Sketches From a Nameless Land- The book behind Shaun Tan’s ‘The Arrival’

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I recently acquired Sketches From a Nameless Land, The Art of the Arrival by Shaun Tan.  The Arrival is one of my favourite books, and if you haven’t read it yet, it is a must read, and also a unique reading experience. It is 189 pages long and without any words. Sketches From a Nameless Land however is another beautiful book. It is a fascinating publication outlining the origins of Tan’s ideas, using examples from early research and his original before they were finished in the published book .

This book is not a prequel or sequel to The Arrival, it is simply an analysis of the thinking behind the book by Tan himself. He goes through how he came up with the characters, city and strange animals and people he constructed in the world the protagonist finds himself in. I particularly enjoyed how Tan came up with the strange little companion he befriends in the tale. He explains in the book he crossed the image of a tadpole and a parrot and he came up with this:

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I’d recommend this book to any person who has read The Arrival or who is a fan of Sahun Tan. Also I believe any aspiring illustrators would find it insightful to see how Tan drew inspiration from mundane objects around him in order to create the fantastical.

‘Quest’ by Aaron Becker- Beautiful effort, but not as good as ‘Journey’


In the course of my studies recently on wordless picturebooks I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of this book to our bookshelves.Quest is the follow up book to Journey by Aaron Becker. These books are part of a trilogy, the last book in the series coming out sometime in the future. It is often the case in film s and books where the sequel disappoints, and this doesn’t break that trend.

This book follows on from the first one, where the children in the story must find seven magic colours to free the captured King in the imaginative city the story is set in. The children must travel to different areas to find these colours. The book is exquisitely illustrated. Becker has a real talent with watercolours. The scenes are done in minute detail and I found myself pausing on some pages to take in all the effort the illustrator had put into the objects displayed on the page.


Colour is a massive part of this book series, the ‘real’ world which the boy and girl live in are full of drab brownish hues symbolizing boredom and monotony, they both possess markers which as brightly coloured which have the power to draw special things. The imaginative world they enter is really vibrantly coloured and one can only marvel at some of the drawings like such:


I enjoyed this book but I mist say I was a little disappointed. Journey was a breathe of fresh air when it first came out as it was different and aesthetically it was near perfection with it’s warm colours coupled with expansive landscapes of a different world. Quest however is more or less the same book, I know books in a series have to have links but I looked forward to viewing a different kind of world, and a more original story. Journey was interesting as we did not know where the story could bring us but the story in Quest is so linear, the colours are going to be found and the king is going to freed, there is no complication as such. I feel the beauty of wordless picturebooks is that there is a wide room for interpretation in the images. In this book I felt the scope for interpretation was limited .

Did you read Becker’s books? I don’t think anyone can argue against the illustrators talent or the books beauty. I enjoyed this book but not as much as I did with Journey. I look forward to seeing more of Beckers book, I love going on his website to see how he puts his book together. He’s an interesting man!

Wonderful and Wordless

Great recommendations! Wordless books are some of the most rewarding and interactive reading experiences.


Wordless picture books are stories told through images rather than words.  Children are much more involved in the story,  because reading them encourages their participation.  Wordless picture books can be complex stories,  or simple linear tales.  Wonderful to read aloud and explore with kids, wordless picture books are also great launching points for writing.  Here are a few favourites:

A complex tale for older students with stunning drawings.

A complex tale for older students with stunning drawings.

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‘The Road’ By Cormac McCarthy


The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a harrowing read. A father and son battle to survive in a post-apocalyptic America. The earth is scorched by an unknown disaster and the air is full of ash and smoke. The pair have little resources and are in constant danger of being attacked by wandering bands of cannibals. It is an interesting book for a number of reasons. It explores the strange urge all humans have to survive even when it doesn’t make much sense to continue. The language is pared back completely, there is not much description in the book and also the characters don’t dwell on any incidents, like they journey they are on; they keep moving forward, never looking back.

The relationship between the father and son is an intimate one, the father constantly juggles whether or not he will have the courage to kill his son, if the time comes that no other option is left. Both characters have no name, I think this gave their character development more focus.The fear of being caught by bandits is deemed worse than death; people become enslaved or are eaten by their captors. The son is constantly looking to his father for guidance and support to cope with the horrors he sees every day. The only focus in the book is survival, no other thoughts or themes are explored as such. I found this protective relationship the father had for his son grating at times. The father was a near perfect guardian, I would have loved to have read more passion or mundane arguments that go on between family to give their characters more depth.

McCarthy’s use of language is strange in the book. The wordplay is very simple, there is no elaborate descriptions or dialogues. The dialogue between the father and son is monosyllabic at time. Simple questions are asked and simple answers are given. I think this reflects the world they live in, there is nothing complicated about their existence or story, they either survive or die. There is little punctuation and grammar at time in the book which can be annoying at times. The paragraphs and conversations sprawl down the pages which sometimes disrupts the reading of passages. I enjoyed the way author never built up certain incidents in the story, they just happened out of the blue, were dealt with and then the story moved on, never to be revisited. 

