A Stone for Sascha

A Stone for Sascha
Aaron Becker
Walker Books

I could just write a single word in response to this story– awesome – but that wouldn’t help those who have yet to encounter Aaron Becker’s new wordless picture book. Nor would it do justice to his remarkable lyrical endeavour.
My initial reading called to mind two poems of T.S. Eliot, the first being the opening line of East Coker: ‘In my beginning is my end.

In Becker’s beginning we see a girl collecting flowers and discover they’re an offering for her beloved dog, Sascha’s grave.

The family – mother father, daughter and son – then leave home for a seaside camping holiday.
As night begins to fall the girl heads to the water’s edge and we see her standing beneath a starry sky about to throw a smooth stone.

Thereafter, time shifts and what follows are spreads of a meteor hurtling earthwards to become embedded in the ocean floor and we witness the evolution of our planet as the stone works its way upwards and out, as life transitions from water to land, dinosaurs roam and then give way to early mammalian forms.

Having broken the surface as an enormous protrusion, the stone is quarried and transported to a huge ancient royal edifice where it’s carved into an obelisk.

Wars, looting, fragmentation and remodelling occur as the stone moves through history becoming part of first a religious monument, then a bridge; is fashioned into a fantastical dragon and placed in an ornate carved chest; taken to an island and installed in a chieftain’s dwelling, stolen,

lost at sea and eventually, having moved through eons of time, is polished smooth and carried by the waves to the shore where stands the girl who finds it.

Now, as she presses the stone to her cheek she appears to have made peace with the situation and perhaps, her loss and grief.

The stone’s final resting place – as far as this story goes – is atop Sascha’s gravestone.
(You can also trace the whole journey through the timeline maps that form the endpapers.)

Becker’s layered pastel spreads – digitally worked I think – have in the present time, a near photographic, quality. The scenes of bygone eras where the degree of sfumato intensifies are, in contrast imbued with a dreamlike quality, being as Leonardo da Vinci said of the technique he too employed, ‘ without lines or borders’.

This intensely moving, unforgettable, multi-layered, circular tale is open to countless interpretations and reinterpretations depending on what we bring to the book, at any particular time. Assuredly, it makes this reviewer think about our own place in the cosmos and our connection to past and future, for to return once more to T.S. Eliot:
Time present and time past / Are both perhaps present in time future, / And time future contained in time past.’
Burnt Norton

Return

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Return
Aaron Becker
Walker Books
This is the finale to the wonderful wordless picture book trilogy that began with Journey and Quest, and an absolute MUST to complete the story.
We’re taken once again to that world where , in the right hands, crayons command power taking readers and protagonists to exotic lantern-lit landscapes with that purple-plumed bird, dragons, castles and architectural wonders.
It begins with a father hard at work over his drawing board upstairs while downstairs the little girl seizes her red crayon and draws a door. This time though, it’s not only the child who passes through; her father too steps into the magical landscape …

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joining the girl on another adventure with some familiar friends, and inevitably, adversaries, notably an evil, horned warrior who invades the castle …

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seizing the magical coloured crayons from the hands of the crown wearers (king, girl and boy). Father and the two children set off in pursuit …

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Like the father herein, readers are captured and captivated by Becker’s elaborate watercolour and ink kingdom as each new page of the adventure is explored until finally, the villains are vanquished …

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and then it’s time for father and daughter to make their way back home through that same door from whence they came.

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This is a book to spend time over for sure, and to revisit over and over, with every reading adding to and enriching the whole amazing experience. It’s one of those reading experiences that every child should have, an enormously rewarding journey that I urge you to give every child you know the opportunity to undertake.

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Quest

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Quest
Aaron Becker
Walker Books
At the end of Journey, Becker left his two child protagonists pedalling their tandem towards as we now see, their next adventure. Also wordless, Quest begins with the pair having left  the bike leaning against a wall, sheltering under a bridge from heavy rain.

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In the wall is a door through which a distraught-looking king bursts. He thrusts a strange map into their hands, one showing the hiding places of six magical crayons that the two children must find and so bring about the defeat of the enemies of his kingdom.

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Thus charged, the boy and girl (the latter wearing a bandolier from the king in which to store the crayons) set forth on their mission. Like Antony Brown’s Bear and Harold (of purple crayon fame) the children use their trusty red and purple crayons to draw themselves means of escape from danger. They travel to the depths of the sea

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and over land (I love that it is a rhino with a howdah and not an elephant that they draw to carry them overland) and water to a climatic rainbow-hued defeat of the evil forces of darkness

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culminating in a glowing, multi-coloured victory for the monarch and his kingdom.
All manner of architectural marvels are depicted in glorious watercolour and ink spreads that are packed with a multitude of amazing details. With a broader, richer colour-palette and greater emphasis on dramatic action and high adventure than its predecessor, this is again a stunning testament to the power of the imagination, art and pictorial story telling. Awesome.

