Pictures of Other Worlds
- Baba Wagué Diakité (Author)
Mee-An and the Magic Serpent. Groundwood (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Elizabeth Quan (Author)
Once Upon a Full Moon. Tundra Books (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Piet Grobler (Illustrator), Elisa Amado (Translator), and Jorge Lujàn (Author)
Sky Blue Accident/Accidente celeste. Groundwood (purchase at Amazon.ca)
In the picture book Once Upon a Full Moon, author and illustrator Elizabeth Quan takes her readers on a journey to another place and time-quite literally. The story of Once Upon a Full Moon is the story of a journey. Through Quan's diary-like text and busy, sketchy watercolours the readers of this story are thrust into the world of controlled confusion that confronted travelers early in the twentieth century. This particular trip, as seen through the eyes of the story's child narrator, involves a complicated passage from Canada to China, by train, ship, bus, cable car, rickshaw, ferry, steam engine, and finally by foot. But the focus of the tale is not really the wonders of 1920s transportation, or even the exotic sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a long, long expedition-although the text is full of such details. Rather, the narrative is powered by the pull of longing: of a father's longing to return to the land of his childhood, and a child's longing to fulfill a fairy-tale dream to arrive at last at the home of a grandmother she has never known. This powerful desire for connection and reconnection is what drives the story forward. Textually, Quan focuses always on her heroine's goal, but her visuals work against this focus in the same way that the chaos of travel works against the trajectory towards destination. While the text maintains a certain coherence, Quan's kaleidoscopic images of travel appear in disconnected panels on the right side of every two-page spread, like visions of a voyage glimpsed through the windows of a train. Thematically appealing, this artistic decision risks interrupting the forward thrust of the story, as Quan relies on her readers' desire for closure to keep them on board until the end of the tale.
In Mee-An and the Magic Serpent, author-illustrator Baba Wagué Diakité takes readers on a journey into another kind of world-the world of myth and magic. However, it soon becomes apparent that, in Diakité's world, fantasy is to be accepted as a matter of fact. The story of Mee-An and the Magic Serpent, told by a less-than-objective third-person narrator, follows the fantastic adventures of a vain young woman in search of a perfect husband. In choosing marriage to the magic serpent, Mee-An finds that a beautiful exterior does not always indicate interior virtue. Based on a folktale from Mali, Mee-An and the Magic Serpent is a story that features astonishing transformations interwoven with heart-warming, homespun moments. These are richly illustrated by pictures originally painted on glazed ceramic tiles-Diakité's signature technique. The technique works wonderfully for picture book illustration. The colours seem to explode off the page, so it does not seem at all surprising to find details from each painting breaking loose and floating free from the illustrated right hand side to the text-dominated left hand side of book, giving readers the added pleasure of matching the floating puzzle pieces to details from the bigger pictures. This lack of containment visually echoes the manner in which everyday life erupts into the fantastic throughout this engagingly simple-yet-complex story.
If Quan takes readers on a road trip to the past, and Diakité steers them towards the supernatural, Jorge Luján is the one who most clearly invites them into a world of imagination in Sky Blue Accident/Accidente celeste. Unlike Quan's and Diakité's single author-illustrator visions, Sky Blue Accident/Accidente Celeste, a bilingual (English and Spanish) picture book, is very much a collaborative effort-a meeting of the creative minds of poet Luján, translator Elisa Amando, and illustrator Piet Grobler. The spare text tells the skeleton-thin story of a boy who breaks the sky. The fun comes in as the details of what happens next are left to be fleshed out by the reader. Wherever Luján's text is silent about exactly what is going on, Grobler's illustrations sprawl all over the pages with the freedom of a child's drawings, daring the reader to fill in the blanks. Rather than being flaws, the textual spareness and artistic simplicity of Sky Blue Accident/Accidente celeste are in fact the story's greatest strengths, as both text and illustrations work together to invite the reader into a world that is only half-created. Significantly, Sky Blue Accident/Accidente celeste both begins and ends with Grobler's endpaper pictures of a silent blue sky, implying a freedom that allows the story that goes on between the blue pages to be created as much by the readers as by Luján, Amando, and Grobler. Luján's world is not one that the reader will find on any map; it can only be traced out by this kind of literary sky-writing-the kind that Luján does best.
- Disorders and Early Sorrow by Hilary Turner
Books reviewed: Chance and the Butterfly by Maggie de Vries, Edge by Diane Tullson, and Jeannie and the Gentle Giants by Luanne Armstrong
- Growing Pains by Gisèle M. Baxter
Books reviewed: i.d.: Stuff That Happens to Define Us by Peter Mitchell and Kate Scowen and We Want You to Know: Kids Talk about Bullying by Deborah Ellis
- Persistent and Challenging Enigmas by Jennifer Scott
Books reviewed: Roughing It in the Bush by Susanna Moodie and Michael Peterman and Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, Mary Rubio, and Elizabeth Waterston
- Factual Picture Books by Lynn (J.R.) Wytenbroek
Books reviewed: A Pod of Orcas by Sheryl MacFarlane and Kirsti Ann Wakelin, When the Giant Stirred by Celia Godkin, and To the Top of Everest by Elizabeth McLeod and Laurie Skreslet
- De la rêverie au cauchemar by Daniel Chouinard
Books reviewed: Un oiseau dans la tête by Marie-France Hébert and La Foire aux fauves by Guy Lavigne
MLA: Amado, Elisa, Crossley, Karen, Crossley, Karen, Crossley, Karen, Diakité, Baba Wagué, Grobler, Piet, Lujá¡n, Jorge, and Quan, Elizabeth. Pictures of Other Worlds. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 18 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #198 (Autumn 2008), Canada and Its Discontents. (pg. 165 - 166)
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