Written by Niki Leopold
Illustrated by Barry and Laini Nemett
Ages 3 and above
I’m teaching myself to draw these days, and leaving the comfort zone of black and white for a wider palette of colours is exciting some days, but quite daunting on most others. Colours don’t behave themselves, do they? They pick favourites, clash and brawl with hues they don’t like, and can wreak havoc when they decide to mingle. Add to that the particular quirks of each medium - subtle watercolour, fickle pastels, quick tempered acrylics – and let’s not even get started on the tantrums your choice of paper can throw! Small wonder then that so many of us novice scribblers rarely venture beyond the safety of the monochrome line drawing. But I digress.
‘Adam’s Crayons’ is a modern fairy tale of sorts, told in free verse. It is the story of a young boy whose love for nature helps him save a lake and its fauna. It is also a gentle ode to the transformative powers of colour in art. The book has an interesting history – it was written almost thirty years ago, for acclaimed artist Barry Nemett’s young son Adam. When author Leopold decided to publish the story, Nemett and his daughter Laini were the natural choice to illustrate it.
A talented artist comes to Loon Lake to sketch the birds and animals that live in its vicinity. But he draws them so well that they literally vanish. Shocked at the consequences of his work, the artist throws away his sketchbook and leaves the lake. All is not lost, however, for little Adam finds the book and, leafing through its pages, realizes that he just might be able to bring the creatures of Loon Lake back. With painstaking care and loving detail, he begins colouring in the artist’s line drawings with his crayons. And sure enough, a miracle does occur!
Author Leopold’s verse is spare and, in keeping with its message about the power of colour, lets the art do all the talking. For the Nemetts’ illustrations are breathtaking; combining gouache, oils and pen and ink drawings,each page is a vibrant explosion of colour, reminiscent of the Impressionist masters. I couldn’t stop myself running my fingers over each page ... and I was reading the e-book version!
I always enjoy a book where a child manages to solve a problem that has adults confused. In ‘Adam’s Crayons’, the two adults – the artist and Adam’s grandfather – give up hope at once; they abandon the things they love (drawing, ice cream) in their inability to cope with their loss. Only little Adam sees what the adults can’t. But much like those two hapless grown ups, I confess I was quite puzzled at the end of this book myself. ‘It’s beautiful!” I said to my eight year old, after we had read it through a couple of times. It’s funny too. But what do you think it means?’
‘It’s about colour, of course!” she said, amazed that I couldn’t see it right away. “Colour is life.”
And so it is.