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Suzy Lee’s Animal World – Rabbits, Black Bird and The Zoo (A 3-in-1 Special) – Part Three of Suzy Lee Feature

La Revanche des Lapins

This wordless picture book by Suzy Lee was awarded as one of “The Most Beautiful Swiss Books” by the Swiss Federal Office of Culture in 2003. Illustrations of this book were also selected by “Illustrator’s Exhibition’ in Bologna Children’s Book Fair” in 2002.

La Revanche was published several years earlier than Wave (2008), Shadow (2010) and Mirror (2008). Compared to the almost-monochromatic quality of the three recent books with just the right dab of orange-yellow or shades of blue in the pristine white page, La Revanche is richly illustrated with so many colors.

Click on the image to be taken to websource. Suzy Lees website.

The book begins with a careless ice cream truck driver running a poor hapless rabbit over. As night falls, a rabbit jumps in the middle of the road, obstructing the driver’s passage, then another rabbit, until an army of rabbits eerily stand in attention just staring at this nearly-balding man who may have felt that he has just entered twilight zone.

Suzy also shows us how children’s books can be occasionally tinged with strange occurrences, laced with darkness, and edged with flying vengeful rabbits with white button eyes in a black night sky.

Click on image to be taken to websource.

La Revanche des Lapins (Q & A with Suzy Lee)

Suzy, tell us, what was going on in your mind as you created this gothic-tinted children’s book with eerie vengeful rabbits?

I love the strange stories. As I mentioned about Edward Gorey’s works earlier, there are some inexplicable qualities that appeal to the children—something dark but funny, something that readers cannot exactly grab but still exist there. I was also curious about how the children react to the images of “La Revanche des Lapins”—and I received an interesting email from the teacher in France. She said she used my book for a science project(!). What a creative use of a picture book of such kind. Here is the link for some photos the teacher sent me.


I noted that this is published in Switzerland and awarded as one of the best illustrated Swiss books – can you share with our GatheringBooks readers how this came about?

The illustrations for “La Revanche des Lapins” were exhibited in the section of Illustrators’ Exhibition in Bologna, so it was easy for me to introduce my work to the publishers in Bologna book fair. I just dropped by the booth of La Joie de Lire, the Swiss publisher, because I liked the books on display in their shelves.  They liked the dummy and the book got published. Later I found out the book was nominated for “The Most Beautiful Swiss Books” and awarded. 

You used a very different artistic style/format here compared to the first three books that we had on feature (Wave, Mirror, and Shadow). This was also published at a much earlier date (2003), does this reflect a more minimalist evolution to your book art in later years? Share with us this transition in your styles/format.

Actually, “Mirror” got published in 2003 in Italy as well.  What kind of story it is decide what kind of style/art material that I am going to use. I wanted to express the vivid representation of the given situation in “La Revanche des Lapins”, and in my trilogy, I wanted to use the simple and minimal style in order to emphasize the esthetic and form of the book. The focus is different; therefore, the styles of illustrations come out differently. Or maybe it just depends on my mood- who knows I would work with full-color, heavy-textured painting on my next book?

Click on the image to be taken to websource.

What was the story behind the wordless story of La Revanche des Lapins – was it inspired by something that actually happened (careless driver, dead animal on the road)?

I went to short trip to Scotland during my stay in U.K.. Me and my friend rent a car and drove through the narrow path in the northern country side in Scotland, and suddenly, the rabbits appeared everywhere in real! Not as many as in my picture books (if it was like that, I should have fell and fainted), but that was quite strange moment to bump into quite a number of rabbits in the middle of nowhere.  And another occasion was, the house where I was living in London at that time, an ice cream–truck driver was my next door neighbor. He wasn’t look very happy all the time. Grumpy ice cream truck driver and loads of rabbits—isn’t it interesting match already?

A photo of Northern Scotland from the web. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

I am awed by how most of your books have this surreal, gothic quality to it, heightened considerably by its wordless quality – please share with us what your major influences are with this?

