This superb picture book encapsulates an entire collection of short stories, spurred on by the actions of one dictatorial General, who believes the book and all its pages belongs to him. The cast of characters is displayed in the front- and end-papers – which also tell the progression of the characters’ stories with their subtle differences.
Our dictator shouts at his guardsman on the title page, ‘This is how it’s going to be. I give the orders around here!’ The first character to enter the narrative is a dog, watched with a simple shift of the guardsman’s eyes. Then Nuno comes strolling along, obliviously heading for the edge of the page – “STOP! I’m very sorry, but no one’s allowed onto the right-hand page.” Nuno questions this, only to be told that the General requests that the page remain blank in case he wants to join the story.
Our cast of characters starts growing exponentially, and as each recognise the state of the story, they react in different ways, each with their own distinct personality – perhaps the best example (short of an entirely wordless book) that I have seen recent of showing, not telling, in a picture book. All we have is shouted, whinged and grimaced words. We have an irate granddad, an ET-esque Alien with a familiar narrative (he needs to make a phone call…), a happily dancing couple, a floating astronaut, a rock band, and a couple of escaped prisoners, among others.
As pages turn, our prisoners move urgently to get away from their guard, pregnant Clara gets irate, grunf grunfs and a ghost gets frustrated by his need to get to his frightening appointment. And our dancing couple carries on, oblivious.
The illustrations are so basic as to be child-like, and the eyes are huge, with irises the size of glasses and tiny pupils. But this adds to the joyful tumult of the page – if each detail was drawn with delicate penstrokes, you would lose the feel of the story, of the imperfect human characters and their reactions to another imperfect human, who just thinks he has to follow orders…until a couple of boys lose their red ball across the line. The entire cast follows the ball with their eyes, including our guard.
As he allows them across, the bank bursts and he allows everybody who has been waiting to go, for whatever reason they give, with a gracious smile on his face, and presumably to the disappointment of the ice cream seller who has only just arrived (but of course follows the crowd.) But of course this is not the end of it… the general returns. And the reactions of those who have been allowed through – even those who are nearly off the page, is genius.
This is a book for now, inspired by then. It is one for those kids that love to tell a piece of the story themselves – it reminded me a little of Mamoko in that sense – and those that just love to pore over a complex world of characters. And of course, it is one for adults who love curiously good picture books. And after a few tricky questions from my school-kid, I can definitely see it coming in useful the next time world events take us over. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
Don’t Cross the Line!
by Isabel Minho Martins, illustrated by Bernado P. Carvalho
Published by Gecko Press