The Road is an excellent read. It lacked complication or underlying stories. Everything is told in black and white. The tale of survival is a horrific one, some scenes described are very disturbing. It is also a book which could be read easily in one sitting, it is a compelling and short read. It poses many questions about human nature and how far into depravity will people go to survive. 

Review of ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is a wildly popular Pulitzer Prize winning book, it has been read by millions but it seems to divide opinion. People complain about it’s 864 page length and sometimes unnecessary winding descriptions. Others have issues with the plot itself and the philosophical notions which become more apparent as the book develops. In stark contrast to these views, I loved this book. It was one of the few books I have read recently where time disappeared, where I was completely engrossed in the life of Theodore Decker. It is a book with an explosive start(no pun intended) and slowly drifts along, describing different periods in Theo’s troubled life. I think this book is very much a Dickensian style novel where one could draw comparisons between Pip in Dickens Great Expectations and Theo in this book, both the unwanted boys who must fight every inch to survive and are granted one unbelievable piece of good luck each to form their respective lives. The book has been panned by many of the literary critics as a children’s book or as an example of the watered down version of literature that is being produced nowadays. I strongly believe this is complete nonsense and this is just another example of the book snobbery that exists. There is a fantastic article on The Godlfinch and why Tartt has been criticized so heavily here.

A brief summary of the book; Theo is alone in life, his mother dies in a terrorist explosion in an art museum in New York. He lacks direction and guidance of any sort and is lost in life. He has one constant comfort though, he escaped with Carel Fabritius’ masterpiece The Goldfinch during the explosion. This painting becomes the centerpiece of the story, it is the source of worry and strength to Theo at different points in his troubled life.

The book is divided up into different periods in Theo’s life, this was an aspect of the book I enjoyed, he began life as a loving son who worshipped his mother and despised his feckless father. He then began an adopted life living a wealthy family in New York once his mother passed. The third period of his life was the most fascinating in my opinion, Theo goes out to Las Vegas and becomes friends with a kindred lonely spirit in the form of Boris, a hard drinking, hard living boy whose impulses often lead his astray. The final period focuses on Theo’s adult life as he copes with drug addiction and depression and unrelenting guilt over the painting and his relationship with his father.

The book meanders off point quite a bit, the main story is that Theo has this masterpiece painting in his closet which is priceless and is wanted by the American government badly. There is a huge investigation into the whereabouts of the picture. As time passes the worse the crime becomes for Theo. Then the whole painting story takes a back seat for three or four hundred pages. The book focuses on Theo’s troubled relationship with an abusive and absent father, it delves into the day to day misadventures of Theo and Boris as they drink and rob their way through their adolescence. It can be annoying at times because as the reader you are interested in Theo’s character but at the same time you get little or no information about the painting or what the protagonist intends to do with it.

The ending of the book is a satisfying one, I was dreading an ambiguous or confusing conclusion which tarnishes the books promising development but alas this did not happen. The last few pages of the book are philosophical and spiritual.  Tartt makes some interesting points on life and people’s natural desire to pursue their impulses. I think I will read this passage again at another stage and fully digest it’s intentions but it certainly was a musing which resonated strongly with me. Tartt describes the Goldfinch painting in these final pages and describes some of the interpretations of the artists intentions. The painting depicts a goldfinch tied to it’s feeder. It is a sad and cruel picture but holds such dignity also. Theo muses over why Fabritius painted the Goldlfinch in the first place and wonders ‘And if they say it is trues-if every great painting is really a self portrait- what, if anything, is Fabritius saying about himself?’ I loved this line especially. I frequently looked at the portrait provided in the book and wondered myself at the intention of the painting. It is a despairing and beautiful painting which is somehow linked to Theo himself- the captive who can never escape it’s chains.

It is a fantastic book which I will read again at some point in the future. Certainly a book I hope will stand the test of literary time. Did you love or loathe The Goldfinch? Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear your view. I think I might order a reproduction of The Goldfinch painting myself to ponder over from time to time.

Some Thought’s on ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte


‘The thrilling story of mystery, betrayal and love. Orphaned Jane Eyre endures an unhappy childhood, hated by her aunt and cousins and then sent to comfortless Lowood School. But life there improves, and Jane stays on as a teacher, though she still longs for love and friendship. At Mr Rochester’s house, where she goes to work as a governess, she hopes she might have found them – until she learns the terrible secret of the attic.’

