my fathers arms are a boat

My Father’s Arms Are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde, illustrated by Oyvind Torseter, translated by Kari Dickson

Published on February 5, 2013.

There are some picture books that you read the first few lines and you realize you are somewhere new and unknown.  This is that sort of book.  It is the story of a young boy who is unable to fall asleep.  His father is there, sitting in the living room by the fire.  The boy returns to his father and climbs onto his lap.  His father talks about cutting down a big spruce together the next day.  The boy asks about the red birds that they left bread for.  He worries about the fox stealing their bread too. His grandmother told him that the red birds are dead people and then the book turns and is about the loss of his mother and grief.  It is handled with such care and delicacy and the young boy is surrounded with such obvious love that it is achingly exquisite.

This book is not really about what I captured in the paragraph above.  It is about sorrow and grief, the sort of sorrow that can only be fleetingly captured in a silent flight of birds or a lone fox in the snow.  It is about the loss of a mother, but also about the days following when grief is all you can bear and think of.  This book reads like a beautiful ache, a heartbeat of grief where life must go on.  The writing is expressive and poetic, just like the title.

Torseter’s illustrations are also unusual and amazing.  Done in folded paper and collage, they have a 3-dimensional quality to them that invites in shadows.  Most of the images are black, white and grey, though the red birds and the orange fox are pops of color.  Beautiful and delicate, the slumps of the shoulders of the characters tell of the sad truth before the words do.  The winter setting too is cold and a bit wild, reflecting the mood of the story.

Stunning in its writing and illustration, this is a picture book that is noteworthy and memorable.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.