Niko Draws A Feeling
Carolrhoda Books, 2017
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
Like many children, Niko loved to make pictures and everywhere he went he had a packet of coloured pencils and a pad of paper.
He was inspired by so much of what he saw that he just had to draw it, and when inspiration hit it felt like a window opening in his brain. An idea would flit through the open window like a butterfly, flutter down to his stomach, then along his arm and fingers to his pencils where it would escape onto his paper in a whirlwind of colour,
But in a world of what-is no one understood his pictures when he shared them. They could not see the ice cream truck, the sun, or the robin’s nest because Nico had drawn the feelings that he felt – the ring-a-ling of the bell of the icecream truck, the warmth of the sun on his father’s face, the hard work of the mother robin making her nest- and so his pictures were too abstract to their rooted-in-reality viewers. This inability to understand his interpretations of his world had an impact on Niko and that night he drew a picture of his feelings, taping it to the back of his door where it wouldn’t be seen.
But even though he viewed the world through different eyes he was undaunted and as he set off with his paper and pencils the next day, a removalist van pulled in next door. Niko’s world was about to change… he meets someone who feels the butterfly land on her fingers when she sees his pictures.
In the late 70s just as I was beginning my teaching career and finding my feet in the classroom, Harry Chapin released a song that had a profound effect on me and my teaching, helping me understand the individuality of people and that their differences should be not only accepted but celebrated. And all those memories and lyrics came flooding back from 40 years ago as soon as I started reading Niko Draws A Feeling. This is a story that acknowledges that being different can be difficult, that admires the resilience of those who accept themselves for who they are regardless, and that affirms that no matter how outside-the-square we are there are others like us and if we are lucky our path through life will find them.
Raczka has written a story that should have an impact on both adults and children and perhaps even on teachers, in the way Flowers Are Red had on me. Cleverly, Simone Shin’s illustrations bridge the world of Niko and those who look at his drawings. They are clearly recognisable for what they are but their depiction uses media and techniques which step well away from photographic representations or the realistic style we are familiar with.
A book that will change the reader. If I were to draw my feelings about it, the page would be filled with red hearts.