Picture Book Review- A River by Marc Martin

A River TITLE: A River
Silent Observer        A Forest
The Curious Explorers Illustrated Guide
to Exotic Animals A-Z
PUBLISHER: Penguin Group (Australia)
SYNOPSIS:   A picture book about
imagination and the
magical journey it can take you
on, if you just allow it.
Hardcover: A River  (Book Depository affiliate link)
A River from The Little Bookroom
Picture-Book-Review-The-River RATING:  A+
A huge thumbs up for creating a picture
book where the illustrations
alone evoke the wonder
of the imagination

Extra browny points for all the hidden details and
subtle messages about taking
care of our environment.
‘A River’ has all the elements of the perfect book cover design:
1. a clever composition with a river running through the middle of the design and a title font that resembles a flowing river.
2. a rich colour palette that captures the essence of a wild tropical jungle at night.
3. A tactile surface  that immediately entices you to run your fingers across the cover to feel each embossed frond and flower.  Marc uses the opposite technique on the title font by sinking it (debossing) into the surface of the cover. The sunken font feels like a running river stream.
4.  lastly choosing a black background behind the jungle to highlight its rich colours and textures but also disguising other details within it. See if you can spot what is hidden.
To sum it up, the book cover design for ‘A River’ is a beautiful piece of art that you just want to frame and place on your wall to admire.

I appreciate artists that put a lot of thought, detail and layers of meaning in their work. In the front end pages design, what looks simply like an illustration of a young artist deep in concentration drawing at her bedroom desk, has a completely different atmosphere when you flip to the back end pages. Here the same illustration but set at nighttime, with the twinkle of city lights and the glow of the moon reflecting through the window, seems a lot more magical, dreamlike and possible, for a child’s imagination to go wild.

The other clever detail of the end pages design is discovering that the bedroom collection of toys, prints, trinkets and even the pet cat are inspirations for the young artist and her imagination of the river journey from the city to the sea. As you turn each page, what fun is it to try and spot the hidden objects within her toy box, book shelves and along the walls of the bedroom. In fact, there are some items I’m still searching for.

Marc’s style reminds me of art work by Henri Rousseau, Maurice Sendak and Jon Klassen. A lovely naive style in rich unusual colours you don’t normally pair with each other but have a big visual impact.

Marc combines gouache with watercolour, pencil and digital scanned textures. Marc is very clever in his placement of the river as it opens up into the sea. The river leads your eyes through the pages so you explore all the details. As the river widens, the reader inches closer to the little girl in her boat until she is tumbling down a waterfall, into the dark jungle and out into the huge expanse of the sea. Then the magic really happens as she peers down below and sees the world beneath the boat.

I like the subtle messages Marc makes through the illustrations about caring for nature and our environment. The little girl in her boat journeys down the city river, passing by roads and roads of cars letting out dirty exhaust fumes. Then comes all the factories polluting the air with dark dirty smoke. Immediately the landscape of the factories changes into farmland which makes us think about what we do in our busy cities has consequences along down the stream which could be the food we eat and on the survival of essential rain forest eco-systems.

As well as the hidden environmental messages, the illustrations have hidden references back to the little girl’s bedroom to discover and spot along the journey. If you look closely at the city landscape, there are famous world buildings to spot as well. What fun for all ages to enjoy!

Told in first person point of view, the story starts with a question, an open invitation to imagine a bigger world outside your window, your door. “Sometimes I imagine myself floating along the river…..Where will it take me?”

Marc’s writing style is very poetic with similar sized sentences on each page. There is a flow, a rhythm when read out-loud resembles the flow of the river the little girl floats along in her boat. The words allow enough space for the illustrations to add to the story.

Marc lives in the virtual world here

If you want to read a cool interview with Marc check out this link from ‘The Design Files’ blog,

Here is a youtube video clip on Marc Martin and what inspires him to create picture books

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