Mischief in Tuscany by Nancy Shroyer Howard

 

In ~1338, Ambrogio Lorenzetti painted a large fresco entitled ‘The Effects of Good Government in the City and Countryside’. In 2008, Nancy Shroyer Howard, a museum editor at the time, published Mischief in Tuscany, an interesting take on the famous Italian masterpiece.

The book follows the adventures of Cinta, a white striped Sienese pig. Nancy found this pig on his way to town with his master in the fresco, and from there, her imagination sprung wild. She has carefully zoomed into details of the painting, as seen through the eyes of Cinta, as he runs wild across the Countryside and City creating chaos and scandal.

The original paintings are displayed alongside its counterpart ‘The Effects of Bad Governance’, like a visual 14th century Dos and Don’ts list. Mischief in Tuscany brings alive the hypothetical of a good governmental decision whilst drawing attention to the intricacies of the painting. The pig himself has a ball of a time- scaring brides, splattering eggs, stealing cheese and dancing with the horrified town girls. The narrative keeps young readers engrossed in the (600+-year-old, shhh) pictures, and makes its adult reader silently snigger at the cheeky cut-outs.

It is a pleasure to hold this wonderful painting in one’s hand and to see the details of a Mideaval Siena up close. This is the kind of book that can turn into a variety of activities from memory games to imaginative explorations of paintings during the next visit to the museum.

Likla
Writer at Art1st

PS. There’s very little about this book to be found about the book online (though there are volumes about the painting itself). If you’ve read the book and have a perspective to share, do let us know.

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Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glenn Ringtved, illustrated by Charlotte Pardi

 

Like many children’s books, Cry, Heart, But Never Break began in reality. Glenn Ringtved takes on the difficult subject of death and loss. These were his mother’s words shortly before her passing, and these were the words with which he tempered the souls of his children.

The story begins bleakly, as grandmother lies sick with an inky cloaked Death her imminent visitor. The children recognize Death immediately and, (bless them!) in complete innocence, they offer him cup after cup of the strongest coffee they can make, to keep him away from their grandmother. But Glenn’s Death is kind. 

“Some people say Death’s heart is as dead and black as a piece of coal, but that is not true…”

Death drinks every cup offered as he tells them a story. It is a story of Grief and Sorrow personified, who find their counterparts in Delight and Joy. Compassionately, he shows them the duality of life and death, and darkness and light, and though the children don’t fully understand, they begin to see.

“”No,” Nels said. “Life is moving on. This is how it must be.””

This moving and extremely quotable Danish book is made complete by Charlotte Pardi‘s illustrations. In using watercolours and pencils, the paintings are soft but saturated with emotion. What captures the eye is the depth of character in each expression. On the outset, her Death is the typical European Grim Reaper, but one that leaves his scythe outside the door. She draws his face as a human face and not a skull. It is not a face of fear, but of compassion and sorrow in balance.

Death is unbearably difficult for an adult, so how does one go about explaining it to a child? When’s the right time? Instead of tackling the matter, some ignore it. Others turn it into a metaphor, and others yet, sugar-coat it, until sickly sweet, it remains undealt with. Glenn’s tale offers a way- for the heart to grieve and cry, but not break.

 

 

Likla
Writer at Art1st

PS. Our library is always growing. If you have any recommendations for gems like this one, do let us know!

#GrædBlotHjerte

 

eric by Shaun Tan

 

If you aren’t familiar with the works of Shaun Tan, then I’m glad you’ve chanced across this post! This Australian illustrator-writer-creator-imaginer has an uncanny knack to take the mundane, flip it around and present it back to the world in the form of breathtaking picture books.

eric is from Tales of Outer Suburbia, an anthology that deals with the concepts of ‘otherness’ and ‘belonging’. The story, whence read without the images, is that of a foreign exchange student with strange mannerisms that are simply chalked down to ‘it must be a cultural thing.’

eric, in form, is a thumb-sized alien-esque creature, lean, dark and absolutely adorable. His travelling bags are made of acorn shells and his prefered bedroom is the kitchen pantry. The eager young narrator seeks to show him the wonders of zirs* home and suburbia, and when there is a lack of understanding and communication, falls back to the comfort of ‘it must be a cultural thing.’

The narrative stays unassuming of eric’s opinion, as often is when faced with an unknown culture. The illustrations, on the other hand, make the reader fall more and more in love with the little curious creature. In unravelling the transparent metaphor, the reader can replace the figure of the shadowy alien, with a human from another culture and re-read this miniature eric-sized book of heartache.

Shaun Tan’s illustrations are intricate and detailed as always. Seemingly everyday objects are imbued with strange meanings and contexts; for example, a simple teacup turns into eric’s bed. An observant reader can spend hours poring over the pages and will always find a new and enthralling detail.

 

* Gender neutral narrators get their gender neutral pronouns too. Ze= he/she; zirs = hers/his, etc.

Likla
Writer at Art1st

PS. A starting point for discussion can be this question: Why is eric written small letters? How does this contribute to the ‘otherness’ of this book?

PPS. While looking through the illustrations, look out for repeated objects and different perspectives of the same thing. What do you learn about eric’s everyday life and his hosts’ world?

#ShaunTanFan!