‘Teacup’ is a spare text featuring no specific time, place or situation. Endpapers feature light tan coloured paper with brown line sketches that suggest a tale of land, sea and home. The opening line reflects the story’s intent. ‘Once there was a boy who had to leave home … and find another.’ As he steps into a boat, he carries with him a book, a bottle and a blanket, plus a teacup filled with earth from where he used to play. This is a story of leaving one’s homeland, surviving a long journey by sea and finally finding a safe, new place to call home.
Matt Ottley’s oil-rendered artwork offers the perfect accompaniment. He captures both the silent calm of the sea then its eruption into violent storms with scenes of turbulent waters testing the boy and his tiny boat. Ottley’s colours guide the viewer’s emotional response through alternating light and calm with dark and ferocious shades that capture emotions.
Young’s words and Ottley’s art reflect and enhance each other. Ottley’s calm seas are reflected in the words, ‘on an endless sea of white’ where he uses pale cream, pastel grey and splashes of purple. These contrast with scenes of foreboding dark nights with the boy a pinpoint of light amidst the dark waters. Meanwhile, a tree grows from the teacup that is filled with earth from home, providing him with a tall lookout to spot land and apples to stave off hunger. Poignant, sad moments convey the boy’s emotions when whales calling to each other reminding him of his mother calling him in for tea. Finally, there is a speck on the horizon. The boy reaches shore and begins to create a new life. A final wordless illustration suggests the boy has found a family and new home.
Books such as ‘Teacup’ have an underlying dark meaning yet such stories also offer hope. Its sparse, yet evocative text and striking, memorable artwork combine to offer multiple interpretations. This is a book where words and images work seamlessly together, beginning in despair and ending in hope.
Matt Ottley describes how the book inspired him: ‘It is such a huge story about the human spirit, about loss and grief, love and joy, about beauty and also high adventure. Yet it is told in such a spare, minimal way, like a piece of poetry, that there was room for me to interpret the words in so many ways, which is an artist's dream.’ (Scholastic Resource)