'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 16 October 2016

Review: Du Iz Tak?

I beyond adored Carson Ellis' first both written-and-illustrated picture book--Home (see a review here), and have been waiting ever so patiently for a follow-up.

Here it is--Du Iz Tak?

And lo, it is good. It's good because it's a book that sits so firmly outside the square, first and foremost. It's also clever, charming, meaningful and, of course, so gorgeously illustrated.

In the opening pages, we meet two bugs who happen across a green shoot, peeking from the soil.

'Du iz tak?' asks one.

'Ma nazoot,' says the other.
Soon, the shoot begins to grow. Several more insects stop by and start making comments about the shoot, using their strange but delicious language. As they speak, verb repetition and physical movement provide us with clues as to what they might be saying.

Meanwhile, on the opposing verso page, a little caterpillar has hunkered down into a cocoon hanging from a log, and grass and mushrooms and blossoms are starting to appear on the ground below.

As the story unfolds, the shoot begins to grow into something quite magnificent. The curious insects consult a local wise man (who happens to live in the log), and together they ponder this mesmerising plant.

As the plant grows and the insects interact and even use it for their own enjoyment, life moves on. Spiders come and go. Birds swoop in. And then a truly breathtaking flower appears. But of course, flowers don't last forever, and neither do plants or insects.

Essentially, this is a story of curiosity, joy and the cycle of both the seasons and life. The strangely incoherent dialogue is a delight to both roll around in the mouth and interpret to suit our own means and imagined storyline. The narrative is essentially textless, instead relying on dialogue and clever images that take us on a beautiful, wordless ride.

Yes, the cocoon hatches. Yes, the plant dies. Yes, the snow comes and yes, shoots appear anew. And the same curiosities begin all over again. Just like life.

Ellis's divine illustrations are at once folksy and modern, with magical colourings and patterning, and absolutely no fear of blank space. The entire narrative takes place over one single scene, and it's a true visual treat to see her take one small slice of nature and create an ever-changing aesthetic wonderland.

It's so very fabulous to see publishers take risks with unconventional books. I think many publishers underestimate the attraction and thirst for such books in the children's market.

Du Iz Tak? Well, it's one of those books you just have to see for yourself.

Title: Du Iz Tak?
Author/Illustrator: Carson Ellis
Publisher: Walker Books, $24.99
Publication Date: 1 October 2016
Format: Hard cover
ISBN: 9781406368413
For ages: 3 - 8
Type: Picture Book