I read this book recently as part of my quest to read the classic books you ‘must read’. I have to say I find a lot of these books hit and miss, some of them like Dracula are hard to put down whereas others, like ‘Little Women’ are long winded and quite frankly boring. When it came to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte I had mixed feelings. I was surprised at the beginning of the book, the tale was building up to be a Gothic supernatural mystery but alas that element of the story fell away to be replaced by the romantic relationship between Jane and Mr. Rochester.

Jane Eyre was a fascinating character in my opinion, she rejected social norms entirely, refusing to be the quite lady in the corner. I enjoyed her refreshing honesty and her sense of justice. No character in the book was ever going to get an advantage over her and she continuously took the harder option when presented with an easier life. Mr.Rochester was an equally fascinating man. He was an emotional character, who spoke his feelings openly. He was neither masculine or classically handsome. I enjoyed how he and Jane loved to try and rile each other up with various tales which aimed to displease their lover just for the fun of it. Their relationship was an unconventional one, it was a real relationship, void of the Hollywood portrayals of romance, they were simply two people who adored the passion that existed in each others hearts.

Although I did enjoy the characters in the story I felt let down in a way by the story itself. Jane was frequently awoken by strange sounds in the dead of night in Thornfield and the story took a supernatural element. I did not know anything about the book before reading it so I took pleasure in the anticipation of reading another Gothic novel. I was sadly disappointed to learn that the strange sounds at night had a perfectly rational explanation and there was no huge mystery to be solved.

Bronte’s writing is eloquent and descriptive, she was brilliant at describing the raw human emotions one might feel when they are in the trials and tribulations of love. I enjoyed the story to a point, I always knew Jane and Mr.Rochester would finally get together in the end in some form. I also felt let down in a way that Jane became rich by inheritance and not by her own hand. She was such an independent innovative woman, I felt her character would have been justified if she became self sufficient in another way besides coming into money by chance.

I liked reading Jane Eyre to a point, the romance is an interesting tale but I felt it could have been a fantastic novel if the author explored the mystery in the manor in another fashion and developed it more. That said, I can see why many people hold this book up as the greatest romantic novel of all time and why Jane Eyre is such a feminist icon. It is original and challenges the perceptions of women in society.

‘The Wild Swans’ by Thomas Aquinas Maguire-A 60 foot long picture book which pushes the boundaries of a children’s book


I recently wrote a blog on an unusual and beautiful series of wordless picture books, called Three Little Dreams. It was a stunning piece of art which challenged the definition of a book. The same author Thomas Aquinas Maguire has come up with a similar, but more complex work in The Wild Swans. It is a fold out book which when extended fully is over 60 foot at length. It is presented in an amazing gift box. The box and pages themselves felt like they were handcrafted for me especially, such was the quality of the work. It tells the tale of Hans Christian Andersons classic tale but with a twist; it is completely wordless. When this came through the post box I was immediately intrigued, the box is shown below:


The box itself is a thing of beauty, full of dark shades and gold print, I was extremely careful opening it up. Inside contains what seems like a huge bundle of card, carefully one must begin at the start and work their way through the story, it can be difficult at times to handle, but the effort is well worth it. There is a feel about the box and story itself that it was specially made for you, it feels like a rare item that must be cherished. The pages are shown here.


Maguire has an unusual style of illustration, there is something dark and grotesque in his drawings but they are stunning. The book is done completely in greyscale. The Swans and the young girl Eliza are beautifully drawn in the story, the landscapes are painstakingly detailed, ranging from palaces to forests to lakes. I could not help myself but marvel at the thousands of hours it must have taken the illustrator to complete this book. The narrative flows without difficulty, it is a long tale and the illustrations match that. I enjoyed the dark nature of the tale, it is a bleak version of Andersons tale borne out in pencil and black pen.

Here an example of some of my favourite illustrations from the book.


The above shows Eliza in the forest, it is an example of the sometimes disturbing nature of the drawings.


Eliza on her way to the lake, the shading and the grey tones really create a sinister atmosphere in the book.

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There is a grotesque nature to the creatures in the story, Maguire’s expert handiwork are shown here as the hair melts seamlessly into the background as Eliza is rescued by the prince.

This book defies definition, I cannot emphasize enough how beautiful a piece of literature this books is. It feels like cheating calling it a book. It is a piece of art first and foremost. If you are into illustration or art work, don;t hesitate to buy this book. If you love picture books and are an adult, this is a must for you. Children could not enjoy this book, it is too dark and folding out the pages themselves would be an ordeal. This book needs to be cherished and looked after as a gift. As I said above, I felt that Maguire had handcrafted the box and book especially for me.

Please leave a comment if you have any questions on this book as I know it is a difficult concept. It really is an innovative and outrageous book in certain respects. Let me know what you think!


