A young child deals with isolation and the escalation of worry in Tregonning’s posthumous wordless picture book.
Anxiety is more than a feeling in this visual narrative, more than the pressure of school tests, the loneliness of exclusion by classmates, or the fear of such shortcomings being discovered at home. Anxiety, represented here by ominously sharp swirls of black ink, has a visceral, visual gravitas—it grows to fill literal and figurative space as the young protagonist’s outlook progresses steadily downhill. Shouldering worry and shame while trying to hide both unsurprisingly takes its toll, and employing a touch of body horror, the barbs of worry that plague the protagonist begin actually to tear away at arms, legs, back, and head until the cracks can no longer be hidden. The poignant effects of an entirely black-and-white palette and masterful shifts in perspective are muddled by a dizzying layout of (sometimes-excessive) individual panels. Younger readers who gravitate toward wordless picture books or those with low contrast sensitivity may find it difficult to keep pace. Nonetheless, the refreshing visibility and validity of childhood pressures accompanied by the equally important realization that no one is alone in their experience of such strain balances the slight risk that readers might lose track of the narrative. The tousle-headed protagonist is depicted with pale skin and attends a fairly diverse school.
A picture book that wants to be a graphic novel, and a message worthy of both. (Picture book. 6-12)