Monday, June 11, 2007

one more mosquito

This is one of the loveliest children's books ever, remarkable for a number of reasons. It's a series of short (some very short) stories about a little girl's (Irah) encounters with various beasties. The illustrations are exquisite, and the text is even better: it's touchingly poetic and the way in which it addresses children's emotions, in an understated indirect way, is very moving.

Then there is of course the animals Irah meets: not your regular cow, sheep, dog, chicken, lion, tiger or parrot. They are respectively: a mosquito, a worm, a butterfly, a jellyfish, a fox and an owl.

But the most remarkable thing about this book is the way in which the consciousness of the animals, and their dialogue with Irah, is portrayed. I don't think I ever noticed before the extent to which animals in children's books are anthropomorhized (that's not a even a word...) and given a secondary role. They seem to often be no more than projections of human thought, behaviour and emotion. A mirror, a reflection of the human protagonist. But not in this book. My favourite is the one where Irah finds a jellyfish on the beach and eventually carries it in her bucket back to the sea.

While she wonders whether the jellyfish is cold, asleep, homesick, the jellyfish is only thinking water, water, waiting, sand, water, deeper, water. The beautiful thing is that they really are talking to each other, there is true communication here, albeit without words. And with the jellyfish constantly reminding Irah that her concepts do not translate directly into its world.

It's this fine-tuned dialogue between two beings, two worlds, two languages. It's Luce Irigaray, for children. It's breathtaking.

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