The Wanderer - Peter Van Den Ende
I've been enjoying the company of this book for a month now, and it's still amazing and intriguing me with every reading...
A wordless picture book in black and white might not sound the most appealing of children's books, but this one can't fail to attract attention and engagement, with new discoveries made anew on every page of this incredibly illustrated tale each time I picked it up, and from the first glimpse inside the map-adorned end-papers and throughout.
Following a 'Wanderer' (who we finally glimpse as a strange ethereal humanoid figure at the end) as he journeys in a paper boat across familiar yet fantastically strange oceans above and below the surface, this book is full of monsters, creature and places that seem Earth-like in nature, yet are slightly surreal and other-worldly too. Never quite being sure who or what the intentions are of the characters and elements the Wanderer comes across in his boat was one of the most engaging aspects of the book for me. Where will the boat go? How will the story end? And the crux of the story...who is this Wanderer? What is the purpose of his journey? Who are the mysterious figures involved in setting him on his way, and receiving him at the end after his travels?
With messages (in my mind at least!) about the environment and oceans, acceptance, bravery in the face of danger, and perseverance, the lack of words means that the narrative is driven by the incredible illustrations and all the fantastic and marvellous creatures depicted in them, and the details left to the reader to interpret for themselves. That for me, made the book both a challenge and a pleasure - I had to work to understand and interpret what was going on, but I was also left to do this without influence from a set plot. I enjoyed discusing the book with my own children and my class, and was amazed at the different views, opinions and ideas it elicited and inspired in them after reading.
The illustrations reminded me (in no bad way!) of the illsutrations in 'The Mysteries of Harris Burdick' - a picture book by the American author Chris Van Allsburg, and also of the work of Shaun Tan (who is quoted in praise of the book on its cover) and the 'impossible construction' drawings of M.C. Escher. Incredible stuff, and an incredible book. Well worth a read (if that's the correct term for a book like this?) or possible should I say, a viewing?
Review by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot) October 2020