Every once in a while, along comes a book that literally takes your breath away, and can elicit palpable feelings of excitement in the heart of even the most jaded critic. Today I received a package from a Canadian book distributor, and when I opened it I found such a book.
Elly MacKay’s Butterfly Park is an all-to-rare thing: A wonderful story, presented in a way that is at once effortlessly consumable, and stridently artistic and challenging. MacKay creates her illustrations with meticulous cut-paper dioramas, photographed exquisitely lit. She manages a level of depth and warmth rarely seen in illustration. MacKay is an exceptional artist; every element is beautifully rendered, and every picture is impeccably composed. There’s real movement in these images.
The tale centres upon a young girl who is moved from her rural home to a new one in the city (the illustration of her family car driving into the city is phenomenal); she doesn’t want to move, as she will miss the sounds of the country and the butterflies. When she settles into her new home, she discovers a butterfly garden next door… But no butterflies.
What follows is a story about making friends, the magic of community and seeing the wonder in what’s around you. It’s subtly told, and gentle, which is the only well to tell such a story effectively. (My only –and very minor– quibble with Butterfly Park would be that the text has a tendency to describe exactly what’s happening in the accompanying image… I might not have even noticed this, were it not for our recent tributes to Maurice Sendak, who had thoughts on the subject.) Thankfully, MacKay successfully avoids the pitfalls of the message book, and never stoops to a Rah! Rah! Community! slant, allowing the narrative to assert its superiority.
Butterfly Park is a simple and magnificent book, created by a truly unique talent. You have no excuse for not having it on your bookshelf, and your life is the worse for its absence.
Kinderlit.ca received a copy of Butterfly Park in exchange for an honest review. Read about our review policy HERE.