Picture Book of the week monthly recap: October 2019
The Fate of Fausto
(HarperCollins Children’s Books)
There was once a man who believed he owned everything and set out to survey what was his ….” So begins Oliver Jeffers’ latest picturebook, a longer narrative, which despite being originally written in 2015, sadly resonates very true in today’s world: Fausto is greedy, throws tantrums, harbours a rather epic sense of self-importance, and has total disregard for nature and those around him. The book was created using traditional methods at the lithography press Idem Editions in Paris, and the finished product is truly stunning. The astute use of negative space leaves plenty of room for inferring and pondering. This is Jeffers at his best: smart, witty, with an incredible knack for pacing. Fausto’s ultimate undoing will not feel cruel even to young readers. His talent for creating multi-layered narratives never ceases to amaze. There are few illustrators that truly appeal to adults and children alike, and Oliver Jeffers is most definitely one of them.
Mac Barnett & Isabelle Arsenault
All parents have been there: having tricky, often quite existential, questions thrown at you at the most inopportune moment. This little girl has a lot of questions for her dad, just as she is supposed to go to sleep. What is the rain? Why do birds fly south for the winter? Each spread showcasing a question is set similarly: the girl and her dad on the right, and a huge coloured circle including her question on the left page . Each is intermitted with a illustrated version of her father’s fantastical answers. The reader’s viewpoint eventually opens up to unveil the rest of the girl’s bedroom, discovering the inspiration for her questions. The wonderful 1950s retro feel is rendered by Arsenault’s style and choice of decor but also with her beautiful use of colour, using predominantly pastel colours over grayscale. The message of the final spread is marvellous and there is a drop of the essence of childhood in this narrative that really is delightful.
Pick a Pumpkin
Patricia Toht & Jarvis
The imminence of Halloween always brings a flurry of themed picturebooks to the market, often all a bit samey. But there is something a little special and different about this new collaboration between Patricia Toht and Jarvis however. Focusing on a family’s celebration of Halloween, from the day they pick a pumpkin from the patch to the evening every one comes together to celebrate, the poetic narrative and luscious artwork (the play with light and colour is absolutely stunning, particularly the three final spreads) come together beautifully to create a really lovely story. By focusing on Halloween as a family occasion, Toht and Jarvis have created a more enduring tale, one with all the ingredients to become a firm family favourite to treasure and reread annually. It is gentle, cozy, full of warmth and perfect to read in those dark October evenings, especially with a yummy cup of hot chocolate .
The House of Madame M
translated by Daniel Hahn
Imagine opening the most peculiar, slightly macabre Victorian cabinet of curiosities; that’s what delving into Clotilde Perrin’s latest large format picturebook feels a bit like. As the reader steps into each room, there are plenty of unusual things to uncover under the flaps and some many things to discover, many of which may not become obvious until several readings. The story is all the more unsettling due to the fourth wall being broken: the narrator is talking to the reader, the reader is the one stepping through the rooms of Madame M’s creepy abode. This is a book that older readers will particularly enjoy—not because it is too scary for younger readers, but because of all the intertextual links, philosophical references and other clever elements in the visual narrative: a painting of Persephone, the “once upon a time” clock, the thought-provoking Vanities painting etc … so many things to discover, discuss and come back to. It is brilliantly clever and eerie!