Isabel Minhós Martins (text), Bernardo P. Carvalho (illus.) Don’t Cross the Line! Gecko Press, 1 Oct 2016, 40pp., $27.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781776570744
The general gives his guard orders that no one is to cross the line. The guard stands to attention with his gun, stopping characters arriving at the line. The line is the gutter of the book and the “general reserves the right to keep the page blank, so he can join the story whenever he feels like it”. As the left hand page fills with characters on their way to the right hand page, the guard is increasingly bombarded with requests. The requests vary in nature, but most are hostile and disbelieving as to why the people cannot cross the line. When Simon and Cristiano’s red ball bounces across the line the guard has a dilemma. The children ask “Mr. Guard, can we…” and they are allowed to follow their ball. Other characters then follow suit, all asking in the same manner, and the guard obliges, allowing them to cross the line. When the general arrives with his small army and orders the guard to be arrested, the people protest and anarchy reigns, leaving the general by himself.
This metafictional Picture Book has many postmodern characteristics. The peritexts of the book, the end papers, title page, double page spread, all contribute to and are part of the narrative. All characters are introduced on the front end papers, where the story essentially begins. They are also on the back end papers, in the same order but in a different stance or action. Turning the page to the inside cover, we see the general giving his orders and asserting his authority. Throughout the following seven openings the right hand page is blank, blatantly white, while the left hand page fills with characters. The gutter is the all-important line, providing both a self-referential feature and a mockery of traditional forms.
There are multiple narrators providing multiple narratives. While we have the “don’t cross the line” plot, we have sub-plots pertaining to various characters, and readers are able to determine their stories through the visual text. All characters are illustrated in felt pen, (with the exclusion of the illustrator herself who appears throughout the book) and are named in the end papers. The characters vary and include one resembling ET, named Marcelino and who needs to make a phone call throughout the book, and Paulina in her red hooded coat carrying a basket. There is a family with a heavily pregnant mother, ballroom dancers, and a ghost named Boo.
The use of speech clouds as the only verbal text violates the division between verbal and visual texts in what Nikolajeva and Scott (2006) refer to as intraiconic texts. The speech clouds are in various colours and placed over the characters, further emulating the verbal disruptiveness of the text. This violation and disruptiveness is mirrored in the authority of the general over his guard, army and people, who join together to save the guard from the general’s punishment and enable themselves to be free.
Picture Book codes work seamlessly with the postmodern characteristics in influencing the reading of this book. The increasing business and number of characters on the left hand page slow the reading while building tension. Colours are vibrant while the illustrator has drawn herself in pencil. The red ball stands out as it bounces across the right hand page in the eighth opening, with blue arches visualizing the action and the word boing at every touch down. This left to right movement influences the reader to turn the page with bated breath, as all characters’ eyes are also on the direction of the ball. Frames are non-existent, (with the exception of the gutter as the line), further suggesting the viewer as participant.
Picture Books such as this never cease to amaze and excite me in their authentic construction and influence. Playfulness and colour have been used to convey a message about dictatorship and the effectiveness of peaceful people power. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Liz Derouet
Nikolajeva, M. & Scott, C. (2006) How Picturebooks Work. London: Routledge