Next in our Greenaway reviews is King of the Sky by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Laura Carlin. Look out for our thoughts on Thornhill later today….
What the publishers say:
Starting a new life in a new country, a young boy feels lost and alone – until he meets an old man who keeps racing pigeons. Together they pin their hopes on a race across Europe and the special bird they believe can win it: King of the Sky. Nicola Davies’ beautiful story – an immigrant’s tale with a powerful resonance in our troubled times – is illustrated by an artist who makes the world anew with every picture.
What we say:
If you’d have told me that I’d be raving about a book on racing pigeons before I started shadowing the CKG medals I’d have never have believed you – what on earth would I want with a book about pigeons and Welsh mining towns?! Well – lots as it turns out. This thoughtful and moving book combines Nicola Davies’ superb words with Carlin’s nuanced illustrations to great effect.
I first came across Laura Carlin’s work in her illustrated version of Ted Hughes’ Iron Man and was utterly bowled over by how she could take something so familiar and look at it from a completely new perspective. The illustration where she shows the Iron Man’s eyes glowing like red headlamps may have elicited a genuine gasp of admiration – it’s like the reader is the Iron Man and we’re looking out through his eyes, amazing!
Carlin brings all that ability to look at things from a different perspective to bear in King of the Sky – utilising shifts in tone and scale as well as sketchy pencil lines and bold colour washes, she communicates a visual narrative of great emotional depth.
For the boy lost in reveries of “sunlight, fountains and vanilla smell of ice cream”, Carlin’s muted colours, industrial landscape and Lowry-esque figures could not appear more forbidding and strange. And yet the soft smudgy illustrations offer small details of optimism: the boy’s yellow sweater and the red scarf of next-door neighbour Mr Evans both positively glow within these grey, watery landscapes.
Indeed, Carlin’s illustrations are not just about contrast but about hope for the future: the yellow used for the sun drenched St Peters Square is reprised in the soft glow emitted from the rows of ‘little houses’ in the boy’s new town. Similarly, as the friendship between the two grows we see subtle shifts in the landscape: no longer merely populated with ‘clanking towers’ and ‘smoking chimneys’, we see the farmer in his wagon, glimpse the snatches of blue sky as the pigeons are set free and notice the busy back yards of the houses next door. Despite first impressions, this is a place teeming with life and its own kind of beauty. It’s not such a bad place to be.
Aided by bold use of double page spreads with little or no text we have a great sense of this place – the reader is given time to breathe and soak in their surroundings. It’s a technique which also gives the book a beautiful sense of pace – ably communicating the boys initial isolation as well as the enormity of the journey King of the Sky makes and what this means to those left at home awaiting his return.
Though so much of Carlin’s work is expansive, with large landscapes and street scenes, it is underpinned by deft use of body language ensuring that the developing friendship between Mr Evans and the boy is at the centre of the story telling. Minute changes – hands buried in pockets, an outstretched arm, a gap closed, a linked arm, a giddy rush down the stairs and a final whoop of joy – all chart the impact of feeling unwelcome and the transformative power of finding a connection that makes you feel like you can belong.
I cannot think of a better or more subtle picture book to interrogate ideas of home and belonging.
Watch Laura Carlin speaking about King Of The Sky on the CKG shadowing site: http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/watch.php?id=19
You can view the full Carnegie and Kate Greenaway 2018 shortlists here: