Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

Kyo Maclear’s The Good Little Book (2015)

I returned to picture books when a face-to-face bookclub read Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Books without pictures still outnumber the illustrated volumes in my stacks, but I am working to adjust the balance.

Kyo Maclear Good Little BookThe Good Little Book, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Marion Arbona, will suit booklovers of all ages, and likely some pre-bookloving youngsters who are drawn to boldly coloured and intricate drawings as well.

The inside leaf has a bookplate with a number of readers’ names in childlike handwriting, the names of the author and illustrator and various loved ones with whom they have shared the volume.

Against a rich floral pattern, around the plate and on the facing page, it looks as though some young hands have drawn some stick figures, outlined some of their favourite things (including a dinosaur and a rocket) and an x’s and o’s grid (in which o won).

Much is revealed here: books are to be shared and readers are to interact with their favourites, to make them a part of their everyday lives. The Good Little Book does have a story, but there are only a few pages, so that’s best left for readers to discover themselves.

However, in case you need to recognize it in a crowd, here is a description of the main character: “The good little book was neither thick nor thin, neither popular nor unpopular. It had no shiny medals to boast of. It didn’t even own a proper jacket.”

And here is a hint of the action contained herein:”The silence of reading slowly filled the room.” Sometimes things get more exciting: “Then he turned back to the beginning and read it again.”

Marion Arbona’s illustrations are slightly disorienting, in a way which seems to pull readers into the story: buildings with straight lines angle towards one another and a reader in an armchair repeats across a spread-page as though the floor is never flat or still.

In collage-styled spreads, people and other creatures overlap like sardines in a can, body parts colliding, instantly creating a mood. There is a playful tone, which would appeal to children (a couple of scenes in particular will make them giggle, offering eyes on uncommonly viewed territory) but the colours and intricacy will also appeal to adults. (I would happily hang prints from this volume on my walls, the two which are not covered with bookshelves.)

As with Kyo Maclear’s Virginia Wolf, the prose is clearly written to reach young readers, but it resonates with older readers as well. It is delicately and deliberately constructed, and perhaps it’s because I so enjoyed her debut novel The Letter Opener and still remember the feeling that book created, but the prose feels inviting, warming even (the colours help with that too, of course).

If you’ve loved Sarah Stewart’s The Library (illustrated by David Small), Manjusha Pawagi’s The Girl Who Hated Books (illustrated by Leanne Franson) and Kate Bernheimer’s The Lonely Book (illustrated by Chris Sheban), you will want a copy of The Good Little Book on your shelves.

It can hang out with all the other good little books there.

Do you have a favourite illustrated bookish book?

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