Dub Leffler explains he wrote ‘Once there was a boy’ to ‘show kids that boys have feelings too (just like girls) and that sometimes those feelings can get hurt and that’s okay; especially when you’re willing to let your friends help when you’re feeling sad.’ The text is succinct with illustrations that expand the story’s emotional and reflective moments. Leffler’s softly shaded, lightly textured watercolours feature the ocean’s deep blues with surrounding white space that evokes strong emotions. A young boy lives an idyllic life alone on an island, enjoying his favourite fruit and a comfortable home. One day a girl appears. Without asking, she eats all his favourite fruit and sleeps in his bed. Apprehension arises when the boy warns her, ‘Don’t look under my bed’. She does and discovers a box that goes ‘Tha-THUMP’. Inside is the boy’s heart which she drops and breaks when the boy suddenly reappears. The white double pages following shock the reader. Then brooding, ominous dark colours and shapes reveal the girl huddled in despair. Subsequent pages reflect the boy’s sense of loss as he throws pieces of his broken heart into the ocean. The watercolour blue greys of the ocean and the buff-coloured sandy beach capture the mood of betrayal. The ending is deeply satisfying as the two youngsters meet again each with a new understanding.
Dub Leffler comments on his art: ‘I only create half the picture: the other half is finished by the reader. They will take something from it but they’ll also give it something, they’ll give it meaning, and that meaning will be different from the next person.’ ‘Once there was a boy’ provides scope for different insights into friendship, temptation, betrayal, responsibilities and reconciliation.
Dub Leffler is descended from the Bigambul and the Mandandanji people of southwest Queensland. He is an illustrator, writer, mixed media artist and has worked in film, television, muralism and art education.