Saturday, 30 April 2016

The Only Child by Guojing [wordless picture book]

The Only Child
By Guojing
Schwartz & Wade Books
ISBN 978055349704

This picture book uses the simplest of materials - pencil and paper. There are no words, but there is definitely a story, one to take time over, linger in each spread to follow the tale. The story is cleverly paced through the arrangement of the images; a stellar moment captured with a single image in a double page spread, a romping playtime captured in nine little pictures in a grid on a single page.

The small chubby-cheeked child (could be male or female, I'll settle for he) is left alone when the mother goes to work. 

At first he is happily entertained with pencil and paper and a small toy reindeer. After a look through the family photo album he decides to catch the bus to go and visit Grandma.

The journey goes awry when he falls asleep on the bus then runs into the trees in a panic. But it's here that the magic starts with a large stag (a real version of the toy) who comes to the rescue and carries the child up a stairway into the clouds where he makes another friend - a soft round seal-like creature.

Rather than being frightened the child is comforted, the bond between the boy and stag is demonstrated in a lovely series of pictures where the child plays with the stag's mouth:

There's an exciting encounter with a whale - I love the totally black double-page spread while they are inside before being whooshed out the blow-hole.

Meanwhile the mother has come home and we see a note - 'gone to visit grandma'. The mother is panicked and searches for him. They are finally reunited in the last pages after the child is delivered to the grandparents' house by the stag, with a touching moment to be lingered over as they child and stag say good bye.

I was reminded of the Shaun Tan masterpiece The Arrival, particularly with the use of the grid of images and related photograph album. 

This is a quiet masterpiece to whisper and dream over, and imagine what might come to life in your own version of this dream-like tale with no words. The dreaminess is reinforced with the softness of the pencil and the chubbiness of child, seal critter, clouds etc. A great pathway to discussions about what to do when you are lost too. A substantial book too, no mere 32-page picture book here, but graphic novel, and based on a true event in her childhood, getting lost on her way to her grandmother's house.

This book has gathered a slew of awards - take a look at Guojing [aka Jing Guo]'s website. She is an illustrator and concept artist who previously worked in the animation and game industry. 

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Pax by Sara Pennypacker & Jon Klassen [Intermediate fiction]

Written by Sara Pennypacker
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Balzer + Bray (imprint of HarperCollins), 2016
ISBN 9780062377012

I think I picked this book up initially because I saw the cover, and immediately recognised Jon Klassen's illustration style, with his textured browns which capture nature so well, and the fox... foxes are very popular these days. My own lovely sister gave me a toy fox for my last birthday, and a notebook, and a cup and saucer, all emblazoned with the lovely fox. 

Pax is a fox, a pet fox. Peter is his boy, who rescued him as a kit after his family were killed. Peter's own mother died when he was seven and his father is a dark, moody man, not given to conversation. The story begins with a journey, the three of them in the car. Peter's father is going to fight in the war, Peter is to go and live with his grandfather, and Pax must be returned to the wild.

The grandfather is no kinder  his son - "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree", as he says. Peter is fearful that he too carries the tendency to anger easily, and battles it throughout.

Peter doesn't even last one night before deciding he must go and find his fox, who he fears will not survive, having never learned the skills to live in the wild. He runs away with a few supplies, but has an accident which lands him at an isolated farmhouse where our other main character, a middle-aged, one-legged ex-soldier named Vola. She reluctantly provides shelter and helps him heal, and train for his journey back to where the fox was last seen. This section of the story was my favourite, as Peter and Vola each battle their own demons, learning about themselves and each other, leaving them both immeasurably changed by this time.

Meanwhile, in every alternate chapter, we follow Pax's journey. At first reluctant to leave the spot where he last saw his boy, and eyed with suspicion by a local vixen, but befriended by her little brother, they make their own journey with its danger and learning, parallel to Peter's own. Each determined to find their way back to the other.

Beautifully written, rich with emotion but not sentimental, compelling reading indeed. I think Pax has moved into my heart and I'll be thinking of him for a long time to come.

Much research has gone into the nature of foxes; they are both fashionable and fascinating. The author has done a fine job of conveying their thoughts and communication with one another, their environment, and their view of things human, which is at times brutal and heartbreaking.

The bond between boy and fox is one of the loveliest aspects of the story. As Vola says 'they are two, but not two' as they see the world through each other's eyes.

The story is set in an unspecified time and place - I thought at first that it was a past war, but it could be a time, past or future, thus making it a possiblity in any reader's own time and place and providing food for thought about how easily we are turned to the brutality of war, and how it affects not only those who are doing the fighting. 

The illustrations are scattered throughout the book, indeed the first page of chapter one bears this lovely piece:

Later he captures Vola's workbench. (Oh how I long for a space like this):

This would be a fabulous chapter book to read aloud to an older class - I'm working in an intermediate school at the moment and I would love to share it with them, and discuss the many issues that would arise.

There's a website devoted to Pax, and this lovely trailer

Do read the great interview for School Library Journal where Sara talks about her writing process and the many things she learned about foxes while researching the story.

My copy of the book was from the Auckland Libraries I do wish I'd been the recipient of the package that opens up into a little diorama. 

Now I want to make my own.
Do go and take a look at Jon Klassen's tumblr and if you haven't read his other books then get thee to a library or bookshop as soon as you can. 

Check out Sara Pennypacker's website too. I love her front page. The text on the calendar says 'The Story is the Boss'. She is author of the lovely Clementine series too, which many little girls have loved to bits.