August 19, 2013

What Happens Next?

So I went over to the Harvard Book Store the other day, and normally I only allow myself to go downstairs to the bargain section, but somehow I allowed myself to go the the children's book section in the back. Needless to say I left the store with more books than I can probably afford. On the bright side, though, the books actually happened to fit a very similar theme, thus giving us this week's topic...

What happens next?

One of these books is Where Do We Go When We Disappear? by established duo Isabel Minhós Martins and Madalena Matoso. It came out at the beginning of this month, and it's no surprise that it's been getting good reviews: the book explores the question of what happens when a person, the sun, and even socks or snow disappears. As explained by the author to Publisher's Weekly:

"Most of the time we don't go very far. We are just around the corner. Lying hidden, with our eyes wide open, waiting to be found...We say without thinking, 'Oh look, the sun is rising.' But to the sun it's us that disappears and then rises again."

"What happens next?" is a fascinating concept a lot of picturebooks authors are timid to address. And it's no wonder, it's a heavy topic. Martins and Matoso handle the question beautifully, though, and while the text asks the big questions, the illustrations pull at the borders of the pages as though trying to pull the unknown closer.

The other book I grabbed was Michael Rosen's Sad Book by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake, and it's probably the saddest book I've ever read ever, ever. It starts out with a bright illustration of a smiling man, but the text indicates that this is a the protagonist acting happy despite his sadness. He explains that he is sad because his son Eddie died, and he cannot talk to his mother because she is also dead, then goes on to list how his son's passing makes him feel: angry, reclusive, even a little crazy sometimes. He's honest and open with the reader as he explains that he tries to remedy his sadness by recalling memories of his mother and Eddie, and how fun birthdays can be. But, sadly, this realization brings him (and the reader) back to a still shot of Michael staring at a small photograph in a candlelit room by himself. It's a terribly sad book, but the illustrations and text really ground Michael's story in reality and provide readers with a cold hard look at what comes next for the person who doesn't disappear.

I think one of the most poignant books I've read but never been able to categorize in terms of a blog post is Shaun Tan's The Rabbits. It's an incredibly poignant and unabashed allegory about colonialism, and what happens to those who are powerless to stop the cultural and ecological destruction of their home. The story is told from an armadillo-like culture's point of view, and details how the rabbits came and slowly but surely took over the land, bringing in strange new animals, new architecture, and, eventually, war. The rabbits destroy the crops, take away the armadillo's children, and leave them in a barren, concrete world. The book ends with a small illustration framed in all black with one of each animal standing in the snow, facing each other with the caption "Who will save us from the rabbits?"

The book is haunting and, like the other two, shows no signs at the end of an optimistic future for its characters. Varmints by Helen Ward and Marc Craste is equally beautiful, if not as textually rich, as The Rabbits, and it tells a similar story of a society that gets taken over by a more advanced culture. The ending, however, is significantly more optimistic, and begins to answer the question of "what comes next?" Illustration- and book-design-wise, the book is incredible, and is definitely worth checking out.

It's also available as a short film here if you're interested.

I think that's all for this topic for now. It's a great one that really gets a dialogue going, so I definitely recommend them when discussing heavier topics. Does anyone know of any others in the same vein?

What's happens next (is),

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