An adolescent remembers early childhood in a series of evocative paintings celebrating its freedom and imagination. The first image of the narrator is of a face pressed inside a frame as against glass as they lament the difference in their outlook, now that they are a pre-teen. As a blonde tiny person, they remember, they commanded wild beasts, swam with mermaids and marched ‘a million miles’.
The author-illustrator has used boxes within the paintings to evoke sentimental snapshots, breaking down these imaginative plays into toddler-sized joyful epic journeys. Skilful lettering and signage in different forms signal the difficulties that the world now represents to the narrator – their beloved sea walled off by the present, from the golden memories of the past. The playful boxes turn back into the confining windows that the reader sees at the start of the book. And there’s a feeling that everything is lost. Plunging from that confinement into the ocean brings the man character to the shore, and a message in a bottle affirms that they command their future as surely as they ran with wildebeests.
It is possible, even desirable, for those about to leave it behind to romanticise the supposed simplicity of childhood and to characterise the future as a new adult as bleak and bewildering. By steering away from pastel or pretty images, the author-illustrator’s artwork shows that this time had its own thrills and surprises – and so will the future.