Amy and Louis deservedly won the Picture Story Book category in 2007 and so it should have because it is one of the best picture story books of all time. Their follow-up in Clancy and Millie was less spectacular. Fortunately, Look, a book! recaptures that lost magic – not that Look, a book! is anything like Amy and Louis (which might have been Clancy and Millie’s problem). Phew.
Illustrator Freya Blackwood has turned her attention to a deserted, almost dystopian, landscape where chickens are caged in up-turned shopping trolleys and forests of telephone poles crowd the skyline. How perfect a setting to highlight the preciousness of a book and the ability it gives us to escape from our surroundings into our imagination.
Yet is is almost as if the contents of the book are secondary to its value. As, once the children learn its contents, they become finite whereas before they have read (or had read to them) the book, its contents are endlessly possible. This book may be eponymously about a book but, for the children in it, it is a recognition of the transmutative quality of books.
Some books feel like the illustrator has drawn her work in response to the story (and sometimes it seems like they haven’t read the story at all) but this feels the opposite. Gleeson’s laconic contribution to the work accentuates its sparseness but it is the illustrations that carry the story along.
Blackwood’s illustrations are evocative of Tan’s work (I swear I recognise that cloud on the second last page from somewhere) but, while Tan’s drawings have a finished quality, Blackwood’s are energetically incomplete. It is through contrast to the desolately bleak landscape that we are drawn into the world of fantasy where back-yard thunderboxes transform into sailing boats and discarded coke bottles become flying carpets. Upon closer inspection, even the scarier aspects of the illustrations have a softer tone (is it just my imagination or does the size of that dog’s feet suggest a gamboling puppy?). These elements draw the story to its beautiful and inevitable conclusion.
In Look, a book! Gleeson and Blackwood have moved into more abstract territory and it is easy to see why the CBCA judges approve. It is a strange, quiet exploration of the pregnant joy a new book can provide.