Monday, 8 October 2012

Into the Forest

Thanks first of all to Anne-Marie and Helen for confirming to me on the previous post the sheer scope and lack of rules that apply to fear. I must also share this text I received on the subject from my bf because I love it so much...
"I foolishly mentioned to M that Van Gogh, who they are doing in art at school, had cut off his ear (I know, what was I thinking?) and now she is frightened of raisin toast because that is what we were eating while we were having said discussion about the post-impressionists...Similar to Bill's Dr. Who behaviour- she sidles away, makes to exit room or in extremis will say:'please could you hide that toast, it's making me think about the ear.'"

So. Who will provide me with a book where a one eared Lady Artist pops out of a trapdoor with a piece of raisin toast in hand, chucks it blase into a swampy pond full of gaping mouthed carp before being TOLD OFF by a dalek waggling its antenna disapprovingly, which then has a happy ending?

Cos that's what we need apparently.

I'd hazard a guess Anthony Browne could give it a go. Obviously if he did the Lady Artist would actually be a gorilla.

He must be amongst the best author/illustrators for giving form to fear in all its messed up glory; although I think it's hard to say whether his books can provide comfort exactly. I admire his work intensely and my children are often drawn to it but it's not exactly a cosy experience for any of us. These are picture books that provide lightening flashes to illuminate the darkest recesses of one's head and you are entitled to ask the question whether that illumination will always be helpful. If there were monsters you were hoping to keep locked up in your own personal cupboard, a session with an Anthony Browne book may throw open the doors.

I barely know where to begin in reviewing a book like 'Into the Forest'. Layers of fairy tale lore and meaning are layered on top of each other within a contemporary framework which might or might not be about a family break up. If that sounds like a sentence which could be a candidate for Pseud's Corner I apologise but every spread in the book could generate its own mini thesis, and nothing is presented as certain. Anxieties about loss, about isolation, about parental absence are all there as well as what true bravery might mean but they are not neatly packaged into a footnoteable formula. The book resists being filed away as a 'topic friendly' resource for a particular set of circumstances.

For me, this makes the book all the more rich  for opening up discussions with a child (a biggish one). On a happy day you might just enjoy spotting all the different fairy tale references hidden in Browne's shifting and ever-revealing landscapes. On an unhappy day this is exactly the book where you'll stop reading it halfway through and hear the story about how somebody called your child a 'tit' at lunchtime today and he couldn't find anyone else to play with...

 Anthony Browne's books are weird; really weird at times and that's why they work. His imaginings are so particular, so precise they can offer something universal. Because we're all weirder than a simple monster under the bed.

 More's the pity.

'Into The Forest' by Anthony Browne, pub. Walker isbn 1-84428-559-6


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  2. Illustrations look amazing but I do wonder if the sight of the forest alone will freak my 2 year old out even more ... or is that just what he needs? He does eat too many raisins so perhaps we'll start with a book on Van Gogh...

    1. Pretty freaky for a two year old. Or indeed for a 41 year old. Yep try the Van Gogh aversion therapy- I'd be interested to know if that's a universal response. To add to the experiment I will reveal that my son thinks Van Gogh's missing ear is the coolest thing going and hates raisins. go figure.