Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Suvi and the Sky Folk by Sandra Horn and Muza Ulasowski

(Abridged version of Authors Electric blogpost 9.2.2014)
A dull evening in early February. All of us have been working, most of us are recovering from a fluey cold. We settle down with a box of chocolates and a new book: Suvi and the Sky Folk by Sandra Horn and Muza Ulasowski. “It looks good,” says my 4 year old grandson, Kemmel, judging a book by its cover. He's right, it's an effective, inviting cover – unusual colouring, those yellowy greens and the dash of violet. The lettering manages to be perfectly clear and yet also to blend into the flickering, transient lights. The contrast of the dark forest and the powdery snow is stark and there is a baby deer, alone, its shadow disappearing beyond the names of author and illustrator.

What you see is what you get. Suvi and the Sky Folk is the story of a young reindeer who becomes separated from her mother and the herd. Her Grand-deer has told her scary stories of the Sky Folk who live in the dancing lights. If you wave or make a noise, they will snatch you away to the place when No Moss Grows. It is the time of the long dark, when yellow-eyes and sharp teeth come slinking. Suvi is entranced by the ethereal pyrotechnics. She wanders away from the herd  …

Kemmel, Frank, Gwen, Hettie, Julia
Kemmel and Alice, when OMW is about
Frank read the story. He's a farmer and a cricketer and an excellent judge of a book. Gwen (aged 6) Hettie and Kemmel (both aged 4) were on the sofa looking at the pictures. Alice, their mother, watched them and listened to the words, as did I. Gwen cuddled up to her dad and took it all in. Kemmel was excited and responsive and ready to run to Alice's lap if the story got too scaring: Hettie seemed to be less engaged. She was playing with a toy and didn't look at the pictures so much but when Old Man Wolf appeared on the scene (and Kemmel fled) I noticed her tense and concentrate on every word. “Was that your favourite bit?” I asked her afterwards. It was a stupid question. Hettie may look fragile (especially when recovering from a cold) but she's imaginatively robust and loves being scared then feeling safe again. Old Man Wolf was easily her favourite character though there was a sinister owl with possibilities. 

I asked the children to tell me which pictures they liked the best in this beautifully illustrated story. Kemmel spent a long time deciding and then chose the first page – the beginning of the Long Dark when the mother warns Suvi that “Yellow-eyes and sharp teeth will come slinking.” Gwen liked the moment when Suvi realised she'd had a miraculous escape. But was it miraculous? Alice and I – who had listened to the words , not looked at the pictures – were happy to accept that the Sky People could have intervened to save the little reindeer. Frank laughed at our credulity and Hettie pointed to the picture which provides the rational explanation. Lively discussion ensued ...

Kemmel's choice
the beginning of the Long Dark
Gwen's choice
the moment Suvi realises that she's safe

Hetti's choice
what really happened to the wolf
The adult herd has been hunting for little Suvi while she has been having her lonely, dangerous adventure. I'm glad we don't enter into their anxieties -- the panic of a community with a missing child. I think that might be too much. The final reassurance  is tactile -- warm coats and nuzzling noses and once Suvi is snuggled back close to her mother she's not too worried whether the Sky Folk are fact or fiction. I liked the sense of something unresolved. There was lots to talk about in Suvi -- the aurora borealis, owls and lemmings in the arctic and whether or not Grand-deer's story had any truth in it. There had been plenty to look at as well and we sang the praises of clarity in children's book illustration as well as drama, humour and detail. 

Gwen explaining her point of view
Sandra Horn and Muza Ulasowski I thank you for adding luminous colour and a haunting story to a wet mid-week evening. Long live shared family reading.
Julia Jones

From February 25th, Suvi and the Sky Folk will be available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. It is currently available directly from Sandra Horn on Tattybogle and from www.TatePublishing.com