20 February 2009
I was browsing in the children's section of a book shop this week and found this book, Timbuktu, by Paul Auster, adapted and illustrated by Julia Goschke. I really liked the illustration on the front (it's so true that the cover illustration sells the book) gave it a cursory flip through and bought it to add to my growing collection of 'children's books with interesting illustrations'. Well, this book certainly does have excellent illustrations by Ms Goschke, but be warned - in my opinion it is NOT suitable for young children.
Timbuktu, published by Penguin's Young Reader's Group, is a picture book that tells the story of Mr Bones, a dog in the city struggling to understand his old homeless master's life and to learn what it means to fit into human society. Sound a bit heavy? Well, yes, I think it is. This is a dark tale which opens with the death of Mr Bones's owner and ends on an even darker note: this dog decides he wants to join his old owner again in Timbuktu (the after life) and plays with the traffic - in a nutshell, dog death by suicide. How awful! I certainly wouldn't want to try explaining that to a young child, would you?
In the pages between we try to follow Mr Bones's journey as he finds new owners and attempts to come to terms with his new life (which even includes a visit to the vet to be neutered). The story is oddly disconnected and often it's unclear what's actually going on - twice I thought I'd turned over two pages by mistake! Following the thread is also not helped by the, at times, almost unreadable type - the name says it all, 'Misprinted Type'! And, ( if you can bear it) there's more! The vocabulary is just too complex - 'quantifiable substance' and 'infinitesimal slights and injustices' are just a couple of examples that I can see needing much explanation to young readers!
Hmmm, so what do we have here? On the one hand Julia Goschke's vivid illustrations are certainly very appealing. They have impact and with skillful use of light and texture they imaginatively portray the emotions of the story. But on the other we also have a story dealing with social issues and ideas that young readers will not grasp or may even be frightened by. What on earth is this book doing on a shelf along with the likes of 'Each Peach Pear Plum', 'Hairy Maclarey' and 'Mucky Pup'? It clearly doesn't belong there. Well, according to the publishers' website, this book is actually aimed at children aged 12 and up. Yet, nowhere on or in the book can I find mention of this. Alright, so perhaps these older readers will appreciate the content but tell me this - would a self-respecting 12 year old still want to read a picture book? For this is what it is and not the graphic novel it may be masquerading as. Timbuktu seems a bit of a misfit then. Such a pity as the illustrations are so well rendered!
(A page from the book. Click to view this and a few more of Julia Goschke's wonderful illustrations in a larger format.)
I wonder how many bookshops make the error of placing Timbuktu on the picture book shelves and how many unsuspecting parents have bought the book for their youngsters?
The morale of this story then, I guess, is not to buy on impulse or better still read the book from cover to cover before you buy!