I was fortunate to receive two touching picture books recently, which both, in different yet similar ways, capture visual and emotive beauty in their centring around themes of friendship and overcoming challenges, whether this is as a young girl in a village or as a lonely snail in a scary garden. Both equally stunning and hopeful.

A Teaspoon of Light, Peter O’Connor (author), Nisaluk Chantanakom (illus.), Dirt Lane Press, an imprint of Westwords Limited, May 2024

Marley’s dream cloth reminds her of the people she loves, and of safe and happy times. When times get tough and the cloth rips in two, those memories begin to slide away. Marley must make new loving memories before she can bring back the old ones and begin to imagine the future anew.
This is a story for our times.

This wonderful collaboration between Peter O’Connor and Nisaluk Chantanakom tells the story of a young girl, Marley, who goes through a challenging time, but comes out the other side. Peter O’Connor is the Director of the Centre for Arts and Social Transformation at Auckland University and a recognised expert in using the Arts to heal trauma. A Teaspoon of Light was inspired by his work with children after major earthquakes in Christchurch and Mexico City.

Nisaluk Chantanakom is a Thai-born Australian artist and illustrator who has been a landscape painter and a web and graphic designer. A Teaspoon of Light is her first picture book. Nisaluk’s beautiful illustrations interweave this powerful story and I particularly enjoyed her use of light and darkness throughout the book. The theme of friendship is important here and when her memories are gone, her friends try to cheer her up.

Marley’s friends tried other things.
Craig hummed the singing of bees.
Zephyr picked fragrant flowers from the garden,
And Hanna braided Marley’s hair with beads.’

During these dark times for Marley, the illustrations are drained of colour as she descends into her own ‘black tunnel’. When the light comes back into Marley’s life, the illustrations are flooded with bright light and yellow and golden hues.

‘The light painted Marley’s memories back into the cloth.
Marley was free.’

This story has a hopeful message about overcoming adversity, light overcoming darkness and I think that this story has a particularly poignant message in our current troubled times.

What Stars Are For, Margeaux Davis (author, illus.), Affirm Press, April 2024

Henry spends his nights exploring the world alone and wondering one thing: what are stars for? One morning he decides to come out of his shell and ask someone. Can Henry find the answer to his question and make a friend? A moving story about curiosity, overcoming your fears and finding friendship.

From its gentle cover with Henry the snail peering out to the stars above and its stunning endpapers with a weatherboard house and garden by day and night, I loved this gentle story told so touchingly by debut author – illustrator Margeaux Davis.

Margeaux is also a very talented doll maker, you can see her wonderful designs on her website including a snail design, perhaps inspired by Henry. She has a background in environmental education and works from a tiny cabin studio on the far north coast of New South Wales.

Margeaux’s love of the natural world is obvious to see in the garden details, and her illustrations brought to mind one of my favourite illustrators; Beatrix Potter. During the course of his adventures, Henry meets a busy bee, a Kookaburra and a Bandicoot that almost eats him.

‘I don’t know about stars, but you look delicious’ said the bandicoot’

Finally, Henry meets a wistful wombat who also enjoys star gazing and the unlikely pairing strike up a friendship.

This book is a gentle exploration of overcoming your fears and finding your way in the world, as well as gaining unexpected friends along the way.

Reviews by Gemma Creegan.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: