CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 4 . . . . September 26, 2014
If You Hold a Seed and Shadow Chasers mark illustrator Elly MacKay’s lovely debut into writing. MacKay is already well-known for her papercut artwork, and she uses that medium to create dreamy, luminous landscapes for her readers’ imaginations. Her first book, If You Hold a Seed, was published in 2013, followed by Shadow Chasers in 2014. If You Hold a Seed covers the passage of seasons and years as a seed grows into a tall tree and a small boy grows into a man. Shadow Chasers is a lighthearted story about discovering magic in the everyday. With imagination, dreams can come true, and shadows can be transformed into playful creatures.
MacKay’s writing style is an excellent fit for the artistic style of her papercuts. On her website, ellymackay.com, MacKay highlights the role of play and experimentation in her artistic process. She uses Yupo paper, a synthetic material that allows the light to shine through her figures in a soft, diffuse way. While all of her components are made of this material, she uses paints and inks to create a diverse array of textures and patterns that lend depth to her work. The pieces of her diorama are assembled in a small theatre frame and photographed. The layering of the pieces and position of the light source creates both soft and hard edges that define the atmosphere of a particular scene. Some of her works are purposefully two-dimensional in appearance while others hint at a three-dimensional world. This playful use of contrast makes each page a delight to examine and, taken together, makes these books true works of art.
Both books have sparse prose which allows the illustrations to be the main focus. The limited text acts as a prompt for the reader’s imagination to explore the illustrations and fosters pre-literacy skills in young readers. This quality is enhanced by MacKay’s use of ellipses: the prose has a meandering quality that matches her artistic style. The passage of time in If You Hold a Seed is marked by passages such as, “And if you wait and wait...Season by season, Year by year” (pp. 24-25). Thoughts are carried from page to page, making the story a casual stroll rather than a race. If You Hold a Seed and Shadow Chasers are quiet stories that prompt reflection, an excellent fit for slower moments. Rather than MacKay’s spelling things out, readers are instead encouraged to find meaning by examining the illustrations.
MacKay encourages her readers to form a connection with nature. The child figures in the illustrations are playful in their interactions with animals and the natural environment. The sun-dappled trees in the forest serve as an idyllic playground where the children are free to explore and discover. The child characters have agency. In this world, adults are not needed to mediate a connection to the world around them. While the home appears at the end of Shadow Chasers, the majority of both stories is set in the natural world.
MacKay uses colour to tell her stories. If You Hold a Seed has a very bright, daylight palette of greens and golds that evokes growth. The prose is not quite as sophisticated as her illustrations, but together the two still create a lovely package. In her second book, Shadow Chasers, MacKay’s prose has grown more fluid and her papercut illustrations are an even better fit for the story’s content. The book’s palette shifts from the bright oranges and yellow of a vivid sunset to the deeper purples and blues of twilight. An illustration of a glorious pink and purple sky is paired with equally evocative text: “Slippery shadows, swimming and diving into another world, through the last light of day” (Shadow Chasers, pp. 19-20). A story about shadows allows MacKay to fully utilize the unique qualities of her papercut creations. She is masterful at manipulating different light intensities and angles to create a mood for her illustrations. As the children set off to chase the shadows, the illustrations are cheerful and bright, and, as they return home, the illustrations become softer and quieter. The colours dim so subtly that, like the children, the reader does not realize it is evening until “[t]he warm house calls you” (Shadow Chasers, p.25).
If You Hold a Seed and Shadow Chasers are excellent additions to any library. The depth of Elly MacKay’s illustrations will encourage children to delve into the story beyond the text. The books highlight playful discovery and imagination as well as an appreciation for the natural environment. If You Hold a Seed is an encouraging and hopeful look at life. MacKay’s playful use of shadows in Shadow Chasers will prompt young readers to experiment with shadow puppetry and use their imaginations to see different figures.
If You Hold a Seed - Recommended.
Sabrina Wong is a librarian at the University of Calgary in Calgary, AB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.