Some readers think that the rabbit which lie on the road is dead by the ice cream-truck, some thinks that the rabbit is just pretending to be dead. Some readers read that the rabbits gathered at night and scared off the driver to take revenge, and some read that it was merely to steal the ice cream. Which one appeals more to you? There’s no correct answer. Multiple interpretations are possible because it is wordless. The original title was just “The Rabbits”, but I guess the publisher preferred to give readers clear idea; therefore, the title became “The Revenge of the Rabbits”. But I still think that the ambiguous original title is better.

Your books have a stand-alone quality that carves its own niche in children’s literature – a space that is distinctively Suzy Lee’s – can you share with us how this makes you feel? What are your thoughts about this? 

I don’t believe in “style”. You don’t intentionally choose and pursue your style. It’s just to happen to be. It was very interesting to find that all of my books were somehow deal with the similar ideas, even though I never intended. I constantly find some new things about me whenever I work on a new project. I love the projects that have interesting problems to solve. Those challenges can be about the concepts, the physical form of the medium or simply about the art materials that I’m going to use. If I keep working and observing what I’m doing, someday I would be able to find something that makes distinctively “Suzy Lee”, hopefully. That would be wonderful!

L’oiseau noir (The Black Bird)

Encased in monochromatic black and white, we see how lithographic crayon could transform a drawing of a sad little girl, a dog, and a huge black bird to something so timeless, surreal and precious. Suzy Lee’s website indicates that original illustrations for this book were selected by ‘Illustrators Exhibition (Fiction)’ in Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2005. The original lithographic prints were likewise exhibited at The Museum of Printing History in Houston Texas, USA in 2005.

Click on image to be taken to websource.

The book that Suzy loaned to us over at GatheringBooks was written in French – so technically this is not a wordless picture book. However, I felt that it’s too beautiful to pass up for a feature. I used google translate to find out what each sentence per page-spread means – and I end up with … poetry.

Roughly, this is what each page says:

I’m sad
Nobody talks to me.
Nobody tells me
Big people always have a secret to tell
Mom and Dad think I do not know
but I understand, I see
I know that nothing will ever be
and even if I am furious, I know it’s the truth
I also know that it’s not my fault
I know that’s all
I know very well
it’s weird, I feel so light
Perhaps because I have a secret too
a secret I will not tell anyone
a secret that I share with the black bird!
Click on image to be taken to websource.

My heart has been moved from the first page alone – with this little girl simply stating the obvious: “I’m sad.” On the other page you see her parents arguing, presumably shouting at each other behind a half-opened door.

And we see this little girl moving away, sitting crouched behind her dog, staring eye to eye with.. a black bird that takes her magically far far away from where secrets lie behind half-closed doors. As this little girl is carried in the black bird’s beak, I rejoice in her own secret. My heart breaks as I sense her pain and her desire to be removed and insulated from the screams, the condemnation, and the anger. And so she rides on the wing of this beautiful bird where she simply lets go.. where she can fly.. and release the ugliness and the pain and come back whole and smiling, her dog clutched firmly in her hand.

Click on image to be taken to the websource.

L’oiseau Noir (Q & A with Suzy Lee)

Suzy, this is a very beautiful book. Firstly, could you share with us how it has been published in France.

This book came out in Korea at first.  Then the French publisher who saw the illustration in Bologna contacted me, and then it came out in France. So far, the Spanish edition and the Polish edition got published.

I noted that most of your books are translated in quite a number of languages. Could you share with our GatheringBooks readers more about this and what made this possible?

Click on image to be taken to the websource.

It takes quite a long time that one book get published. But once the book comes out (and if you’re lucky), its life can be expanded again and again. The Korean edition of “The Black Bird” came out in 2007 then I received the proposals from the Spanish and Polish publishers for their editions in 2010. “Mirror” first published in 2003 and it suddenly translated into 6 languages after 6 years. One book calls out the other and I am grateful about the fact that my earlier works receive the new attention. What made this possible? I don’t know—maybe the publishers found some interesting links in the list of my works?

