Allen & Unwin, 2018
32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
As the city rushes by on its way to who-knows-where intent on who-knows-what, pavement artist Barnaby begins to draw with his thick blue chalk. His focus is a portrait of a boy, but unlike his other drawings this one has a head that thinks, eyes that see, ears that hear and a heart that feels. Barnaby warns the boy that when the rain comes he will wash away, and the boy accepts that, but in the meantime he will enjoy the life he has been given, no matter how short it is.
But when the cold, cold night comes with its ominous dark clouds, and the inevitable is near, the boy cries out because he does not want to die alone. Is his fate sealed?
Margaret Wild has a knack for packing a punch into her stories using a minimum of words, and this observation about the fragility of life and the need to enjoy what we have rather than wish for what we haven’t, is no exception. Although it starts as a third-person narration about Barnaby creating his picture, it switches to the boy being the teller of his own story making it even more powerful. Mandy Ord’s edgy, street-art illustrations are not only perfect for the setting but reflect her background with the Melbourne underground comic community. The concept of people hurrying, always seeking the next thing rather than being in the moment and appreciating it for what it is is very strong. The almost monochromatic palette with the boy in symbolic light blue being the only relief puts the focus where it needs to be.
Despite the seemingly simple text, this is a book for older readers who can delve beneath what is on the page and consider what is actually being said.