‘Grandfather’s Journey’ by Allen Say


Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say is a moving and poignant story of identity and emigration. It is a book with a powerful and personal message. It is a Caldecott Medal winner and is a stunning piece of art work. Allen Say delivers a poignant account of his family’s unique cross-cultural experience as his grandfather moves fro Japan to America. He shows his love for both countries through a series of beautiful portrait style oil paintings. His grandfather loves both Japan and America and longs to be in both countries at once. He tells the feelings most migrants must experience. When in one country, he invariably misses the other.


The strength of this book lies in the personal experience of Say’s grandfather, his love of the mountains and rivers of Japan are compared with his love of the rivers and mountains of America. We see Say’s grandfather age in the book,going from a young boy to an old man full of memories. I enjoyed this book immensely as it is almost like a photo album. The protagonist is often posing in the picture, acknowledging that the reader is looking at him. The text is simplistic and plain, it adds to the sense of journey in the book.

I had to say I identified with the story itself, it is true to say that the author captured the sense of longing that fills the heart of every migrant. It also acknowledges the connection people have to land and how rural people have a strong affiliation with the landscape they grow up in and sometimes cities can inhibit their spirit.


Allen Say is a master storyteller, there is nothing hidden in his illustrations, no symbolism or underlying meaning; what you see is what you get, and I love this aspect of his drawing. It is a marvelous picture book and is well worth picking up if you are living in a distant shore or sometimes wish you were back home. There is a beautiful mixture of Japanese and American culture and I enjoyed the contrast in the fashion in the two countries as show in the book.

Did you enjoy Grandfather’s Journey as much as me? Did you read any of Say’s other quirky picture books?

‘There’-Irish Picture Book Illustration at it’s best


There by Irish author-illustrator Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick is a marvellous picture book. It is the story of a young girl who asks the dreaded question ‘When will I get There?’ The strength of this book lies in it’s illustration and play on words. It is one of my favourite picture books due to the duality of the book- it is aimed at children but the message of the book is firmly aimed at adults.


Fitzpatrick’s illustrations are stunning, soft, somber colours mix with vibrant reds and blues. The illustrations are simple and subtle but in my opinion there is a very ‘Irish’ feel to this book. There is beautiful drawings of huge rolling green hills and soft rainy days and the girl goes through various scenes which look right out of Ireland, like this one shown below.


There is a great use of repetition in the book where the child is constantly asking about this special place called “There” for example ‘And will I know everything, There?‘ The child is asking what adults would feel are ridiculous questions but when one thinks about it you could argue the author is making a clever point in including these questions, at one point the child asks:

‘Can Teddy come too?

Can I stop along the way?

Can I pick daisies?’

The child reader will love the simplistic nature of the questions and the illustrations accompanying them but the adult will also stop to think about this magical place called ‘There’. Most adults, myself included are constantly worried about goals and ambitions, we are so caught up in our career paths and personal ambitions that we often forget about life’s joys. Children enjoy the simple things in life and the author reaffirms this cleverly in the concluding page. It reads ‘I’ll go There  tomorrow.’ and it is accompanied by a beautiful picture of the girl flying a kite.

I cannot speak highly enough of this book, it would be a wonderful book to read to your child at night, it could be read again and again with different things spotted on each page. Children love repetition, and they could easily read this book with their mothers or fathers before going asleep at night. A brilliant book with a real celtic feel!

A Review of ‘The Graveyard Book’ by Neil Gaiman


The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is a book for young adults which I enjoyed immensely. The story begins with a triple homicide, the surviving child wanders into the local graveyard and is raised by ghosts. Now if that opening sequence doesn’t grab your attention, nothing will! The young protagonist, Nobody Owens, is brought up by the various ghosts who live in the graveyard and they all have a story to tell.

I enjoyed the fact that most books and films dramatize graveyards as a spooky place where sad things happen, Gaiman turns this idea on it’s head and makes the reader feel safe within the walls of the cemetery and wary of the outside world. In most graveyards, there are hundreds of people from hundreds of different backgrounds and time periods buried beneath the soil. The author used this feature brilliantly, I loved hearing the different characters deaths and ideas of life and death. They ranged from a witch burned at the stake to an ancient Celtic spirit.

Although the book starts brilliantly, I felt let down at times at the way the book meanders along towards the end point, I felt that Gaiman could have incorporated Nobody’s quest to find his parents killer more into the development of the tale. I also thought Nobody was quite a bland character, he didn’t have many personable traits, in my mind he was the perfect son. Nobody learns different ghoulish powers from various ghosts, I was thinking how I’d use such skills to other more mischievous ends!

My edition of the book was brilliantly illustrated by David McKean, only upon finishing the book I realized there is a graphic novel version produced, which I must pick up at some stage.I would recommend this book to younger teenagers as well as young adults. I enjoyed the book as an adult, it is funny and full of historical references, an aspect of which I enjoyed.