By Janelle B. Mathis, PhD, University of North Texas and Katie Loomis, Librarian and Doctoral Student, University of North Texas
In the fourth installment of January’s MTYT, Janelle B. Mathis and Katie Loomis talk about the picturebook The Visitor, written by Antje Damm and translated by Sally-Ann Spencer. The theme for this month focuses on child agency and situations where children can relate to adults through personal relationship, actions, words or questions.
“Elise was scared of everything.” So, she never went out but maintained a perfectly clean, orderly house. Her solitary life was changed when one day a paper airplane flew into her window and its’ owner appeared the next day to collect it– and asks to use her bathroom. Her visitor is a young boy, doing what is natural– asking questions, being read to, and playing hide and seek– yet he earnestly interacts with her and builds a relationship within the day spent at her house. At the day’s end, she reveals her re-discovered joy that a child-like spirit can bring as she works to make a paper airplane when he leaves. The story closes with a satisfied smile on Elise’s face and the readers’ awareness of the change that has occurred that day through the power of friendship between young and old. German author Antje Damm created characters that are cut out and imposed on a very detailed setting within Elise’s house– a three-dimensional diorama that has been photographed.
Janelle: I was drawn in by the colors and their change from dark to bright as Elise’s lonely life became brightened by the spirited young boy. The simplicity of appearance, yet complexity of the artistic process in these illustrations, reflects the seemingly simple actions of the child that actually represented very powerful interactions between the old and young. The joys of childhood can be lost to those who do not regularly associate with children and, yet, the story reminds us that this child-like energy and simplicity that people once have is only dormant, waiting for an opportunity to come alive. I’m left thinking that this was not the last visit for the boy and that Elise’s life will be much richer through the time this child spent with her. Society’s constraints on childhood and agency building, to include those often structured within educational settings, continues throughout life and it is only as individuals resist the unnecessary constraints on their lives that joy becomes a daily event.
Katie: I too loved the illustrations and was taken in by their evolution over the course of the book. Elise needed this little visitor and just didn’t know it. She assumed she was happy cleaning every day and just existing. Her life was upended when a little boy, Emil, simply marched into her house looking for his paper airplane. The innocence of his actions- from asking questions to having her read to him allowed Elise to let her guard down. She was not afraid of Emil and enjoyed her afternoon with him. This little boy gave Elise so much more than he knew. Children don’t always understand how their interactions with people affect them. Elise gained a new sense of purpose from Emil’s visit. She was able to recall memories from her past that made her happy, read her beloved books, and fed Emil. I was left with a sense of hopefulness that Emil would come back and visit again. No one should be afraid to be themselves and live their lives.
Title: The Visitor
Author: Antje Damm
Publisher: Gecko Press
Pub Date: August 1, 2018