In this book, you have managed to transform something that is immensely sad to something that is potentially powerful and beautiful in transcending pain and finding healing in one’s inner black bird. Can you tell us more about this?

I had some images in my mind that I wanted to realize some day. One of them was the image of “Peng bird”— it is a mythical creature in Taoism . This Peng bird is gigantic; nobody knows how big this bird actually is. It can fly thousand miles in just one flap of wings. And everything under its wing is dark, covered by its shadow. Beautiful. This imaginary bird feels very quiet and gentle yet transcendental and powerful to me. Imagine this huge bird’s perspective looking down from the sky- everything under is just tiny and trivial. Flying up in the sky with the bird, your perspective expands and changes. Sometimes you need to stare at your sadness and the problems that bother you in a distance. You need a moment. That’s what “The Black Bird” is about.

Giant Peng Bird - click on the image to be taken to the websource: Bamboo and Plum Blossom website.

What is the Black Bird’s message to little girls out there who may be in pain? 

The situation cannot be changed, but people can be changed. But whatever that means, I just hope the children feel the sense of freedom for a moment when they read “The Black Bird”. That’s all I can do for them, through the book.

The Zoo

Click on image to be taken to websource - Suzy Lees Website.

This book’s originality and inventiveness has earned its author multiple awards since the time that it has been published. The Zoo is a Children’s Book Sense Pick, one of CCBC Choices, and 2008 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts by the National Council of Teachers of English in the US.

All images are copyright of Suzy Lee. Click on the image to be taken to the websource - the book artists website.

What strikes me the most about this book is that it is totally different from Suzy Lee’s use of lithographic pencil (in Black Bird), richly textured colors (La Revanche des Lapins) and the distinctive monochromatic style with occasional splash of colors (Mirror, Wave, Shadow). If I am not mistaken, it uses collage and cut-outs as its medium. What is even more intensely fascinating about this beautifully illustrated book is the use of colors to signify adventure, imagination, an exciting alternate reality that goes beyond the usual gray drab flat hues that usually happen when you are in the safety of your parents’ clutches.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

The text-narrative also merge intuitively with the illustrations since the images are drawn in full defiance of what the words actually say. Thus, the reader would have to go beyond the text, sense the story buried beneath, and decide what the fine fine line between reality and alternate truths is and make their own deductions. There is also sharp wit embedded neatly and inconspicuously in most of the illustrations – one needs to have this keen eye for detail to identify them. Children of all ages could spend an endless amount of time just figuring out what is wrong with the image, what is right with the text, what the book art is saying, what the various expressions in the images could mean.

Click on image to be taken to Suzy lees website

And yes, this is most definitely an unforgettable day at the zoo. Not your usual, run-in-the-mill, ordinary visit with the animals. In more ways than one. (Click here to be taken to more photos of The Zoo from the 7Imp Interview with Suzy)

The Zoo (Q & A with Suzy Lee)

Hi Suzy, please tell us what the process is like in creating this beautiful piece of artwork called The Zoo. It appears to have a different stylistic quality to it that is distinct from all the other books that you have loaned us for feature here at GatheringBooks. Do tell us more about this. How long did it take you to create this intricately-illustrated book?

Click on image to be taken to websource.

About 6 months? I guess.  It looks complicated but in a sense, the method of collage saves more time. Unlike the usual illustration drawn on the paper, you can change and play around with those cut-out pieces at any time.  I enjoyed the paper collage work because it gave me unexpected outlines and textures. It even gave me the sense that the illustration was like a theatre. With the background drops, I put all the characters on a stage and made them act!

There is an intertextual beauty to the narrative with the mismatch of the images and the narrative-text – could you share with us what your idea is behind this?

I am interested in the various aspects that are created by the text and the image poking each other. You read something but the image betrays what you read. The irony which comes out between this mismatched elements make the story more interesting. I imagined a child’s diary which usually states the list of things they did plainly and always finishes with “It was fun today.” The reader finds it boring but in the head of writer herself, every detailed occasion of the day will be unfolded vividly.

