Whatever else, we are surrounded by stories. News stories – national and international, gossip from gathered groups on street corners, astrological predictions, scientific assertions ‘ an essential constituent of our civilisation is concern with what happens next‘ We have unique capacities to communicate lives and surroundings, to make ourselves feel secure in the safety, or shocked and scared ‘ possibly scarred ‘ by stories’ With ancient petroglyphs and paleoglyphs as ancestral heritage, picture books show wonderfully dynamic ways of capturing and recording tales through dialectics of text and illustration.
It is easy to see the present always as sequential within development, as the zenith of achievement. The ‘Golden Age’ of children’s literature is symptomatic of such thinking. Children’s literature being located in a ‘Golden Age’ necessitates a culture whereby its contributions and worth are valued by all. Central to this, all exponents bringing literature ‘ in its many modern guises and forms ‘ to the masses must realise their respective positions working together to provide unilateral and unfragmented environs so supporting not only readers, but also the many producers who, through shared visions, bring us the range and diversity of literature now considered commonplace. When successfully achieved this is remarkably potent and powerful, when misaligned ramifications are far-reaching and arguably catastrophic. The decision of one major chain of bookshops to drastically restrict its selection of picture books sends ripples across the whole of the children’s literature world, impacting most dramatically upon children whose access to the range and diversity of styles and approaches to storytelling becomes restricted to that which is made visually available. Review
From the symmetry of end-papers inwards, ‘Castles’ is most carefully crafted. Delineation between that which is made visible and that constructed as out of view forces dynamism in the acts of reading, interpretation and imagination. A framed doorway invites us into the body of the book proper and readers are instantly propelled into the self-referential world of Colin Thompson with vignettes from previous work ‘The Violin Man’ ‘ a wonderful Honour Book in the Australian Children’s Book Council Awards that remains despairingly unavailable in the United Kingdom ‘ biographical photos from Thompson’s childhood (see www.colinthompson.com for details)and the ever-familiar Caf’ Max.
Fairy tale allusions abound with references to Kings, Queens, Princes and Princesses and a quest is placed before adventurous readers as the voyage around the fantastic and fantastical castle begins proper!
Animal, vegetable, mineral’ earth, fire, air, water’ all are explored as potential sites for the structuring and later sightings of castle. There are mythical and magical feels to this epic picture book. Readers are provided with worlds whose inhabitants have crafted their surroundings from things that matter and hold meaning for them. There are puzzles, mazes, a myriad of minutiae for discerning readers to perceive.
Castles are seminal architectures in the history of the United Kingdom; Celtic strongholds, Roman Forts, Norman Castles these stalwart buildings mark many defining moments in forging the fundaments of nationhood. It is apt therefore that Thompson should explode these outwards into the realms of the possible, the potential and the perhaps impossible also’ Like Italo Calvino in ‘Invisible Cities”, Colin Thompson in ‘Castles’ re-structures logocentric truths and fantasies to create impressive landscapes comprising a multiplicity of narrative strands.
‘Castles’ is a book that demands reading and re-reading rewarding this with its richly good-humoured verbal and visual play. Careful readers will spot sea-saws, gravyboats, references to almost all Thompson’s previous work and much, much more also… Here is a book that encourages exploration, that enriches and enlivens all imaginations. Colin Thompson has crafted his Magnum Opus. Plea for Revolution
This is truly a book that deserves home on every book-shelf across the land, in every heart of every child and adult. I have a dream that ‘Castles’ might start a quiet, bloodless and bookish revolution, people power for the picture book’