First published on 24th October, 2013 in The Star
I LOVE matryoshka dolls, those Russian dolls of decreasing size that fit one inside the other; Chinese boxes, and any nested containers, including those colourful plastic ones that are a staple of most modern playrooms. The concept appeals to me because it’s practical and neat. Everything fitting together is artful yet ingenuous, and there’s something very cosy and safe about the nesting concept. However, there is also that suggestion of complexity, of layers, of stories told from different points of view, of narratives within narratives.Open This Little Book by Jesse Klausmeier, and illustrated by Suzy Lee, is a book within a book within a book within another book … where does it end? With yet another book of course. Open the picture book and the purple title page appears to be the cover of smaller book. Turn the page and you are confronted by another book cover … this time a red, black-spotted one. You are asked to open this Little Red Book, and read about a ladybug who’s drinking tea while reading her Little Green Book. The green book, with its rain-splashed lilipad-patterned cover, is about a frog whose orange, carrot-dotted book is about a rabbit who reads a book with a honeycomb patterns on its cover. This one’s about a bear and his Little Blue Book about a big blue giant who struggles to open her Little Rainbow Book, which is about a ladybug, frog, rabbit, bear, and giant and the books they love. The books are now all open and the different coloured covers are a gorgeous, layered, middle-page spread. Now you turn each “cover” to close each book, and once the purple book is shut, you are encouraged to open another book. The illustration on the right is certainly inspiring, showing various animals and a little girl and boy reading under a shady book-shelf tree.
If you’re looking for a message, it’s surely that, with reading, the fun never ends, and that every page-turn leads to further enjoyment, magic, drama, knowledge, and so on and on.
The animals in the books within the book are linked by pages, stories and a love for books and reading. Books, Klausmeier and Lee seem to say, are our friends. They keep us company. They entertain us. They offer comfort and insights and advice. They take us on travels and adventures.
Lee’s illustrations are playful, full of relaxed humour, like sketches in a notebook. Smudgy primary colours, applied in a free, vigorous style, make the pictures pop and move, and give the book the look of something handmade and unique. Indeed, the whole book is an ode to book arts and will delight those who don’t just love to read but also revel in the smell and feel of a book. For those who enjoy making books, Open This Little Book will inspire ideas. And, as a present, this is one of those gifts that will just keep on giving.