It’s a joy to see more and more beautifully produced children’s books in this golden age of children’s literature. One publisher leading the pack is Flying Eye, who are consistently turning out stunning books to look at, but also with pertinent themes. Leaf, a debut picture book by Sandra Dieckmann, looks stunning with its highly layered glossy front cover and orange cloth spine, but it also contains a message inside about acceptance of others, and assistance to those who may be lost.
Sandra Dieckmann very kindly gave an insight into how she pulled together the strands and ideas to make this very special book about a blue-eyed polar bear who is ostracised when he washes up somewhere different, but gradually accepted and finally helped.
The idea was crafted from several story strands pulling together, with the writing and the sketching informing each other from early pencil thumbnails, such as a small bird collecting beautiful leaves and kind crows rescuing a house that was about to fall into the see. In fact, these ideas came together so that in Leaf, it is the crows who are most helpful and kind.
Dieckmann works by producing big colour roughs after black and white thumbnails so that she can work out how the hues progress throughout the story. Flicking through the book, you can see that there are predominant shades of blue to portray the icy mountains and depths of the sea. These colours also emphasise the mood of the images and the time of day.
The environment of the book, and the forest she created were in a large part inspired by the drawing in the Lake District in late summer. She also puts into the work the places she imagines escaping to when she closes her eyes.
The images in the book are intricate and detailed. This is partly because Dieckmann draws pages and pages of illustrations of leaves to go into the book spreads, and then works with a digital collage, so that although everything is originally drawn and painted by hand, the work can be separated into layers on Photoshop and rearranged freely.
If you look carefully through the book you can see that a new crow gets added to the story on every new page. They are fundamental to the tale, and Dieckmann used them because they are birds of intelligence and have highly socialised behaviour. She spent much time in the local park observing them, and also collected facts about them on social media to get them just right. This all leads to the central image of the story which is Leaf, the bear, being picked up and flown through the air by the crows – you can see his contented smile as it happens.
The endpapers are also dominated by the crow, but are a shade of mustard yellow, contrasting sharply with the rest of the book. Dieckmann took her inspiration for this from the colour of her bedroom, which emits a warm light when sun shines through the curtains. There is also a single crow on the back cover of Leaf, which was created with ink, watercolours, pencil and pen and then finished digitally, which is just another example of how Dieckmann likes to experiment with all sorts of media in creating her illustrations.
This is a key picture book about the importance of listening and inclusion. When the forest animals finally hear Leaf’s story, they realise how judgemental they have been. The idea of the book was to show themes of prejudice and loneliness – to show that lending an ear and showing a kindness can go a long way.
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