story. They add a level of subtly and sensitivity without ever being maudlin. Her soft colour palette and homogeneous characters invite readers into the very heart and soul of the story: we could be that family.
Nicky, what drew you to Dimity’s story when you first read it? Did you feel a connection with the text? Did the images naturally appear in your mind or was it a process that developed over time?
NJ: As soon as I read Dim’s manuscript, I connected to it immediately. Visuals started filling my head, I sketched them all into my sketchbook (pages of them!) it was quite overwhelming actually.
The story is beautifully written, every word, every pause and every page break is a deliberate choice to ensure the flow of the story is not only read, but felt.
The illustrated scenes, the characters, the subtle visual sub stories came to me with immense ease. I worked on the first concept roughs almost obsessively. The entire developmental process from roughs to producing the final artworks filled me with pure joy.
Dimity and Nicky, you seem like a terrific team with an organic relationship, which certainly resonates through the book. How did you feel about the collaboration with one another along the journey? Were there any hiccups or surprises you can share with us?
DP: Extremely grateful and satisfied in the most fulfilling way. From the very first sample spread I saw, I knew my words were in good hands. Nicky’s ability to ‘get’ my intentions is uncanny. I think the way she is able to extract exactly how I picture the characters and scenes out of my head and capture them in watercolour (without any consultation) is true genius and just a little bit spooky. The biggest surprise for me was that everything progressed so fluidly and enjoyably.
NJ: I am amazed with the personal connection Dim and I have, given we have only ever met in person twice! I think our minds, visions and emotions are aligned in quite an authentic way. I am pleased the illustrations and the text combination demonstrates this unitedness too.
This was my first time working with EK Books and I really loved the team approach that was given to the entire project. It was fabulous to be able to bounce around my ideas and rough sketches with everyone to be sure we would create the book to the highest standard.
What has been the most rewarding part of creating this book so far?
DP: When I got the call from my publisher with the green light good news. It had been a long hard slog to get to that point so that call was a massive relief. I may have shed a few tears. Holding it (The Fix-It Man) in my hands for the first time was also a bit momentous. Oh and watching the visual landscape of my story come to life with each of Nicky’s illustrations. I still find that part of storytelling inexplicably rewarding; watching your words come alive is pure magic. Sorry to carry on but I feel very rewarded!
NJ: Seeing the illustrations and the text together for the first time was pretty special. And to be called a ‘Dream Team’ topped it off for me!
It was quite a lengthy process from beginning to end, and like all things that take time, the wait has been worth it.
DP: The dream team…still sets me aglow.
Thank you both so much for participating in this mini interview!! 🙂 xx
NJ: What great questions, thank you for having us share our collection journey of creating The Fix It Man!
I loved Diane Setterfield’s debut novel The Thirteenth Tale, a cross between Kate Morton and The Shadow in the Wind. I had no idea what to expect from her next book but a ghost story was not on my list of possibilities. Not that his is a ‘ghost’ story. Yes there is a tad of the supernatural but more in the subtle, mythological way Neil Gaiman does so well.
As a boy William Bellman kills a rook with a stone. Years later William has built a successful life. Business is good but tragedy snatches away his family. Bellman makes a strange pact with a mysterious man in black and all seems to be right again but some things can never be forgotten or forgiven.
Setterfield intersperses the text with myths, legends and facts about rooks; black birds often mistaken as ravens or crows which only adds to the mystery. Bellman isn’t haunted or stalked by the mysterious Mr Black. In fact it is the opposite. Bellman’s problem is he doesn’t remember. As each tragedy in his life gets more personal he throws himself more into his work. Distracting himself. Making himself forget. Until he almost forgets about life at all. The only thing that can help him remember is Death itself. But death is not only the cause of Bellman’s tragic moments in life it is also part of his business success and his wealth is built upon it.
Diane Setterfield reaffirms her immense gift as a classic storyteller and while I think labelling this a ghost story is a bit misleading it might also lead a few more people to discover how good this author is. If you are a Neil Gaiman fan, give this one a go.