Finalist at the Prix des Libraires Jeunesses 2018 - Category 0-5 years old. Lux Prize 2018 - CHILDREN'S BOOK
(suggested) reading age: 5+
(suggested) interest age: 3-7+
Illustrations: Marianne Ferrer https://www.instagram.com/marianneferrer.jpg/
Something a bit different
Like most of us involved in the book industry in Wales in one way or another, we do it because we love books and are passionate about getting people reading- we certainly don't do it for the money!
Recently, I came across a small international oddity on the bookshelf. It's not often you see a clothbound book these days. This book seems a bit of a curiosity, and whilst I don’t see it selling hundreds of copies, it’s an interesting one nonetheless and adds to the variety of alternative books out there.
It's good that publishers like Broga like to take a gamble every now and then, by publishing rather peculiar delights, instead of the usual samey things. It’s also nice to see international adaptations from countries other than England for a change. I think the book was first published in French, under the title Le Jardin Invisible.
For your £12.99 you get a good quality hardback book, and the pages feel glossy and thick, which is sure to last for years to come. Granted, in a cost-of-living crisis, every penny counts and if price is an issue, remember about your local libraries who are more than happy to help.
Do we need words at all?
As Luned and Huw Aaron run Llyfrau Broga, I'm sure it was Marianne Ferrer's beautiful artwork that appealed to them in the first place when they decided to translate the book into Welsh.
We start with a little car travelling from the ‘big city’ whilst a little girl asks "are we almost there?" (classic line) as she approaches a majestic forest. In a small clearing in the trees, a little red house stands out. It's Grandma's House, and it's her birthday. After becoming fed up of the adults’ boring conversations, it is suggested that Elsi go out into the garden to play.
To begin with, she’s bored there too. But when a small pebble draws her attention, this opens the door for an extraordinary adventure, which takes her over the mountains, under the water, and flying with mighty insects. Is it that they are huge and she is small? Who knows! Is she actually in the garden or is it all a dream? It doesn’t matter. It does feel like a crazy dream as she catapults from one extraordinary situation to another. Wait a minute, has she gone back in time? It's not clear. Possibly. The dinosaurs she encounters suggest she may have been travelling through space and time. Many of the scenes are open to interpretation, and each reader is likely to see something different.
The book takes us on a journey into the mind of a child. Once she's in the garden, and her imagination is free to roam, the possibilities are limitless. In fact, the story can feel a bit confusing at times as it moves from one unbelievable thing to another - not too dissimilar to Alice in Wonderland! The trick is not to overthink things, and just go with it, letting Elsi's imagination take you on an adventure.
Whilst reading, I was reminded of going to my great-grandmother's house in Llanrwst. Over the years, the garden had overgrown into something of a monster, and I loved going there to explore. One day, in the middle of the foliage, I found an Austin Maestro van and an old 'outside' toilet almost totally covered in ivy. What fun – and thankfully there wasn’t an Xbox or a playstation in sight!
Here's the thing, there’s actually very little text in the book. No more than about 30 words give or take. Just enough to nudge the 'story' forward. This is the strength of the book, and also, its weakness, depending on which side of the fence you sit. I think this is a book that will split opinion. Some will love it, some won’t. For the creative, imaginative people who like these kinds of books, the sparse text lets the pictures do the talking, and the story is so open, that it will read differently each time, depending on the reader. The ambiguity certainly leaves plenty of room for many conversations about things such as the contrast between city and country life or how to overcome boredom. One question I would ask a young reader is ‘was it all a dream?’
Of course, there will be others who will feel that the story lacks structure and that there’s just not enough of a ‘story’ there to tell. This probably depends on whether or not you’re used to wordless picturebooks. Fans know that they can be incredibly useful, powerful and flexible resources that open the mind and stimulate discussion.