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Life, as it really is

February 5, 2017

 

The Original French Version HERE - The English version has been translated by Jon-Michael McLean

 

 

When literature for children has since its origins been dominated by magic and enchantment, how can one show children the world as it is, all the while preserving their new sensitivity ? Magic transformation and metaphor serve to breathe life into a hope that adults have a hard time keeping, to soften the violence in our societies of which children must nevertheless be forewarned. Elsewhere, humour will make it possible, thanks to the outrageousness of its caricatures, to depict a real big bad guy without nuance, in one spot, just for the pleasure of laughing,

and in another, those who terrorise us. Today magic and humour are incidentally the two biggest sources of children's book sales.

 

At times there are books, like very rare pearls, that make other choices. This is the case with the picture book Mamie Crevette, with a text by Marie Zimmer, illustrated by Isabelle Drago and published by a house, L’Atelier du Poisson soluble, that has never been faint-hearted. « The old lady has a name that trips up the tongue. People trip over her too. Her house is the street ». So starts a tale without concessions about « Mamie Crevette », a little slice of life without shelter, who has gone slightly mad, settles her purchases with the help of split peas, loses herself in the painful memories of those she has lost, but dreams, nevertheless, of toothed whales and penguins as she crunches on her hazelnut chocolate in front of the sea that we suspect is not very tropical.

 

Inconceivable to give a book on such a topic to children ? That would be to ignore their curiosity for the world of the impoverished, their questions always left unanswered when their parents turn away or refuse to give alms, quickly pulling the child’s hand so they can hurry on their way. It would be above all to ignore the combined talents of these two authors whose tales, one verbal, the other visual, harmonise in order to place the book on a rightful register.

 

The text, tightly woven, sober, knows with a few words how to give a portrayal of an old lady worn down by life, who nonetheless has her place in the neighbourhood. On top of that, this short text succeeds in painting a well-rounded and uncompromising personality, with her lost loves and her eternal habits, through the multiplication of points of view, leaving in turns the recitatives and dialogues to the discernment of the reader’s wisdom, which shall read between the lines. For this illustrator starting out – it is her first publishing project – the potential pitfalls were numerous. Her singular technique and the use of coloured ballpoint pens contribute to create a distance with reality without being too direct. The economy of means evokes raw art and perfectly suits the off-the-wall character of Mamie Crevette. The narrowed-down palette of direct colours brings the right touch of stylisation to the tale. In this way, the illustrations rest suspended, never lean more in favour of either the reality or the fruitful imagination of the heroine, maintaining all the way indecision and murkiness.

 

Young readers will have thus been able to dive to the heart of a universe that fascinates them as much as it worries them, that of social outcasts, without pathos, without wishful thinking either, with a total simplicity that allows them to enter a world systematically warded away from them.

 

The occasion was of a kind too rare not to be highlighted.

 

 

 

 

 

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