CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 15 . . . . December 14, 2012
When readers are introduced to Ava, the story's protagonist, he is hungry, cold and without parents or friends – residing in a liminal place, an 'in-between' locale that characterizes much of children's literature. This nebulous background sets the mood for Ava and the Little Folk, both a universal tale and also a distinctly regional one.
The introduction, written by Neil Christopher who co-authored Ava and the Little Folk with Alan Neal, asks a question of the reader: "Consider for a moment how you might perceive the world if you could change your size at will." This question, and the possible answers it invites, threads tellingly throughout the narrative. Christopher points out that the magical "small folk" of this story are present in the folktales of every Arctic region and are famed for their ability to manipulate the elements and, most importantly, to change the weather as is needed. Fittingly, Ava learns a similar skill from his interactions with the magic little folk; he, too, finds the means of changing his environment as he responds to it.
Ava's home is in the Arctic, and the landscape, itself, permeates all aspects of this story. While Ava's situation might well be familiar to many, Ava's vividly described surroundings are distinctly regional. There are descriptions of polar bears and seal hunts, of the harsh bite of the wind, and of growling lemmings. Ava's old jacket is lined with wolverine fur. He has a night of peaceful sleep beside snoring huskies, and "old stones mottled with orange and black lichen" are found in Ava's thule site. These details give a realistic presence and weight to this magical story.
Jonathan Wright's artwork is an integral element of the story. The magical dreaminess of Ava and the Little Folk is heightened by Wright's use of blinding snow, a portrayal of a landscape without ending or beginning. The illustrations range from white on white (of daytime) to white on black (for evening), which gives the sense of continuity and boundlessness. There is an illustrative personality that accompanies this tale, adroitly balancing the somewhat spare and steady tone of the writing.
The challenge in creating any picture book is to blend a mix of elements, without any one in particular stealing the show. The publisher, Inhabit Media, does this well. Whether the little folk have always existed, or whether we are always needing to invent them, the end result is the same. The possibility of a miniature world existing parallel to our commonplace reality allows a broadening of perspective and offers new possible means of interpreting our experiences.
Ava and the Little Folk inspires, but with only the lightest of touches, and will be enjoyed by readers of all ages - and heights.
Lara LeMoal has a Master of Arts in Children's Literature from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.