September 3, 2010
I’ve already written about a number of my favorite active picture-book artists, and one of these days I’m just going to have to come up with a definitive list. Prominent on it would be Australian illustrator Freya Blackwood, whose work has always just leapt out from the crowd for me.
I first encountered it in the wonderful Half a World Away, by Libby Gleeson, in which best friends separated—and, at first, crushed—by one’s across-the-globe move still find a magical way to communicate via imagination. It’s hard to imagine a better fit for the themes of this story than Blackwood’s watercolors: soft and lovely, they capture every aspect of childhood joy, sadness, and imagination. Her art was also the perfect complement to Roddy Doyle’s typically beautiful, haunting tale Her Mother's Face. Blackwood has the rare gift of being able to illustrate emotions of all kinds sweetly; even the sad moments bring a bittersweet smile to your face as you read. Both books quickly became favorites of our older son, and have long since entered his personal canon.
So I was eager to get my hands on the brand-new Ivy Loves to Give, the first book I’ve seen that Blackwood has both written and illustrated. It’s an endearing little slice of a toddler’s life: Little Ivy indeed likes to bestow things on members of her family, as well as the often unsuspecting animals who live with and around them, but she has a little trouble giving the right thing to each one. So a chicken gets Mom’s cup of tea, the (very perturbed) cat gets the baby’s pacifier, and the dog gets Grandma’s glasses. No problem—Ivy eventually sets everything right. And when her older sister lets her hang onto her tutu, which she’d originally presented to a goat, Ivy gives her "the best gift of all": a hug.
The simplicity is a big part of the charm, as is the quiet but ever-present humor. (On each page, as Ivy moves on to her next “gift,” you also see the real owner of her previous one in the background, looking puzzled.) But it’s the tone Blackwood maintains that’s most remarkable: again, you always have that smile on your face as you read. And the “awww” moment at the end, which would have been predictably over-the-top in many picture books, instead hits the mark perfectly—not too obvious, not too sappy. There’s nothing earthshaking about Ivy Loves to Give, but it’s among the most satisfying picture books you’ll read to a young child.
[Image courtesy of Arthur E. Levine Books/Scholastic]