“When giving children books, well-meaning adults may feel impelled to offer challenge, too – opting for text-dense vocabulary boosters at the reader’s diagnosed level, with the difficulty ramped up a little for luck. However gentle, though, this sort of nudge is not an unalloyed blessing. It may pluck children out of storylines in which they were ecstatically resident; deny them the elegant plotting of a well-turned mystery, the satisfying structure of a pony story or the terseness of a comic adventure….
A frequent casualty of the utilitarian focus on advancement and sheer length is illustration, and the reader’s respect for it. The children told “You’re too old for picture books” are not only banished abruptly from an enchanted kingdom. They are also held back from winkling out images’ stored secrets of detail, and from learning the artist’s language of window-frame, colour, light, shade, emphasis, the single line that communicates mood, or loss, or season – everything we mean by “visual literacy”. Sophisticated, demanding concepts may also be communicated, via illustration, to readers unable or unwilling as yet to parse the complex language required.
Small Things, a wordless graphic novel by Mel Tregonning, and finished, after her death, by Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin), is an extraordinary example: an illustrated book that communicates difficult, painful ideas solely via intricate monochrome graphite drawings….[T]o the ten- or twelve-year-old besieged by incipient anxiety or depression it offers a significant potential gift: understanding, and the possibility of recovery….The image of a small, vulnerable body breaking down by degrees, while deeply discomfiting, honours the weight of what it conveys; and the book as a whole celebrates the helpfulness of unconditional love, while successfully avoiding a superficial, unduly swift resolution….”
Click here to read the full review