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Creativity is THE Thing

Here are four books that are a true testament to the power of creativity and
the imagination:

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Ike’s Incredible Ink
Brianne Farley
Walker Books
Would-be author Ike is a blobby looking being with straggly (spindly) limbs who, having read all manner of incredible stories, wants to write one himself. He sits himself down, very briefly, and then the displacement activities begin: finding that favourite pen, calling up a friend, vacuuming (he must be desperate) but still things aren’t right. Ink is the missing something Ike decides, his very own ink. Thus begins a search for the special ingredients – shifty, shady, mysterious shadows, soft, floaty feathers from the Booga-bird, and a round, velvety ‘something’ from the dark side of the moon (that one involved constructing and flying a rocket). These – and what magical sounding items they are – Ike stuffs into his big bag and then it’s back to reality for some very messy mashing and mixing and then at last the vital ink is ready.

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So too is the author who, with problem solved, finally finds his ideas begin to flow: his process has become the story.
Anyone who has ever tried writing will immediately recognize Ike’s procrastinating tactics and that important period when ideas and possibilities need to gestate, float around in your head or just ‘be’ for a while. Educators take note!
Farley’s spare, quirky illustrations executed in ink – of course – and digital collage using a limited colour palette are ideal for this off-beat adventure.
Buy from Amazon

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The Nowhere Box
Sam Zuppardi
Walker Books
Sam’s younger brothers are a pesky nuisance, derailing his train set, demolishing his brick constructions and following him wherever he goes. Enough is enough, George decides and sets off in search of a place where they cannot follow: a place called Nowhere. And how does he get there? In the way that most young children can, if they have a very large cardboard box and various other assorted items of junk, plus scissors and pens – via his imagination. Before long George has ridden on a switchback,

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zoomed through space in a rocket and sailed the seven seas of Nowhere. But no matter how amazing, magnificent, and fantastic it might be, there’s a distinct lack of enemy pirates, dragons, anyone at all in fact. Perhaps not such an exciting place after all, thinks our would-be adventurer and maybe those little brothers might have some uses after all.
A great debut for Sam Zuppardi. Playful, and quirky; the mixed media illustrations beautifully capture the creativity of young children. I shall certainly be on the lookout for his next book.
Buy from Amazon

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Journey
Aaron Becker
Walker Books
It’s virtually impossible to do justice to this amazing wordless book in a short review. Essentially, a little girl, lonely and ignored by her busy parents, takes up her red crayon and draws herself into a magical journey through a door she draws on her bedroom wall and out into a forest illuminated by strings of glowing lights and lanterns. With her crayon she draws a boat that takes her down river to a castle where further adventures begin;  adventures involving a flying balloon, a purple bird, a rescue and much more. It would spoil the wonderful tale if I continue but suffice it to say there’s a wonderful ending involving a surprise encounter.
There is a brief nod to Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon and a wink to Anthony Browne’s Bear stories in that the crayon is used to draw the adventure but this Journey is much more complex and symbolic. Here the crayon unleashes the girl’s imagination as she makes a scooter, a door in the wall, a boat, a hot air balloon and a flying carpet. Once the adventure starts, the girl moves from a sepia toned world into one of colour and brightness: worlds wherein her feelings are palpable as she experiences loneliness, cruelty and danger and finally finds joy.
There is an element of steam punk too, which gives the book a wide age appeal.

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In fact there is so much for anyone and everyone here: adventure, danger, sadness, joy, beauty, wonder, and most important of all, creativity and the imagination. All these are so brilliantly encompassed within this amazing story. Truly it is the JOURNEY not the destination that is so important as Becker has so powerfully shown. Each double spread can be the starting point for a personal flight of fancy and where any one person’s journey will take them as s/he follows this story is, well, another story and another …
I think this has to be my FAVOURITE EVER wordless picture book.
It’s a must for anyone who believes in the importance of the power of the imagination.
Buy from Amazon

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Mr Wuffles!
David Wiesner
Andersen Press
If ever there was a fussy moggy, it’s Mr Wuffles. This black and white cat rejects all the specially bought toys and then he comes upon a very interesting looking object. This is in fact a miniature spaceship containing not one but five little aliens resembling robed grasshoppers. But, after a rough play session courtesy of Mr W. their spacecraft is in need of repair so the aliens go off searching for suitable materials. The watchful Mr Wuffles spots their move and is all set to pounce when his attention is diverted by a flying ladybird. His prey make their escape under the radiator and there make a kind of alliance with the resident insects. Despite a language barrier, the two groups manage to communicate through pictorial representation

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and eventually, thanks to a co-operative effort, an escape is engineered. ‘Oh, Mr Wuffles!’
This near wordless masterpiece is completely absorbing. It needs careful attention to follow the action and to appreciate the wealth of detail Wiesner has so cleverly embedded within the comic strip sequences. Ingenious.
Buy from Amazon

Find and buy from your local bookseller: http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch