Shadow

Shadow by Suzy Lee (first published by Chronicle Books, USA, 2010)

Introduced by Clare Walters

#NoWords series

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This wordless picture book, Shadow, celebrates the richness of the imagination and the emotional power of stories that children create for themselves. It begins and ends with the click of a light switch, and in between Suzy Lee’s two-colour artwork depicts the tale of a young girl who becomes so absorbed in her make-believe game she ends up scaring herself.

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The front endpapers are black with the single word ‘Click!’ in white. (Interestingly if you hold the first page up to the light you can see a show-through ‘shadow’ of the next page.) Turn over and the top half shows the girl dancing in a room full of assorted objects, such as a ladder, a bicycle and a vacuum cleaner. She is looking down into the lower half, which shows, in monochrome, realistic shadows of both herself and the objects.

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Focusing on these shadows, the girl’s imagination begins to take flight, and the first indication of fantasy – appropriately – appears in the form of a bird, created by the shadow of a shape the girl is making with her hands. This bird is shown surrounded by a yellow halo, and there are hints of yellow around a couple of other objects as well, including the broom and a mop, which are beginning to look like flower blooms.

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As the bird flies away, the girl’s pretend story engrosses her more and more. Her own shadow transforms into a wolf, and other objects become jungle creatures. By the time the yellow haze has seeped across the entire lower half and even reached across the gutter to the top half, the wolf – the girl’s alter-ego – has become threatening. Fortunately the jungle animals rescue her and she and the ‘wolf’ are reunited. A sudden call of ‘Dinner’s ready!’ interrupts her game and the room reverts abruptly to its former state. It seems the story is over, but this time, as the light is switched off, the word ‘Click!’ appears in yellow – and sure enough the final page shows the fantasy still in play.

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Suzy Lee is a Korean artist who has studied in both Seoul and Britain and, for her, the format of the book is an integral part of the reading experience. Shadow uses the same narrow format of two of her previous books – Mirror (2003), which opens vertically, and Wave (2008), which opens horizontally. With Shadow, Lee designed the book to open from bottom to top, with the gutter marking a clear division in the story. On blog.picturebookmakers.com, she explains, “the centre binding of each of the book’s left and right pages works as a border between fantasy and reality. I wanted to make one more book to complete the ‘Border Trilogy’.”

On the same site Lee describes how she created the illustrations for Shadow. She used charcoal, pencil, watercolour and spray paint, and many of the characters began life as stencils. After experimenting with various techniques, she digitally manipulated all the elements before adding the colour. ‘I chose yellow,’ Lee says, ‘because it makes black stand out beautifully and clearly. Yellow shows the area of fantasy.’

This is a delightful book, which provides an intriguing puzzle for both children and adults alike. It’s a great prop for starting a discussion on the difference between reality and fantasy – not always easy concepts to define – but it’s also a beautiful stand-alone artwork.

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Clare Walters is a journalist and writer of children’s picture books. She has a large collection of wordless picture books. 

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