This Dutch import pairs portraits with poetry to articulate wrenching individualism, yearning, humor, desires, and pathos.
Transfixing faces—mostly pale, all moon-shaped and with unsettlingly wide-set eyes—conjure mildly unnerving sensations in readers, who will seek to understand, empathize, or at least interpret their expressions. These faces aren’t posing or posturing; they’re flat on the page, laid bare. Older children and teens, in particular, keenly aware of feelings, faces, and masks, will dwell upon these ambiguous, baffling visages. Colmer’s sensitive translation emerges as crucial, as the pictures’ powerful poignancy begs for explanation. Voiced in the first person, one of Tellegen’s poems appears opposite each portrait, expressing the characters’ deeply personal wishes and ringing with their unique phrasing and particular timbre. “I wish happiness was a thing and I / found it somewhere and took it home with me,” confides Carl, one of the book’s few kids of color. Piero, a white boy, grumbles, “I would like first of all to express my sincere thanks / to whoever gave me my looks. / I mean: IN-sincere. / Because I look horrible.” The kids’ names are printed close to the book’s gutter, bridging language and art. These many portraits and poems beg to be leafed through and read in several sittings, as they house too much emotional energy to digest in one read.
This probing psychological journey makes for an exciting exploration in empathy. (Picture book/poetry. 12-16)