Elise is scared of everything, even trees, so she never ventures out. Her house is spotless and totally devoid of color until the day a pale blue paper airplane flies through an open window, bringing with it a shaft of light from the outside world. Then Emil, a young boy dressed in bright red and yellow, arrives on Elise’s doorstep in search of his plane and invites himself in.
In a simple yet brilliant pairing of text and illustrations, author/illustrator Antje Damm gradually increases the light and color in each double spread, transforming Elise’s drab home into a vibrant, cozy dwelling as Emil lights up the lonely lady’s world. Through the young boy’s curiosity, we learn a little more about Elise: she has a past, and it includes a dance and a pretty dress; she also has a love of books. In one particularly poignant moment, Emil sits close to his newfound friend and places one hand on her lap as she reads to him from her collection.
The rosy-cheeked lady at the end of The Visitor is a far cry from the scared, reclusive figure we met at the outset, which is testimony to the importance of human connection and friendship. This story will resonate with readers, especially today when many will have experienced lockdown or know of loved ones they have been unable to visit.
The narrative and dialogue in The Visitor are uncomplicated and natural sounding, making them easily accessible to a preschool and early-primary readership. And the artwork is unique and hugely appealing. Each double spread comprises an intricate diorama and individual figures constructed from cardboard which were then photographed. It did not come as a surprise to discover that Antje Damm trained and worked as an architect before transitioning to full-time work as a children’s author and illustrator.
Originally published in 2015 in German under the title Der Besuch (The Visitor) by Moritz.
Written and illustrated by Antje Damm
Translated from German by Sally-Ann Spencer
2018, Gecko Press
Awards: Selected as one of ten New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Books in 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 and IBBY Australia. 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