Sunday, July 5, 2015

I am Henry Finch - Alexis Deacon & Viviane Schwarz

It’s always a delight when a book with a difference comes across your desk. I am Henry Finch sits outside the ordinary; it has loads going for it – it’s a book that makes you think. The finches, as you might expect, are all the same: they say the same things, maintain the same routine day in, day out. The only interruption to their happily mundane life is the occasional visit of the Beast. Once the Beast has moved on, however, they carry on as always. Until one day, something amazing happens to Henry Finch: he has a thought. And then another. Henry discovers he can think for himself. He could be great, he thinks. But when Henry applies his new thinking skills to warding off the Beast, it looks as if Henry has made a fatal mistake …

Alexis Deacon and Viviane Schwarz have teamed up again to produce a quirky, clever, humorous, and thoroughly enjoyable picture book for the school-aged child. Although the book with its cover a simple illustration of Henry – a thumb print with a few squiggly lines – looks as if it’s been targeted at the pre-schooler, it hasn’t. Not to say a younger child won’t garner enjoyment from within its pages, mind you. But this is a book that leaves plenty of room for the more discerning reader to make connections and draw conclusions. It is lush with symbolism and positions the reader to assimilate meaning on numerous levels. The older child will be more likely to appreciate the innuendo and be astute to the intersection between visual and verbal text. For instance, finches are all represented by a finger or thumb print. Each one unique. This works superbly to highlight the individual finches’ initial inability to think for themselves and builds a bigger pay-off at the end of the story when they discover they can. Even the endpapers are magnified thumb prints. The change of background colour from white to black during Henry’s dangerous encounter with the Beast is also symbolic: it could represent the physical darkness, but also the darkness associated with negative thinking and the presence of something that could be construed as evil. The subjectivity of the Beast, of course, would provide an interesting topic for discussion between child and adult/parent/teacher.

This delightful book with its child-like illustrations and out-of-the-box story arc is an entertaining, intelligent and thought-provoking read.

Walker Books, 2015

(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 30, Issue 2, July 2015)

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