Over the Shop

Over the Shop
JonArno Lawson and Qin Leng
Walker Books

This is a wordless picture book that tells an uplifting tale of acceptance, trust and transformation.

As the story starts we see a child and her grandmother who is evidently the proprietor of the corner general store, at the back of which are their living quarters. It’s a run down place and upstairs is an empty flat. It’s not an inviting prospect for renters as is evident from the number of people who turn their backs on the place having viewed it.

Then, along come a couple of young people and it’s clear from the grandmother’s expressions that she has her doubts about them as tenants. They however are able to see past the run-down state of what’s on offer, and the child appears to be drawn to them and so begins project metamorphosis.

Not only do they, aided and abetted by the girl and the occasional neighbour, enthusiastically transform the apartment,

they also give the shop’s exterior a fresh coat of paint and help with the day-to-day running of the enterprise.
Meanwhile the girl has also enticed inside the cat her grandmother shooed away early on in the story, and that too now has a home. Thus from unpromising beginnings, a wonderful new family is formed.

Full of vitality, Qin Leng’s intricately detailed storytelling pictures rendered in ink and watercolour, are somewhat reminiscent of Sarah Garland. The presence of a rainbow flag in the final couple of spreads confirm what readers attentive to the fine detail might already have suspected.

This is one of those books where the more you look, the more you discover and the more stories emerge.

Migrants

Migrants
Issa Watanabe
Gecko Press

Just when we’re hearing of more and more migrants attempting to reach our shores in unsafe boats, arrived this timely book.

With its striking images it snares the attention right from the start as we’re shown the journey of a disparate group of migrants who plod through a dark forest with just a few belongings in bundles.
Behind them stalks the grim reaper accompanied by a huge blue ibis.

En route to the next stage of their journey, the travellers stop to rest and share food

before moving on towards the coast where a boat is waiting.

Everyone crowds on board with Death flying above on the ibis.

But the vessel is no match for the powerful waves that destroy it long before they reach land leaving those that are able, to swim to the shore.

There, they realise that one of their number has died and having gathered around to bid a final farewell,

on they trudge, still pursued by death with more falling by the wayside as their arduous, grief stricken journey continues.

Finally the depleted group arrives at a place where tree life blossoms and maybe, … a little hope.

Issa Watanabe has created without a single word, one of the most harrowing portrayals of migration I’ve seen in a book.

With her characters standing out starkly against the constant black backdrop, each illustration captures the determination and dignified demeanour of the travellers; yet, she leaves space for readers to do some of the interpretation themselves.

Truly a visual tour-de force, albeit one that leaves us feeling raw and tearful.

Monkey On the Run

Monkey on the Run
Leo Timmers
Gecko Press

This wordless picture book starts with a father monkey collecting his little one from school and right away their funky motorbike is in a nose-to-tail traffic jam.

Rather than sit frustratedly in the side car, Little Monkey gets out and starts wending his own way home.

Every spread offers potential stories aplenty so this definitely is not a book to hurry through. Rather one needs to slow the pace and relish the on-the-move fire fighting scenario; Little Monkey’s cake-lifting episode from the royal ‘feastmobile’…

cake he subsequently consumes in the crow’s nest of a wheeled boat.

There follow a confrontation with a rooster; a circus-like dangling act from a very bendy drinking straw

and later on Dad monkey gets an ice-cream surprise from above.

Then our inventive traveller secures a wonderful gift box

that he presents to his mum when father and son finally reach home.

Timmers’ vehicles are veritable inventive wonders, every one; and the way in which the interaction on each spread occurs is sheer comic genius. I’m sure readers will discover new things to relish on every re-reading, of which I’m sure there will be many.

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

My Town

My Town
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Studio

This large format picture book urban exploration is absolutely bursting with potential for discussion and language development with a group of preschool children.

The artist, Ingela Arrhenius has selected an exciting assortment of town-related places from a bookshop (I love that she’s included her Animals book in the window display)

to a building site, a police station to a port, a skyscraper

to a school and a museum to the metro.

Each of these and others are illustrated in a striking graphic style that has a retro feel.
Readers will enjoy following various characters who move from one page to another; but where will say, the woman serving in the bookshop and the guy buying a book next pop up?

Observant children will notice that the cyclist at the beginning of the book passes the hotel before ending up as a patient in the hospital on one of the final pages.

An almost wordless book (apart from the labels of the scenes, each with an aptly chosen typeface), there will be no shortage of words generated by, as I envisage it, groups of youngsters sharing the book while lying flat out on the floor, poring over each of its pages and making connections and storying excitedly, (perhaps with the occasional gentle nudge from a teacher or other adult), as well as making use of the picture dictionary front and back endpapers.

While You Are Sleeping

While You Are Sleeping
Mariana Ruiz Johnson
Chronicle Books

Words there are none, but this picture book is absolutely brimming over with stories.

We start with a view through a window of a mother reading a goodnight story to her child …

then on the next spread, tiptoeing out of the bedroom as the youngster falls asleep.

The view widens as we see both inside the house, and outside in the urban setting where fantasy and realism mix. Under a starry sky what appear to be animal characters from the storybook cavort, while in their homes people eat, chat, cook and embrace. We see a nurse and patients in a hospital, an artist working at an easel, someone with a telescope and more.

The lens widens still further revealing two animals on a jetty carrying a large object.
Keep turning and you see all six characters from the book cover have left the city and are paddling out across the ocean in a kind of long canoe (note the pattern and compare with the child’s bedspread).

They reach the shore of a wild jungle and there in the darkness, light torches and build a bonfire around which they play instruments and dance.

Then, something even more amazing takes place: the bonfire rises up into the sky becoming the morning sun.

Back in the city dawn breaks, the child awakes and a new day begins …

The magical realism of Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez come to mind as the story slips effortlessly between its real and dreamlike, surreal elements.

This is a book that demands close attention and several readings during which, new details will be discovered and fresh possibilities emerge from the dazzling folk-art hues of Johnson’s scenes.

Professional Crocodile

Professional Crocodile
Giovanna Zoboli and Mariachiara Di Giorgio
Chronicle Books

Now here’s a wordless picture book that is simply bursting with wit, and full of wonderful details to tickle your fancy.
Meet Mr Crocodile, an extremely dapper gent if ever there was one.
Every morning he rises with his alarm, performs his ablutions, breakfasts (on toast and jam), dons his business attire, including matching tie, and heads off to work.

But precisely how does this croc-about-town earn his livelihood? That is the question.
As you turn the pages you’ll find yourself pausing to pore over the wealth of interesting and absorbing happenings on each and every spread.

So many questions, so many possible stories wherever you rest your eyes.

The surprise final twist will leave you open-mouthed, I suspect. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.
(Perhaps if you take off the dust jacket before reading it, you’ll be less surprised; but hey, why spoil the fun?)
Captivating, clever and totally immersive.

I’ve signed the charter