One Photo, Ross Watkins (author), Liz Anelli (illus.), Penguin Books, 2016
Created by Ross Watkins (who you may know as the illustrator of The Boy Who Grew Into a Tree, written by Gary Crew), the story in One Photo is at once moving, poignant, timely and inspirational. Many adults will be sure to identify with the story, which revolves around the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on all family members (although the illness is never specifically named), while children are sure to take much from the book’s themes of family, love, illness, grief, and memory.
In the picture book, a father starts taking photographs of various items around the house (soon turning into rolls and rolls of film), as his memory deteriorates and he becomes more and more forgetful. The man’s son and his wife try to cope with the changes but struggle with the fact that they never seem to make it into the pictures; they wonder if they’re no longer important to him.
The heart-wrenching ending, which proves them wrong, certainly has emotional impact and manages to convey the strength of love, a celebration of family, and the power of remembering the ones we have lost. Although undoubtedly a sad picture book, One Photo still conveys enough hope and tenderness to balance the story out for young readers, and is sure to hit home with many families. It will also open up helpful conversations at schools, libraries and other organisations. Some very difficult subjects are handled delicately yet truthfully here, and it’s easy to see how the words have been fuelled by Watkins’ personal experience.
Of course, a huge part of what makes One Photo special is its gentle illustrations by Liz Anelli. Using a soft palette, and putting colour and collage over the top of mono print lifework, Anelli says that the crumbly smudginess of her work is “synonymous with the uncertainties of dad’s illness”.
The illustrations perfectly manage to convey the melancholy and sense of loss in the story (both the father’s loss of himself and his memories as his disease progresses, and the wife and child’s loss of their loved one) but are never too heavy handed. The use of occasional black and white pages also helps to convey impact and impart more meaning.
The endpapers in One Photo are particularly poignant. At the start of the book, the pages are filled with photographs showing the family together in most shots, as well as the history of its members over the years. In contrast, the back pages allude to life after loss for the mother and child, and contain mostly images of things around the house, perhaps in homage to the father’s pictures.
One Photo is recommended for junior readers aged around five or six years and up.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Penguin Random House, in exchange for an honest review.