After reading Time for Bed, Miyuki, I had to look up more by the illustrator. Coincidentally, My Island is a 2019 publication that was hitting my feeds.
My Island by Stéphanie Demasse-Pottier
Illus. by Seng Soun Ratanavanh
Princeton Architectural Press, 2019.
Hardcover Picture book, 24 pages.
My Island is so stinking adorable…and not in the dismissive way. I would’ve owned this one and read it with my child daughter (who is sitting at the table now re-reading a grown-ass-adult novel by Mieville (that is also, coincidentally, a highly imaginative story about the layering of worlds)).
The pencil-work, patterns and color palette that drew my attention in Miyuki, are present in My Island. The addition of the sewn/stitched is especially lovely in Demasse-Pottier’s story of a girl who constructs a world from her imagination. Stitches outline images that are the very part of the fabric of the story of “an island that has no name.” The idea of the whale being formed out of the waves sets a strong thematic tone in the first page. As does the second with the flowers inside the ‘snow globe’ and the snowy scene outside of it–where the small bird is bigger than our narrator whose very head becomes an island on the following page, a tree sprouting from it (that same bird now tiny and without winter apparel).
Follow the repeated images, not only in text, as the story and its narrator builds its world/island. The island is hospitable and charmingly strange, full of food, friends, “bric-a-brac,” and activity. Her shelter looks like a blanket fort or bird house or globe.
“Inside my house, on my island, I feel at home.
There is no door, you can come in.”
But the welcome comes with a qualifiers (and one of my favorite pages): “If you know how to sing,/if you know how to share,/if you know how to dream.”
The last text-yielding page, “if you know how to dream,” is the first to place our narrator in a real-world context of a room, her shoes on, playing with a house with red thread (her inspirations about her). It is the turn to the next page that returns us to the island, quiet, rich in color and context, an invitation. It’s the same rich blue-green expanse we remember from her in the globe with the words “you can come in,” the same star patterns being hung with care from the clouds above her house.
Demasse-Pottier speaks with a quiet, steady hand, and she’s partnered with an illustrator who echoes its whimsy and delight. The island feels safe and like childhood; steeped in nature and imagination and deep vibrant warm color.
Stephanie Demasse-Pottier lives and works in France as a librarian specializing in children’s books. My Island is her first book to appear in English.
Painter and illustrator Seng Soun Ratanavanh lives in Paris, where she graduated from the School of Fine Arts. Her work includes the celebrated Time for Bed, Miyuki.