Have You Ever Seen A Flower?

Have You Ever Seen A Flower?
Shawn Harris
Chronicle Books

This a visual feast if ever there was one. It begins in an intricately constructed city in which the only thing of colour is a small girl with rainbow tresses dashing out through a door where a car awaits within which is a terrier.

As the car moves out of the city, the dreary greyness turns first white and then explodes into a riot of colour, till the car stops.

We next see the child, her joy palpable, surrounded by fields alive with fluorescent flowers. She stops, stoops and, breathing deeply, imbibes the beauty of a single bloom and in so doing has an existential experience of complete connectedness: it’s as though she and the flower become a unified life force.

All the while, the text invites readers to ponder such questions as ‘Have you ever seen a flower using nothing but your nose? Breathe deep … what do you see?’ … “Have you ever seen a flower so deep you had to shout HELLO and listen for an echo just to know how deep it goes?’

We share the child’s exhilaration as she clutches a plucked wildflower, before herself becoming transformed into a flower.

There’s much to contemplate and reflect upon in what is, for both child and reader, a wonder-filled transformational journey into consciousness itself.

An exciting debut for Shawn Harris as author/illustrator. With their changing perspective and focus, his colour pencil illustrations are mesmerising, the playful narrative rich in metaphor with occasional alliteration and assonance. Who can resist its urgent intensity?

A Polar Bear in the Snow / In the Half Room

Here are two recent picture books from Walker Books kindly sent for review:

A Polar Bear in the Snow
Mac Barnett and Shawn Harris

In dramatic fashion a sleeping polar bear stirs, sniffs the air and sets forth on a walk the destination of which is known only to himself. Readers join him as he’s observed by seals, arctic foxes,

a human even

until, having traversed the snowy, icy landscape, he arrives at the startlingly blue sea.

Plunging in, the creature’s feeling playful as he enjoys frolicking amidst the fishes and fronds,

before clambering back onto the snow and continuing on his way.
Wither is he bound now? That is left for readers to ponder upon …

Splendidly playful: who can resist accompanying the polar protagonist in Mac Barnett’s spare narrative and Shawn Harris’s arresting torn paper art that’s cleverly layered to give the illustrations a three-dimensional effect, as the creature sallies forth on his walk.

In the Half Room
Carson Ellis

This is a somewhat surreal, enigmatic, rhyming bedtime book wherein Carson Ellis presents a moonlit room in which everything is carefully cut in half. We don’t see the entire setting initially; rather we’re shown a series of partial items – ‘Half chair/ Half hat / Two shoes, / each half / Half table / Half cat’.

Then, once the room has all the half items mentioned, comes ‘Half a knock on half a door’ and there stands the woman’s other half.

Having come together, she’s wholly ready to dash out to embrace the world beneath a starry sky.

Meanwhile, in through the door left ajar, comes half a cat

to participate with its other half in a half-cat fight’ after which the two entwine un-united, on the mat and fall asleep.

With bold images, this is wholly entertaining and intriguing though perhaps some youngsters will be left feeling just a tad bemused by such an offbeat offering.

Everyone’s Awake

Everyone’s Awake
Colin Meloy and Shawn Harris
Chronicle Children’s Books

Wide awake, a child narrator lying in bed regales readers with the night-time activities of various members of the household, not one of whom is actually in bed despite it being almost midnight. Speaking in rhyme he tells of the relatively normal activities ‘Grandma’s at her needlework. / Dad is baking bread. / My brother’s making laundry lists / of every book he’s read’;

and the much more unlikely “My brother’s now reciting every line from Condorman while my sister is trapezing from the kitchen ceiling fan. / Dad just rolled the motorbike into the living room and is practicing Sinatra with the handle of the broom.’

Why oh why, when they have a busy day planned for tomorrow would Mum decide to go up on the roof and start fixing broken slates, or brother spend time using toothpaste tops to build a temple – totally bizarre behaviour. Even the family pets have got involved in the action: the cat’s been taking lessons in bad language from ‘my brother’ and then goes on to engage in a spot of tattooing.

Will these frenzied activities ever cease?

Eventually our narrator just has to go down.

The retro feel illustrations rendered in ink, charcoal and pencil with added colour absolutely capture all the frenzied nocturnal activity as the clock ticks on towards the morning. With a satisfying finale, the entire thing is absolutely and defiantly crazy – insomnia guaranteed – so best not shared as a bedtime tale.