I’m highly impressed when a creator can effectively write and illustrate his or her books, thus my metaphorical hat is tipped to Elsie Archer, author and illustrator of Behind the Moon, an inspirational children’s picture book that delivers the autobiographical story of two sisters – Marjorie and Elsie – who were children during the terrifying time we know as the Second World War.
An illustrated book only truly succeeds when both text and images are on par. The story must also convey original ideas. I’ll begin with Archer’s imaginative writing. Hand in hand, the sisters stand beneath the night sky and the elder sister, Marjorie, explains to Elsie that the moon is “the door to heaven,” and the stars “are actually holes that God poked through the sky with His fingers”. A few days later, during the full moon, Elsie exclaims that the “door to heaven is wide open”. As only a child might, Elsie thinks this is wonderful because now “the angels can go back and forth without getting squished!”
The sisters demonstrate a strong faith in God. They also exude a credible, spiritual innocence. Their quests to find a way to travel to heaven (Marjorie throws a rope down from the hayloft to “pull [Elsie] up into heaven”) are realistically juxtaposed beside a game of Hide and Seek.
Now, the illustrations: these are not images to skim over, for the more one studies them the more she sees, which increases the story’s impact. The northern lights, for example, are not just multi-colour swatches in the sky, they actually appear – unobtrusively – as angel shapes. A few symbolic details clearly place this story in time: a period radio sits on a table with spindled legs, and coal oil lamps brighten rooms. In my favourite page, a Raggedy Ann doll sits on a trunk beside the girls’ bed, which features a homemade quilt and a metal headboard typical of the era. The sisters are on their knees in prayer beside the bed, Marjorie’s love and protection evident in the arm she has slung around her sister.
Again, Archer’s excellent notion of a child’s thoughts are evident in the text. After saying her own prayer – “We know that we can’t get to heaven all by ourselves. We were only pretending. Amen.” – Marjorie “poked” Elsie to say her own prayer. The younger girl says “You are always with us, and we don’t have to be afraid of bombs or anything …”
The book includes a page of actual family photos, and a brief author bio: we learn that Archer was born in Didsbury, Alberta, worked as a nurse, and now runs EMA Designs, an art studio and classroom in Didsbury.
Everything’s working for Behind the Moon: original ideas, authentic voices, and glorious art. How marvelous to be able to share one’s gifts and passion – “art through teaching” – in this “star” of a book. To learn more about this talented Albertan, see www.elsiearcher.com.
My hat’s more than just tipped for Archer, it’s completely off.
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM