I didn't expect to be writing children's book reviews for my blog, but it just goes to show that I have no idea what to expect from blogging at all. We're all in on the journey of discovery together, and it just so happens that one of the most exciting things that's come my way lately has indeed been a children's book. As usual, I will tell you the whole story of how this came about.
Quite simply, I went to the library to return some books - a fairly regular event in the life of Lady Demelza. There is often a trolley full of books and magazines out the front that have been withdrawn by the library and are sold to the public for a tiny price. Usually there is not much of great interest there, which I find very reassuring, as I would like to think that the library is keeping its really cool stuff in stock. Sometimes the outdated magazines make good art fodder. But on this particular day, an unexpected treasure trove of artistic delights was waiting for me. It seemed that the library had done a cull of the children's picture books and there was a whole shelf full of them for sale for 50 cents each. The grocery shopping expedition was delayed considerably as I sat down and went through them all, and oohed and aahed a lot, and selected nine volumes to purchase.
I've been starting to notice lately, usually while trawling the op shops, that there is a lot of extraordinary artwork floating around the world in the form of children's book illustrations. I started to plan a blog post celebrating these art works... and it's still in the planning, and may be available at some time in the future. I got sidetracked by one particular book that I love so much, I'm giving it its own blog post.
Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara is a very simple book for the littlest learning-to-readers. It's a story of witchcraft and empowerment, of recycling, cats, tea, and the importance of textiles in the domestic environment.
Artist and author Kazuno Kohara has used a simple palette of black and white on orange to produce these marvellous illustrations from linocut prints. I really love linocut printing as an art medium. It's something about the complexity of content that can come through such simple form. I love the rough little scratchy bits left behind by the linocutting tools - a visual representation of the physical motion that went into producing a static image. I have made a couple of lino prints myself when I've had access to equipment, and I loved the process and the results.
The story begins with a little girl who moves into a delightfully crooked house along with her cat. There's just one little inconvenience - the house is haunted.
Warning - spoiler alert. I am going to give away the plot at this point. I'm counting on there not being any members of this book's target audience following my blog.
This girl isn't bothered by such a trifle. In fact, she's quite capable of dealing with the situation, and is delighted to find an abundant ghostly population in her new home. She knows just what to do. After all, she's not just an ordinary little girl. She is a witch. It's all in a day's work.
With the help of her feline familiar, she catches the ghosts, and pops them in the washing machine. They dry in the sun, and then are put to work as a variety of household textiles - curtains, tablecloths, bedding.
We see here that while waiting for the ghost sheets to dry, the little witch is curled up with a book, a cat, and a cup of tea. That's how we can tell she's a real witch. That's exactly what witches do when they are hanging out. The cat even has its own cup of tea. Very cool.
We can tell that the ghosts are happy with their new purpose in life (afterlife?), as they have little smiley faces - though they did look a bit disturbed by the whole capture-and-launder process.
Being a real witch in the modern world, I am often terribly offended by the stereotypical construction of witches and witchcraft that is propagated by the media. You know what I mean - the Hollywood witch, the Disney witch, the evil cackling storybook antagonist. Not only do I find these representations personally offensive, it makes me sad for all of us as a culture, that our history has been distorted and so many hard-won truths lost to us.
I do commend Kohara on her efforts in rectifying this situation, though she has stuck to a rather traditional costume theme in regards to the witchy garb. I'm not a fan of the tall pointy black hat myself, but I do understand that many modern witches really love the iconic fashion statement. Not to mention the Harry Potter fans. I'm a little more concerned about the costume that the cat familiar apparently needs to don in order to carry out his witchly ways - it looks more like a cat burglar costume than a cat familiar costume. But I am willing to accept that it just makes a neat, simple visual device in a very simple, visual medium of storytelling.
This simple story has distilled the essence of the empowerment that is the conscious practise of witchcraft. This girl is self-contained and independent and so wise that she requires no guardian. When confronted with the supernatural and mysterious, she is not intimidated or frightened. She understands the nature of the ghosts, and exactly what to do with them. The basic act of transformation we witness in the ghost entities is the highest aim of alchemy and the very essence of the nature of witchcraft - to transform that which is undesirable into something useful.
I love that she goes into the kitchen and uses such a wonderfully modern magickal tool in her spellworkings. A front-loading washing machine becomes the modern cauldron or alchemist's crucible. This is the way of the modern witch - to bring the new into our sphere of faith and practise.
All this in just 157 words, 24 pages and three colours. Wow.