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Pickle Me This

January 31, 2020

Finding Lucy, by Eugenie Fernandes

I’m not reading picture books as avidly as I once was, which I guess was sort of an inevitable development. Ten years ago, when I had my first baby and was at a loss as to how to relate to her or the circumstances of my mother life, picture books were like a port in the storm, a place where my child’s and my interests actually converged, and they were how I related and connected to my daughter in those early days when her existence was still so alien and strange, and I was overwhelmed and always exhausted.

We’ve hung onto picture books all this time, however, because my children are four years apart, so we’ve stretched out early childhood for an awfully long time in our household, but now my youngest is six and a half, and she’s really into Ivy and Bean. And yes, of course, she reads us picture books now, and my eldest still enjoys them, but they’re not the meat of our literary diet as once upon a time they were. Which is why my #PictureBookFriday posts are getting few and far between. (Blogging tip: let your blog grow and change as you do. Don’t write posts that feel like chores.)

Writing this post doesn’t feel at all like a chore though, because it’s about Eugenie Fernandes’ Finding Lucy, a picture book I’m kind of obsessed with (and I think it’s also Fernades’ first picture book in quite some time). It mingles an old fashioned storybook sensibility (there are talking animals, and the cat is called “the cat”) with a dazzling and delightful abstraction, and the most delicious vocabulary. In fact, this is a book that relishes language just as much as it does colour and art, with words like “discombobulated,” “ferocious” and “atrocious.” “It’s utterly befuddling and baffling and piffling and dribbling and scribbling!” —so say the critics about Lucy’s attempt at a painting.

And yes, everybody has an opinion, as Lucy tries to paint her picture. She wants to paint the colour of laughter, she says, but then a reporter shows up, and then an elephant and a crocodile, and a chicken and a pig (with a pramfull of piglets) and a big city critic who arrives to assess Lucy’s work and have the final say. It’s a story about the necessity of sticking to one’s vision and not having your art be muddled from every elephant or crocodile who happens to wander by. But it’s also a story that’s so much more more than what it’s actually about, a book that’s rich and expansive, celebrating the exuberance of the creative spirit.

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