Sunday, May 10, 2009

PROPAGANDA Reviews: Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman & Charles Vess

Blueberry Girl

by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess


For an explanation of the genesis of this book there’s nothing better than the author’s own words from Neil’s introduction to the book at his website for younger readers; Mr Bobo’s Remarkable Mouse Circus:

“This is the kind of book that comes about when a friend phones you and says, “I’ll be having a baby in a month. Would you write her a poem? A sort of prayer, maybe? We call her the Blueberry. . . .” And you think, Yes, actually. I would.

I wrote the poem. When the baby was born, they stopped calling her the Blueberry and started calling her Natashya, but they pinned up the handwritten Blueberry girl poem beside her bed. I kept a copy at my house, taped to a filing cabinet. And when friends read it, they said things like “Please, can I have a copy for my friend who is going to be giving birth to a daughter?” and I wound up copying it out for people, over and over.

I wasn’t going to let it be published, not ever. It was private, and written for one person, even if I did seem to be spending more and more of my time handwriting or printing out nice copies for mothers-to-be and for babies.

Then artist Charles Vess (whom I had collaborated with on Stardust) read it. And somehow, it all became simple. I made a few phone calls. We decided to make some donations to some charities. And Charles began to draw, and then to paint, taking the poem as a starting point and then making something universal and beautiful.

It’s a book for mothers and for mothers-to-be. It’s a book for anyone who has, or is, a daughter. It’s a prayer and a poem, and now it’s a beautiful book. I hope you enjoy it. I’m really proud of it. And I hope this means I don’t have to copy it out any longer…. Neil”

(Gorgeous Charles Vess pencils and finished page from Blueberry Girl.)

And after such an introduction, it shouldn’t be a surprise to find out that Blueberry Girl is a beautiful, moving and deeply poetic book. At just 28 pages and 18 lines of long, there’s barely anything to it, but it’s still a wonderful, loving thing. Gaiman’s words, although written just for Tori Amos’ daughter, have enough universal meaning to be applicable to any mother, to any daughter. His message is simple, his emotions true and touching, every line is full of love and sentiment.

Whilst most of Gaiman’s children’s work tends to be more father & child orientated, he shows with Blueberry Girl that he’s just as capable of identifying so well with the intense bond of unconditional love between mother and daughter. He’s managed to perfectly capture that nighttime prayer that every parent says over their sleeping child at some point in their lives. The wish for their lives to be blessed, glorious things, full of adventures and wonder. And these Blueberry Girls are living that wish; with lives of adventure, exploring the world, laughing, dancing and filled with joy.

And thanks to the beautiful artwork of Charles Vess this tiny poem becomes an incredible picture book. Vess took Gaiman’s words, designed for one child, and drew his pictures in such a way to make the poem universal. The Blueberry Girl of the title becomes every girl and each page features a different child, wandering through the narrative on spectacular flights of fancy.

Gaiman’s words, together with Vess’ visuals have made a beautiful thing. There was a lump in my throat most of the way through. There was a tear in Louise’s eye when she finished it. This is a book that will speak to every parent, but it will sing to all mothers and it may well send expectant mothers into floods of joyous tears.

(More of Charles Vess’ gorgeous artwork from Blueberry Girl)

It’s possibly too late to really push this as exactly the sort of book you should be getting for Mother’s Day. But it’s exactly the sort of book you don’t need an artificial event for. Get it for a mother, she’ll thank you for it with her smile and her tears of simple joy.

Part of the proceeds from the sale of Blueberry Girl goes to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.

Neil Gaiman’s website.
Charles Vess’ website.

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