The Garden of Inside-Outside

The Garden of Inside-Outside
Chiara Mezzalama and Régis Lejonc (trans. Sarah Ardizzone)
Book Island

Inspired by the author’s own childhood experience (in 1980 her father was appointed Italian ambassador to Tehran when Iran was at war with Iraq), this is an absolutely wonderful graphic novel style presentation with suberb illustrations by Régis Lejonc.

Chiara and her brother spent their days within a garden of an ambassadorial residence surrounded by high walls. Inside this garden with its fountains, pomegranate trees, a pond with an ancient carp, and a wealth of hiding places they were safe from the violent war that raged Outside.

One day while playing in their garden the children spy a young boy peering through the iron gate. He takes a risk and climbs over the wall. Chiara’s brother and their dog run away but despite having no language in common, Chiara and the boy whose name is Massoud, strike up a friendship.

Much alarmed, Chiara’s brother wants her to inform their parents but she keeps quiet and her new friend becomes ‘ the Persian prince of Outside-Inside’ while Chiara is a lion-taming princess; their garden his sanctuary.

But when Chiara tries to mix inside and outside the story suddenly turns and their friendship comes under a threat of her own making, her friendly gesture seemingly spurned; or is it?

Powerfully written and crafted with consummate skill, (this is a superb translation by Sarah Ardizzone), we readers really feel as though we’re standing behind Chiara’s head as she tells her enormously thought-provoking story. The illustrations truly do evoke the tranquilly of the inside sanctuary and the dark horrors and fears of the war as it rages in the city outside.

I’ve never seen anything quite like this before: what a wonderful demonstration that friendships truly can transcend boundaries and walls against all the odds.

Emmett and Caleb

Emmett and Caleb
Karen Hottois and Delphine Renon
Book Island

Emmett and Caleb are neighbours and good friends. Despite having totally different morning rituals, they manage to spend much of their time together going for walks and enjoying nature.

Come summer late riser Caleb is unusually, awake early and he wants to give his pal a present to celebrate their long-standing friendship. Having pondered hard, he decides to write Emmett a poem: ‘Emmett, you look handsome in your hat and you’re not fat.’ and give it to him after they’ve consumed their meal. This however, doesn’t quite go as well as he hopes: Emmett focuses on the superficial errors rather than the content of the message and so finds Caleb’s effort funny, which upsets the writer who snatches back his work, taking drastic action.

Emmett ponders, gently admonishes himself and decides to make recompense. By sunset the two are reconciled

Autumn brings forest walks, damp earth and the harvesting of nature’s bounties – a truly golden time for the pair.

Then in the winter it’s time to celebrate Caleb’s birthday with a party, presents, a special cake and dancing;

it even snows as midnight strikes.

This celebration of friendship, life’s simple pleasures and the gifts of nature, translated from the author’s original French by Sarah Ardizzone, is enchanting. In her illustrations, Delphine Renon beautifully captures the warmth between the two characters as well as the inherent beauty of each season.

A quirky delight to read aloud or equally, a lovely book for those just taking off as independent readers.