Artist Andrew Yeo’s first picture book for children, presented in acrylics, creates the effect of both being warmed by silvery kindly moonlight and the chill arctic feel of being trapped in this book written by Margaret Wild. ‘Vampyre’ is an unusual picture book for Margaret Wild. It explores complex themes of identity, belonging, growing up and becoming independent as a young teenager approaches independence. But this is not just any teenager. He is a vampire and expected to behave as one.
‘Feared. Despised. I live in darkness. I long for light.’ In characteristic spare prose by this accomplished picture book writer, Vampyre tells his story directly to the reader. The cover pictures a teenager crouched among gargoyles atop a stone building. The grotesque figures are arched, seemingly ready to spring, and with their eyes on potential prey below. Vampyre casts his eyes upwards, truly caught between one world and the next, and assuring the viewer that he is not about to jump. Or is he?
This parable of adolescence begins as the narrator tells us of his childhood when he feared nothing and was accepted by all other creatures. In a delightful cameo of this time, he shows his fangs merely as a macabre peek-a-boo for his siblings. Yeo shows the warmth of the rosy-pink twilight of this time and contrasts it with the shadows and darkness of his current situation. Keeping the perspective of the subterranean existence, we feel Vampyre’s longing to escape the sharpened stakes of the mob by disrupting the tenets of his upbringing – resolving not to always dwell in darkness.
His first attempt to escape results in bone-bleaching, harmful exposure to the light – the gargoyles are shown crying out a warning as he climbs – and he must return to his underground home for a long recuperation. Vampyre hugs himself into a curved private space that excludes his family, knowing that his rejection will hurt them when it is complete. Climbing out of the catacombs takes effort, and he is once again scorched by it, but a true golden dawn awaits in the diurnal world where birds and beasts welcome him.