New “Cats and Dogs” theme on the PaperTigers website

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Head on over to the PaperTigers website, where you will find hundreds of Cats and Dogs waiting to greet you.  I exaggerate only slightly for one of our new features is a Gallery of Korean artist Chinlun Lee‘s work, including illustrations from her delightful picture book The Very Kind Rich Lady and Her One Hundred Dogs.

Japanese illustrator Kae Nishimura also features in our Gallery; and we have new interviews with illustrator Meilo So from her home in the Scottish Shetland Islands and Australian Aboriginal elder and storyteller Gladys Milroy, co-author with her daughter Jill Milroy of our Book of the Month, Dingo’s Tree (Magabala Books, 2012).

Also from Australia, Susanne Gervay has written a Personal View about “The Images of Dogs in Ships in the Field” – Ships in the Field is her latest book and was a project close to her heart since it relates part of her childhood as the daughter of Hungarian refugees.

Our featured authors and illustrators all share stories and photographs of the dogs and cats in their lives.  In the early days of the PaperTigers Blog, Janet wrote a post about reading to her family’s huskies when she was a child.  In my own family, you will often find the dog curled up next to (or on top of) whoever is reading – and over the next couple of months we invite you to send us your photos and/or stories of reading time shared with a pet to be featured here on the Blog – please do email them to me, marjorieATpapertigersDOTorg – we’d love to hear from you.

Week-end Book Review: Ships in the Field by Susanne Gervay and Anna Pignataro

Sunday, October 28th, 2012

Susanne Gervay, illustrated by Anna Pignataro,
Ships in the Field
Ford Street Publishing, 2012.

Ages: 8+

“Every night Brownie and I wait for Papa to come home.” – and when he arrives, “Round and round we whirl.”  This joyous ritual provides the opening sequence of Ships in the Field, a story whose essence is perhaps distilled into the notion of the transcendental power of love.  Acclaimed Australian author Susanne Gervay (I Am Jack, That’s Why I Wrote This Song) has based the story on her own childhood as the daughter of Hungarian refugees.  Told through the eyes, perception and narrative voice of a likeable, effervescent little girl, we learn that her beloved, funny Papa works in a car factory but used to be a farmer “in the old country, before it was broken”; and quiet, withdrawn Ma, who seems to have forgotten how to smile, was a teacher and now “sews dresses all day long”.  The girl’s confidante is her soft toy dog Brownie but she also longs for a real dog.

Every Sunday the family goes into the countryside and Papa says, “Look at the ships in the field.”  This makes the little girl giggle, for it conjures up a funny image, but it makes her sad too, because other people laugh at the way her father speaks – and so she staunchly joins him in his pronunciation of the word “sheep”.  One Sunday, near the “woolly ships”, she finds something very precious that signals a new chapter for all the family.

The undercurrents in the story are felt in the girl’s awareness of aspects of her family’s past.  It is never mentioned in her presence but it weighs on her nevertheless, and she confides in Brownie, “I don’t like war.”  Anna Pignataro’s beautiful watercolour illustrations perfectly capture the emotions – love, pain, joy – that emanate from the story.  As well as the ever-faithful Brownie, vignettes of a real dog appear throughout the story; and two notable sequences merge events from the past, depicting war and flight through the second-hand filter of the little girl’s knowledge and imagination.  The rough pencil outlines underlying the watercolours imbue the illustrations with energy and a sense of movement that is further emphasised in the variety of page layouts: the use of continuous narrative is particularly effective.

Ships in the Field is itself a multi-layered term, from straightforward mispronunciation to providing scope for metaphorical and poetic interpretation – or simply delight in its nonsense.  While offering a warm reading experience for young children, the book also poses questions for older readers and adults about how much young children can or should know about painful elements in a family’s past; and about the damage that can be caused by not bringing the past into the open, when children have already absorbed more than adults give them credit for.  Each rereading of this perfect synthesis between spoken and visual narrative offers something new, through the nuance of the writing or a dawning awareness of a visual motif.  Above all, Ships in the Field is a very special picture book of extraordinary depth, that carries a message of hope and reassurance that time does and will heal.

Marjorie Coughlan
October 2012