Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Johnny and the Pelican - Melva Ouliaris & Meredith Thomas

Johnny arrives at the beach with his mother to watch the pelicans being fed. They stand on the promenade where Johnny positions himself on the stone wall in anticipation of the event. They are gradually joined by others who have come to take part in the daily ritual. A bucketful of fish sits on the sand but no pelicans come to enjoy it – seagull scavengers the only interested customers. Eventually, one by one, people give up waiting and go home – except for Johnny and his mother. And an old man. He’s been coming here to watch the pelicans feed for sixty years. Together they wait, even as the sun begins to dip, eyes to the horizon …

Meredith Thomas’s stunning illustrations shore up the text in this gentle picture book about patience. The movement and energy of the full-page spreads is a feast for the eye with their vibrant colour and strength of purpose. The lushness and warmth of each painterly illustration, evocative and captivating, draws the reader/viewer further into the story and creates a subtext that transports it to another level. The simplicity of the sketches that break up the text complements the overarching design of the book and adds further interest and balance.

The illustrations in this book add depth and perspective, which compensates for the text’s omniscient point of view and external narration, which tends to lock the reader out of Johnny’s internal world. The text on the back cover reminds the reader that ‘beautiful things come to those who wait’ and as the mother in the story is depicted wearing a head-scarf, the text could be interpreted as a metaphor for the wait of the refugee to come to Australia. A child reader would need to have this pointed out, however, which could provide a valuable springboard for discussion.

Jo Jo Publishing 2013
(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 28, Issue 3, July 2013)

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