Oliver Jeffers’ picture book “What we build”

DThey are lying, the two creators of their world, and there is no doubt that they deserve the break. We do not know whether the seventh day of creation has already dawned, but father and daughter have already built a house together on the previous two dozen pages, a clock, a fortress wall, a tower, a tunnel and a road – the latter up to the moon, on the surface of which they found those two miraculously leafy trees between which they could put their hammocks. Perhaps the cheerful pink foliage is the result of another form of photosynthesis which, due to the lack of atmosphere, no longer leads to green. We don’t know that either, and actually it doesn’t really matter, because the thought of a lunar siesta with the earth in the sky is too good to have to be true.

Like all the illustrations in this picture book, the picture comes from Oliver Jeffers, born in Australia, raised in Northern Ireland and resident in the United States for some time, from a man who has seen the world, if not yet from the moon. Since 2004, when “How to Catch a Star” appeared, he has been active as an illustrator of mostly self-composed picture books, and with “Lost and Found”, the magical story about the friendship between a boy and a penguin, he experienced his international one in the following year Breakthrough; in Germany it appeared as “penguin found”, and since then it has also been regularly represented and popular in this country.

Three years ago, “Here We Are,” a “Guide to Life on Earth,” came out, and you could tell that the man who had seen the world had experienced something new: the birth of his daughter Mari. With her came another Jeffers, an educational and pathetic one who has no less in mind than the future. That of his daughter, which is why it is a maudlin Jeffers that we got to know and can now accompany on his path to fatherhood. Because the recently published picture book “What we build” continues “Here we are” insofar as it is also a guide to a life, albeit a building guide, and the envisaged life goes, as you can see, this time beyond the earth.

“Plans for our future” is the subtitle this time, and with the exception of the double page we selected, they consist of a vita activa. Right at the beginning, father and daughter show their hands: a small pair on the left, a large pair on the right, and as we turn the pages we come across a whole battery of tools that these hands then use to build the house. Located in the middle of a wide landscape, it becomes the center of its own world, which is shielded from the outside by a wall, where “evil” lurks, personified by a barbarian, a witch, a pirate and a doctor with mouthguards and syringes – a A quartet of horrors suitable for children, which, however, when the fortress gate is opened for him, turns out to be extremely civilized. Jeffers is obviously also interested in breaking down prejudice.

Oliver Jeffers:

Oliver Jeffers: “What we build”. Plans for our future. Translated from the English by Anne Schaub. NordSüd Verlag, Zurich 2021. 44 pp., Hardcover, € 16. From 6 years

Image: NordSüd Verlag

Above all, about starting out in life, and there are no limits. Father and daughter reached a sky-towering tower, and you don’t have to be afraid that there might be a suspicious God there who would judge this as hubris and punish it. Rather, the book is characterized by a basic trust in the good as a result of constantly striving efforts, and so the calm after the labor of creation is only calm before the storm, because father and daughter build a ship after relaxation – the “Queen Mari 2” – and venture into the raging element of the sea to finally get where they started: in their own home. All the beings that the two of them met on their adventure tour will soon find themselves there and gather around the warming fire in the garden: “The fire keeps us warm and secure, ‘Sleep well, my child, have no worries.'”

The message of the book is just as simple as its rhymes, with which the translator Anna Schaub will not have had much trouble. A Dr. Oliver Jeffers is not Seuss with his strict sense of rhythm, but he adopted the principle of child-friendly evocation of the future from this most prominent of all American picture book authors: “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” Was the title of Dr.’s last work in 1990. Seuss. Jeffers’ “What we build” is the contemporary version of our day: participative, integrative, but also a little naive.

Oliver Jeffers: “What we build”. Plans for our future. Translated from the English by Anne Schaub. NordSüd Verlag, Zurich 2021. 44 pp., Hardcover, € 16. From 6 years


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