Kent is an extremely talented illustrator. From the moment I opened The Realm of Smaller Things, I was both captivated and intrigued by the whole concept. Every illustration conjures an otherworldly sense of magic, wonder and surrealism. As a teacher, I could use any one of the powerful 32 images to inspire discussion in class; they are that good!
As a poet myself, to have my words illustrated by artists like Kent Knowles is a dream.
In a narrative poem picture book, the words have to work in harmony with the images for the story to work as a whole. The illustrations should bring life to the text and conversely, the text has to add meaning to the pictures. Kent Knowles has fulfilled this expectation extremely well.
His words, turn of phrase, figurative language and poetic imagery work beautifully well with the illustrations to create a tale exploring the philosophy: What goes around comes around. Saying that, this isn't a book that preaches morals to children. Far from it, this is a book of reality created in an exquisitely imaginative and surreal way: children can be mean but beyond that, there will be lessons for us all, if we heed what life is trying to teach us.
One of my favourite examples of the text flexing its own poetry muscles, regardless of the wonderful illustrations is:
"In the centipedes of the swollen hill
and the beetles in the bush
In the flocks of flies that blot the sky
and turn the fruit to mush."
No more spoilers, but the narrative ends as well as it begins and like all good stories, it conveys the incredible journey of mind that the protagonist, Jane, has been on. One of my favourite elements of the whole tale: it leaves many unanswered questions for the reader to explore by themselves.
What is going on in Jane's life that sent her on such a journey? What made her mean at the start and why is she so exhausted by the end? Is it a tale based in reality or surreality?
For me, it's both. And all the more powerful for it.
The Realm of Smaller Things is a brilliant starting point for all kinds of learning: a story that will inspire and provoke the worldy-wise Class of 2022 to think more deeply and empathise more wholly, wherever they come from.