We continue our Wordless Picture Book Special: “When Words are not Enough” for March and April with two books written and illustrated by Australian award-winning author Jan Ormerod. First book is published in 1981 by Kestrel Books, Penguin Books Ltd in England entitled:
Book Format and Layout. Similar to the recent classic by John Goodall that I have reviewed recently (click here to be taken to The Midnight Adventures of Kelly, Dot and Esmeralda), this book has a landscape feel to it, spread out from left to right rather than the usual portrait-style format where books are ‘read’ from top to bottom. I have a feeling that this layout works particularly well with wordless picture books where the narrative and its continuity is ‘read’ from left to right (click here to be taken to the introductory note found in Eric Carle’s wordless picture book ‘Do You Want to be my Friend’ which explains why this is particularly effective among pre-reading toddlers).
Beyond this, the reader is also introduced to a comic-strip-like layout which varies from little boxes to something like a triptych-format where the page is divided into three rectangular sections – while others are full-spread pages which depict beautiful illustrations that require no words. An example of the comic strip layout could be found below:
Our Little Girl’s Character. The image above is the opening page of Sunshine where I immediately fell in love with this half-awake little girl who, upon waking up, grabbed the nearest book to greet the day. How can you not love that? One could also see glints of sunlight slowly peeking out this young girl’s bedroom window – which complements her hair by the way.
I also like the way she quietly observed her parents’ sleeping figures in bed from their half-opened door, before slowly creeping up to her father’s bedside to plant a sweet little kiss on his cheek.
The shadowy contour of the bed which signals that half the world is still asleep and the bright sunny reflection from the window on the other side of the page – all serve to solidly define Sunshine the book.
Our little girl as we can slowly detect from the turning of the pages is not your usual rambunctious, loud, bouncy squealing child. Quite the opposite, in fact. There is a gentleness to her, a patience that suggests the presence of an old soul within, and a glowing brightness that needs no loud colors or sounds (or words for that matter). There is also a solid sense of childlike autonomy suggesting that this child is able to take care of herself (and her parents too, as we can see a bit later).
Rituals of everyday life – the magic of ordinariness. While I am a great fan of surrealist work and fantastical otherworldly imaginings (click here to be taken to dream like states as could be seen in the wordless and award winning picture book Free Fall by David Wiesner) – I am also on occasion, quite taken with the sheer beauty of daily rituals – as captured with such potent subtlety, and such guileless truth – that it speaks quite strongly to each one of us. This book brings the reader back to earth with a thud, and yes, with cereal on a bowl and a burned toast in your father’s hand (quite absorbed reading the newspaper, ey?).
With the little girl’s rag doll [and newspaper] tucked firmly in the father’s arm (whose arms are laden with a tray of steaming hot coffee, cups, and condiments) and our big little girl carrying a bowl of cereal in bed for mommy, holding it gingerly in her hands – we are moved by the simplicity and the wordless quality of such genuine affection and warmth felt within the pages of the book. It also reminds me of a lazy Sunday morning when the sun takes its sweet time rising, the comfort and soft squishiness of just staying-in in bed, your quilt wrapped around you.
As I flip through the pages, though, I become increasingly aware that uh-oh, this is apparently not a lazy weekend. While the parents go back to bed for another snooze, our little girl washes her face, takes off her night gown and robe and gradually prepares for her day. She knows exactly what she would be wearing (admittedly she puts her shoes on the wrong feet, but given the larger scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter).
Is it just me, or do I detect a slight hint of smugness in this little girl’s lips? Well-deserved, really. I can just hear what’s going through her little head: “I told ya so.”
Sunshine, Jan Ormerod’s first book has received numerous awards including the Mother Goose Award, was voted Book of the Year by the Children’s Book Council of Australia, the recipient of the American Library Association Notable Book Award and was highly commended for the Kate Greenaway Medal.
Our second wordless book from Jan Ormerod is published by Kestrel Books (Penguin Books, England) a year after Sunshine, 1982 – entitled:
The opening page of the book signals the beginning of evening rituals – a family at a dinner table, with our winsome little girl right smack in the middle. It’s the same family portrayed in Sunshine (the curly-haired and bearded father with the nearly-greying hair, the lovely and elegant mommy and yes the brunette girl with a pixie haircut identical to her mom’s). In this book, it is what goes on in the evening that is depicted – from meal time to half-bath time and being tucked into bed.
An eye for wonder and the mess that is night-time half bath. What I find fascinating about this book is how the humdrum and the mundane acquire a different sort of quality as it is viewed through this young child’s eyes. As the mom and dad clear the table (the daddy washes the dishes and the mommy wipes ’em dry – they do have a system worked out), this little girl collects the remains of a fruit shell and proceeds to systematically create something like a sail within the shell to bring with her to the bath tub. As she does this, the father quizzically looks on, presumably not saying anything.
I suppose the beauty of wordless picture books is that one gets to bring into the book one’s own field of experiences. From a clinician’s standpoint, it could even be a powerful tool (read: projective techniques) to get into the heart of what goes on in a young child’s life. I would leave it to you to discover how our lovely protagonist made use of her own ingeniously-made toy.
Bedtime Rituals and NightyNight. If asked what my favorite is between these two books, I would have to say that I squealed in greater delight when I ‘read’ Moonlight. It reminded me so much of my own nine year old and her many attempts to move back into our bedroom, all the excuses she manages to come up with before lights out. What makes Jan Ormerod’s books touch so many hearts is that the books painstakingly gather together real-life experiences that readers can resonate with regardless of time, space, and geographical boundaries – packaging them with such intimate detail through her illustrations that no words could possibly measure up to.
As our little girl struggles to get into bed, Daddy entices her to sleep with a bedtime story and a good-night kiss before lights out. But we see our little protagonist tossing and turning gently in her pillow and we see her approaching Momma, asking for a glass of water (sounds familiar, anyone?)
We see some tough love going on with the mommy and child with the above illustration and my own nine year old could relate to this very well. In fact, she sees herself as the little girl as she reads through the entire book. But if counting sheep doesn’t work and a glass of water (or milk) did not help, then you go running to the other parent whom you know would not be able to resist your female guiles: your daddy.
The father, exhausted after an entire day of what adults usually do during the day – fell asleep even before our young girl could snooze quietly into dream land. And so, she leaves her father be, sidles up to her mommy who is comfortably seated in the couch, quietly reading a book. And our little girl reads a book too, as the mommy looks on – and falls asleep before her child does. This just generated so much laughter between me and my nine year old, it must be quite a familiar sight.
About the Author. Jan Ormerod, in an interview conducted with her thirty years ago, shared that it was her own family and her daughter who inspired her beautiful water-color illustrations. Jan grew up in Western Australia but is said to live now in Uppingham, England (source here). In this website by Walker Books Australia and New Zealand she was described to draw compulsively as a child and went on to art school to study drawing, painting and sculpture. She was also said to have taught in secondary schools on enrichment programmes and lectured in teacher’s college and art schools.
PictureBook Challenge Update: 33/34 of 72
Sunshine by Jan Ormerod. Kestrel Books, Published by Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1981. Book borrowed from the NIE Library.
Moonlight by Jan Ormerod. Kestrel Books, Published by Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1982. Book borrowed from the NIE Library.