Antje Damm (trans. Sally-Anna Spencer), The Visitor, Gecko Press, June 2019, 32 pp., RRP $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781776571895
“What an odd book!” was my first thought as I closed the cover of The Visitor by Antje Damm (translated from German by Sally-Ann Spencer).
The Visitor has won several awards (including the New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Book 2018) so Gecko Press is almost certainly backing a winner. There is merit in the unusual plot and unique illustrations, but I feel that the awards reflect an adult’s interpretation of what makes a book award-worthy – for me, there was no ‘magic’ feel about the book that would draw young children in.
The illustrations are compelling and reminiscent of Eric Carle, with a patched-together feel. They are muted in the opening pages, and are gradually filled with colour as Elise, the lonely and scared protagonist, makes a friend and broadens her horizons. The Gecko Press description indicates that the book “plays out in a mini theatre”, but I did not realise that while reading. On a second read, it is clear that the book has a few “settings” that the characters move between but I’m unsure if this would be immediately obvious to readers.
Parents and teachers may wish to use this title to commence discussions around loneliness, anxiety or new friendships. The conclusion does feel a little bleak, so teachers and parents may wish to lead into a more positive discussion – perhaps: “What will Elise do next?” “Do you think Elise is still scared to go outside?” “What do you do when you are scared or lonely?”.
Overall, this book will appeal to some children – perhaps the quieter, more sensitive types – and many adults, but it may require some adult guidance to get the most out of it. Recommended age 5+.
Reviewed by Jessica Dowling