Books Haunting Tales Picture Books Reading Themes

Sho and the Demons of the Deep written and painted by Annouchka Gravel Galouchko

Sho and the Demons of the Deep written and painted by Annouchka Gravel Galouchko

Myra here.

“It is said that in ancient Japan people cast their nightmares into the sea. These folk were too shy to reveal their secret dreams, and so they put them in bags and set them adrift on the waves. The sea felt burdened by people’s sorrows. Softened by the water, the bags would open and the nightmares would spill out and escape like little demons.”

The only hope for this little village that has lost all their livelihood is the schoolgirl Sho, a fisherman’s daughter – who has a rare gift of seeing into the hearts of all living creatures “even inside the rocks and the stones, the moon and the stars.” With perfect equanimity, Sho was able to save the villagers from the raging demons out in the sea (the product and reification of all their monstrous nightmares and fears) and taught them how they can embrace the darkest parts of their being. And she has done this not only once but quite a number of times as well.

I am intrigued by this “strange and somber” man who went around town collecting the growing bags of nightmares (now hidden safely in people’s closets after being asked not to throw them out into the sea) from the people for a fee:

“He charged one silver coin per bag, two for the heavier ones. The people were so eager to get rid of their secrets that they agreed to pay.”

Somehow, it reminds me of the entire system of doing psychoanalysis or even just your plain-ole-psychotherapy for a fee. The symbolism behind all the archetypes cleverly woven into the narrative is astounding. The lovely thing about this picture book is that it weaves together so many elements from spirituality to folk tales to acknowledging one’s darknesses and exposing them into the light’s blinding radiance:

“she taught them to play with their bad dreams rather than fear them: instead of casting them into the sea, they were to toss them into the air. The dreams would thrive on light”

This is a perfect narrative for the young and old alike haunted by demons they hide in little plastic bags and keep in the safe confines of their closets – and once thrown out into the sea, these nightmares and anxieties have the power to transform the ocean into a mighty, roaring, fearsome beast ready to wipe out anything in its wake. It is a powerful tale with equally moving paintings done by Annouchka herself. It is no surprise then that the book won the 1995 Governor General’s Literary Award for illustration and was short-listed as well for French-language text.

The writer, Annouchka Gravel Galouchko is said to have had a unique childhood, having lived in several foreign countries (Iran, Egypt, Mexico and Austria – click here to know more). In her award-winning book Sho and the Demons of the Deep, her jacketflap describes her in this fashion:

“Fifteen years ago, Annouchka was travelling the roads of North America with her flute. Those passersby who stopped to throw a few coins into her hat found their hearts beginning to dance. Magic, dreams and fantasy always intersect; the language of goblins and spirits, the same that has shaped the stories of all lands, is the language of Annouchka’s art. Whether she holds paintbrush, pencil or flute, enchantment awaits us.”

I am awed by this picture book. It provides the perfect backdrop for our Haunting Tales Special this November in GatheringBooks. It shows in such intricate detail how the worst of your dreams, your raging demons within – can be transformed into brightly-shaped cut-outs with the colours of the rainbow when tossed lightly and allowed to soar out into the night air with moonbeams and starlight.

Book cover –
Short profile of Annouchka from
Book borrowed from the community library
Book photos were taken by me
Photo of Annouchka –

Sho and the Demons of the Deep by Annouchka Gravel Galouchko

| Book Depository

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

6 comments on “Sho and the Demons of the Deep written and painted by Annouchka Gravel Galouchko

  1. Your introductory quote alone makes me want to get a copy of this book. So close to home. Folktales are one of the best stories one can read to a child. And I would have to agree that the paintings were “equally moving.” Nice backdrop for Haunting Tales. =)


    • myragarcesbacsal

      I know, and Annouchka’s character seems to shine thru in her writing (and paintings). Was truly moved by this picture book. You should get yourself a copy, my dearest.


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