This year I gave my son a picture book for Christmas–nothing earthshaking about that until you consider that my son is in his early thirties and graduated from pictures to the printed word several decades ago. The book is one that my neighborhood bookstore has been selling to adults ever since it came to their shelves, and when I opened it I knew I had to give it to someone I loved. The book is Shaun Tan’s gorgeous book without words, The Arrival, and it is one that is featured on the PaperTigers gallery.
I have given picture books to adults for years, ever since I first began my life as a bookseller, and the illustrators that I yearn to give and to own are most often from Australia, a corner of the world that is covered quite wonderfully on PaperTigers by Charlotte.
Just before I moved from the arena of children’s books to a life in SE Asia, a book came to me from Australia that has haunted my imagination ever since I opened it. It is a perfect example of how words and pictures magically combine to create a book that lives forever in the hearts and minds of readers — The Wolf by Margaret Barbalet, illustrated by Jane Tanner (Maxwell Macmillan, 1991). No other book that I have found illustrates so vividly the crippling effects of fearing the unknown, and how facing that fear can turn it into something wonderful. Each picture is a painting, showing a family whose lives become imprisoned by their fear of the wolf who comes closer and closer to their house at night. When it is finally confronted by one of the children, it is revealed as a friendly, lonely creature who only wants shelter and love. Author and illustrator have blended their artistry to create a masterpiece that resonates to all age groups, on many different levels of understanding. If I could, I would give it to everyone I know.
And now — a plea for help — at the same time that The Wolf came into my life, another picture book from Australia also arrived in my workplace and I can no longer remember the title, author, or illustrator. The book however has proved to be unforgettable. It is the story of children playing an imaginary game in the backyard — the text shows the fantasy that the children have created while the full-page pictures show the reality of the game — the garbage can lids that are their shields and their dog who is the prey that they seek. It’s a brilliant depiction of the world of the imagination and I would love to find it again. Is there anybody out there who can steer me toward it?