A picture-book ode to the power of creative nonconformity, Who Left the Light On? achieves a rare trifecta: a loosely rhyming book in translation with brilliant illustrations. Mix in important themes—embracing diversity and expressing oneself—add a huge dollop of whimsy, and you have the ingredients to this charming tale. But the sum of the parts is considerably more than just that.
In the beginning, the unnamed town is homogeneous and boring, although pretty:
This is my town,
Simple and typical.
Each house has a door,
Two windows, a red roof
—all so predictable.
Row upon row of similar houses with Lego-like roofs, red brick walls, and wooden shutters sit squarely on the page.
Life in this allegorical town rolls on in endless conformity. At night, everyone turns off the lights and closes their shutters, together. In the morning, everyone flings open their shutters to welcome the dawn. But one day—one can almost imagine an arch Victorian stage-gasp here—someone leaves a light on. From that tiny subversive spark of light arise all sorts of wondrous changes, leading to a glorious four-page opening of creative transformation.
No people or animals appear on the pages throughout the book; the houses themselves become the characters, with windows for eyes and doors for mouths. By the end, the protagonist-houses are no longer all brick, nor are they even the same color anymore. Instead, each house is now unique and fascinating:
In the neighborhood now, you’ll be sure to admire
Round roofs, spiral stairways, a rocket-ship spire,
rusted-steel walls, drawbridges, a hat with a spider.
Who wouldn’t want to live in a town like that? And, of course, that’s the point.
By Richard Marnier
Illustrated by Aude Maurel
Translated from the French by Emma Ramad
2018, Yonder: Restless Books for Young Readers
Award-winning opera singer Nanette McGuinness is the translator of 60 books and graphic novels for children and adults from French, Italian, German, and Spanish into English, including the well-known Geronimo Stilton Graphic Novels. Two of her recent translations, Luisa: Now and Then and California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas were chosen for YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens; Luisa: Now and Then was also a 2019 Stonewall Honor Book. Her most recent translations are For Justice: The Serge and Beate Klarsfeld Story, The Sisters #7: Lucky Brat, Chloe & Cartoon, Brina the Cat #2: City Cat, and Alter Ego.