This is a sublimely quirky picture book! Don’t Cross the Line could be mistaken for a child’s drawing book, with its bright felt-tip colours, cartoon-like drawings, and dialogue written entirely in speech bubbles.
Unusually, the story starts on the title page, with a ferocious general on horseback making it clear to an unfortunate guard that he, General Alcazar, is in charge. He then leaves his subordinate stationed on the left-hand page next to the gutter of the book. The rest of the double spread is almost all white space. It takes a few more very white pages, and a few more arrivals on the left-hand page before the reason is revealed. The general has reserved the whole right-hand page for himself so he can join the story whenever he feels like it! Everyone and everything else must remain to the left of the book gutter.
Gradually, a large cast of fascinating, colourful characters assemble on the scene, including an astronaut, an E.T. look-alike, a bunny, a ghost called Boo. They’re all featured – and named – in the front and back endpapers (and it’s great fun to spot them in both). The characters go about their everyday business, jogging, waltzing, chatting, until they reach the guard – and the gutter – and realise they cannot go any further. Then, the questions start, the sheer disbelief, the appeals and the challenges to the guard’s authority. All expressed in colourful speech bubbles. The increasing tension is reinforced, cleverly, by the form of the book: The noisy, overcrowded, colourful page on the left contrasting with the quiet, empty, white page on the right.
When a child’s red ball bounces over the gutter into the right-hand page, it marks a turning point. The guard, who incidentally seems like a nice bloke, lets two children across to retrieve it, and the others soon follow! The general is none too pleased on his return to the scene, and the explosion of exclamatory speech bubbles show the crowd is not happy to see him either: ‘This book’s for everybody!’, ‘Swine!’, ‘Scoundrel!’, ‘Crook!’
Don’t Cross the Line is a must-read. On one level, readers will love the brightly-coloured cast of quirky characters, the fun, easy-to-follow storyline, and the unusual book design. On another, the illustrations, text and design provide an insightful portrayal of abuse of power and people’s responses to authority.
Don’t Cross the Line by Isabel Minhós Martins, illustrated by Bernardo P. Carvalho, translated by Daniel Hahn (first published in Portuguese in 2014 by Planeta Tangerina; this edition, Gecko Press, 2016)
Isabel Minhós Martins is an award-winning children’s author. She is also a co-founder of Planeta Tangerina, which was awarded the BOP for Best European Children’s Publisher at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in 2013. She studied Communication Design at the College of Fine Arts in Lisbon.
Bernardo P. Carvalho is a prolific illustrator of children’s books. Along with author Isabel Minhós Martins, he is a co-founder of Planeta Tangerina, which was awarded the BOP for Best European Children’s Publisher at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in 2013. He studied Fine Arts and Design at the College of Fine Arts in Lisbon.
Daniel Hahn is a writer, editor and translator of (mainly) literary fiction from Portuguese, Spanish and French into English. He has a keen interest in promoting translated children’s books and children’s literature in general. He has translated a number of picture books including Wolfy by Grégoire Solotareff and You Can’t Be Too Careful by Roger Mello.
This is an edited version of a post originally published on Planet Picture Book in April 2018.
Laura Taylor is the founder of world children’s literature blog Planet Picture Book. She is a small business copywriter, NAATI-certified translator of French into English and member of AUSIT. When she is not writing, she is reading and chasing after her two young children. She tweets regularly @plapibo and posts at www.planetpicturebook.com