Emmanuel Bourdier and Zaü
The boy narrator sees his father just once a week, when he visits him in prison. We know not why he’s there but we do discover that it’s for a long stretch and we learn a lot about him and about the complex relationship the narrator has with his Dad or “Cave Bear” as the boy and his mother call him in their conversations. Conversations with school friends are tricky for the boy who never reveals that his Dad is in prison. Instead he tells them, “He’s a ‘cloud sculptor, a mole tamer, an inventor of dirty words.”
During his son’s visits Dad smells of cigarettes along with peppermint or hazelnut on account of the two bottles of cologne Grandma once gave him. He has a gold tooth, a short temper, a good sense of humour, he’s strong and likes to copy bird sounds and imitate people. The boy blames his Dad for the anguish and sadness – the ‘fog – in his Mum’s eyes, hating him for that,
and fearing his fury over the lad’s school reports.
However, when visiting time is over and Dad cries, the narrator’s love is reawakened and he leaves with thoughts of retaining that special Dad smell till the following week, as well as bringing him a supply of hazelnuts.
This is a powerful evocation of a situation seldom presented in picture books. Both words (elegantly translated from Bourdier’s original French) and Zaü’s (André Langevin) charcoal, sepia-toned illustrations are empathetic and full of emotion, working perfectly together to produce an unforgettable book for older picture book audiences.