A lot of children’s literature enthusiasts may go as far as claim that this is a perfect example of a postmodern picture book – what are your thoughts on this? 

One thing I can be sure is, I love the picture books that include an element of mystery- which cannot be defined easily and cannot be solved simply.  I love the ambiguity that does bother some readers but in a positive way- that’s the point where the creative mind starts.

Click on image to be taken to websource.

Is there a story behind The Zoo that you would like to share with our GatheringBooks readers? The inspiration behind the tale? 

The idea of “The Zoo” started when I stayed in London. I went to the London Zoo few times, and every time I went, I felt somewhat strange even surreal mood in there. I went to “Bear Mountain” but there wasn’t any bear. People stared at the empty concrete bear enclosure and soon turned back. That weird scenery reminded me of the conversation between the March Hare and Alice in “A Mad Tea Party” in “Alice in Wonderland”.

 Have some wine,’ the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. `I don’t see any wine,’ she remarked.

`There isn’t any,’ said the March Hare.

`Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,’ said Alice angrily.

I changed the word “wine” to “bear” in the text and made a small accordion binding book titled “Bear Mountain” with this text and the photos I took at the zoo. That book later transformed to “The Zoo”.

If something’s gone that is supposed to be there, you are puzzled. The idea of “The Zoo” came from there.

Bear Mountain by Suzy Lee - click on the image to be taken to the websource.
Suzys Bear Mountain - click on the image to be taken to the websource.

If you wish to be taken to Part 1 of our Suzy Lee Special, click here. We did a feature of her award-winning books, Wave, Shadow and Mirror in Part 2 here. Watch out for our final four-part Feature of Suzy Lee and her works with her Alice in Wonderland, published in 2002.

Picture Book Challenge Update: 55/56/57 of 72

PoC Challenge Update: 26/27/28 (25)

La Revanche des Lapins by Suzy Lee. Editions La Joie de Lire [Minidrame] (Geneve, Switzerland), 2003. Book borrowed from Suzy Lee.

L’oiseau Noir by Suzy Lee. Lirabelle (Aubais, France)천둥거인 Chondung Books (Seoul, Korea), 2007. Book borrowed from Suzy Lee.

The Zoo by Suzy Lee. BIR, Seoul, Korea, 2004. Book borrowed from Suzy Lee.

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).

8 comments on “Suzy Lee’s Animal World – Rabbits, Black Bird and The Zoo (A 3-in-1 Special) – Part Three of Suzy Lee Feature

  1. Hi Myra! It’s amazing how versatile she is when it comes to styles and format. Despite the use of varied styles you’ll still know that, that book is very much Suzy Lee’s. I am partial to The Blackbird and The Zoo because of both of the little girls in it. I think she illustrates them so well or perhaps not just the girls but people in general. You can feel every emotion. The sadness, anger, elation, worry, relief etc. But, I think the Revenge of the Rabbits is right up my alley as well. Give it to Suzy Lee to make rabbits appear eerie. Loved all of it! All of her books are on my wishlist now! Are all of her books still in print? And still very much in anticipation of Alice in Wonderland! =P


    • myragarcesbacsal

      Hi Tin! I can’t even choose a favorite now, all the books simply grow on you. I like how she portrays little girls in most of her books, I wonder how the dynamics (story line, visual narrative, artistic style) would differ (if at all) if she decides to use boys. =)


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  3. What a wonderful series! And I especially love the story behind the rabbits and the ice cream truck driver. Two separate moments inspiring one story. Oh…and that illustration of the black bird flying off with the girl is amazing! Thanks for sharing!


  4. Wow, beautiful fascinating art. I like the many possible interpretations for La Revanche, the rabbit book. And the idea of images and text poking each other. Great interview series!


  5. Pingback: AFCC Update 5: Love to Suzy Lee «

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