I cannot resist a book illustrated in collage. There is something almost magical about images fashioned from things which were once something else - magazine pages, toffee wrappers, found objects, mummy’s old sari. I like to think that each piece of a collage brings with it its own history, its own story blending silently into the one being illustrated. And, given how engulfed we are these days by sophisticated, digitally enhanced images, the quiet, wholesome charms of hand crafted art are a refreshing change.
Here are three recent books by Indian publishers that celebrate collage in different ways.
Kaka and Munni: A folktale from Punjab
Retold and Illustrated by Natasha Sharma
Kaka and Munni is a cumulative tale, partly in verse, starring clever sparrow Munni and Kaka, the crow she outwits. Munni sits quietly in her nest by the wheat fields. Along comes the village bully, Kaka, intending to snack on her eggs. Quick thinking Munni agrees, but asks Kaka to go wash his beak first. Silly Kaka, who is very vain about his appearance, is upset by the idea of not looking his best and agrees. Only, things aren’t going to be as simple as that, are they? He asks the stream for water to wash himself, only to be told to fetch a cup first. So he goes to the potter for a cup, only to be told to fetch some mud. And the fields are baked hard in the summer sun, so Kaka needs a sharp tool to dig up the mud. And so on, until Kaka learns a painful lesson.
I enjoyed the rich, vibrant colours of the illustrations in this book, and the innovative way scale has been played with. The lively mix of textures, prints and colours makes each page a pleasure to pore over, even rub with your fingers. I did feel sorry for poor Kaka, though!
Incidentally, the author/ illustrator, also gave us the hilarious Icky, Yucky, Mucky, reviewed here.
Written by Mala Kumar
Illustrated by Ruchi Shah
‘Swoosh!’ A piece of paper floats in through the window, and Manju nearly throws it away. But in walks Wasim and, in his hands, the crumpled ball of paper becomes a ball. Then Syeda picks it up and, voila! The ball of paper is now a lollipop, like the ones she will sell one day when she has her own sweet shop. But now Bittu walks in and the lollipop is transformed ..again!
Paper Play celebrates that greatest of childhood toys – the imagination. The simplest of things – a piece of paper – sets Manju and her friends off on an imaginative journey, with each one taking turns to conjure up clever interpretations of the paper . In keeping with the whimsical theme, the illustrations too make inventive use of paper scraps. Shredded noodles of paper become the children’s hair; flowers bloom out of newspaper sheets; pieces of coloured paper become clouds, trees, windows, birds – even a hungry little donkey!
This book could be a good introduction to paper craft for young readers. The book ends with a page of instructions to turn a square of paper into a little hut – an easy introduction to origami. I also liked its subtle environmental message – don’t throw stuff away, it just might have a second life as something else. Like a whole book !
The Magic Feather
Written and illustrated by Roma Singh
A little girl walks into a forest, looking for her friends. She finds a feather instead. When she tucks it into her hair, she finds herself in a land of feathers. Then she finds a lily that transports her into a land of lilies. Then she finds a stone and discovers – you guessed it! – a land of colourful stones. And finally, she finds a book. What do you think happens next?
The Magic Feather has a very simple storyline. In fact, the plot reads like little more than a vehicle to carry its readers from one fantastic illustration to the next. Though this is a book about the joys of reading, I could easily imagine it being wordless, leaving the narrative entirely to the reader’s imagination.
The star attraction of the book is, of course, the little girl herself - an old diary with simple cutout shapes for features and a lovely head of shredded paper hair. ( Judging from the print visible on the illustrations, Roma Singh seems to have raided the paper shredders at IIT Mumbai!) Like Paper Play, this book too uses a mix of handmade and digital collage. I would have liked to see more of the former, though – compared to the charming tactile characters, the digitally rendered parts of the illustrations of The Magic Feather are a little disappointing in their flat colours and lack of depth.