‘The Song From Somewhere Else’ and the Imaginary Worlds of A.F. Harrold

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It is always a great privilege to receive a review from Joy Lawn*…always. 

A.F. Harrold has a special kind of imagination. Many readers of children’s books will know his work from his CILIP Kate Greenaway and Carnegie Medal longlistings of The Imaginary. The Imaginary is illustrated by another maestro, Emily Gravett, who is well-known for Wolves, The Rabbit Problem and other books.the-imaginary

The Imaginary (Bloomsbury $19.99) is a perfectly composed story about Rudger, Amanda Shuffleup’s imaginary friend. Even though Amanda’s mother can’t see Rudger, she feeds him and treats him as well as any of Amanda’s other friends. The intrigue and suspense build quickly, particularly when sinister Mr Bunting and his imaginary, ashen-faced friend follow and threaten Rudger and Amanda. Amanda has an accident and is hospitalised. Rudger starts to fade while they are apart but is fortuitously taken by a cat to the library where other imaginary people gather.

The author’s own vibrant imagination is epitomised by Mr Bunting’s habit of ‘eating imagination’ so that he can keep believing in his own imaginary friend even though he is grown up. He does this by finding and eating children’s imaginary friends.

the-song-from-somewhere-elseA.F. Harrold extends his imaginative ingenuity even further in his new book The Song From Somewhere Else (Bloomsbury $24.99), illustrated by Australian artist Levi Pinfold who has also won the Greenaway Medal for Black Dog.

As in The Imaginary, a cat features in The Song From Somewhere Else and the story opens with Frank (Francesca) trying to find her lost cat. She is bullied by Neil Noble and his two minions and, when they throw her bag into the nettles, is helped by unpopular Nicholas Underbridge, who is goodness personified in an imperfect body. At school … “He sat at the back by himself. He smelt weird. He was big, not fat, just big, broad, tall.” Frank spends more and more time with kind, steadfast Nick but is concerned that people will find out about their friendship and stigmatise her too.

Apart from the slightly unusual appearance of Nick, it is when the music appears in his house that the story quickens: “Each cluster of notes, each diving, vanishing melody, each off change of rhythm wiped clean her soul.” The music is the gateway to somewhere else, but a place that is deftly understated to maintain the illusive, finely shaped plot. Author and illustrator aptly place sensory hints, wafts and allusions to create a window into another world.

Frank is a realistic protagonist, not a predictable heroine. Even though she develops a strong loyalty to Nick, she can still reveal his secrets under duress and be forced into wrong decisions. She’s an ordinary girl in a difficult situation who shows elements of courage and would like to do the right thing but suffers from mistakes and shame.

The illustrations are in black and white. They are moodily realistic and enhanced by surreal elements such as the shadows and the atmosphere around the old roundabout in the playground.

Like The Imaginary, The Song From Somewhere Else masterfully carries child readers into a co-existing, mysterious world of danger from a place of safety. It is consummate storytelling in words and pictures.

*I am utterly thrilled to have the gorgeous Joy Lawn on Children’s Book Daily. I have known Joy for many, many years and have spent those years being in absolute awe of her knowledge of Australian children’s and YA literature and her well-crafted reviews. I could review books for the next 50 years and still never review on the level that Joy Lawn does. I am honoured to sit on the Griffith University Children’s Book Award panel of the Queensland Literary Awards with Joy Lawn and Maree Pickering and blessed to call Joy Lawn a friend.  A more professional bio is below.

Joy Lawn is a freelance writer and reviewer for The Weekend Australian, Books+Publishing and Magpies Magazine, specialising in children’s/YA and literary fiction. She judges the Aurealis and Qld Literary awards and is a former CBCA judge. Joy has worked for indie bookshops as a literature consultant. Joy is fascinated by ideas and images and how authors and illustrators express these with truth and originality.Joy Lawn

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