Review Blog

Jan 02 2013

Unforgotten by Tohby Riddle

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2012. ISBN 9781742379722.
(Ages: 10+) Picture book. Memories. Caring for others. With the plethora of novels written with angels as the main characters, it is not surprising to see a picture book for older readers reprising that theme. Many novels contain fallen angels, and in this one, fallen is physical not a state of mind. Divided into three sections, the bare bones of this picture book can be outlined as follows: the first reveals what angels do for humanity, the second shows an angel which has been overwhelmed by the work it must do, while the third exposes a group of children and animals reviving the angel enough for it to return home. All done in spare prose, the illustrations entreat and seduce the reader to dwell, to admire, and to muse.
The angels oversee the human population in Europe, soaring overhead, watching, being there, comforting, warming and mending. Their coverage is enormous: there are wars to contend with, poverty, homelessness, hunger, loneliness. But the angels keep on, until one day, one angel can no longer go on. It falls to the ground, exhausted. And there it stays, unnoticed and unloved, forgotten and alone. It is found by workers who surround it with safety markers and then carry it away to make a plinth for it to stand on.
With the plinth and the statue installed in a public place, it lingers for years, unloved and dying, until a group of children and animals take notice of it. They take it back to their dwelling, and there nurse it back to health until, noticed and loved, revived, it travels back to where it came from. The kindness of strangers has overcome its forgotten state.
With acres of black space, the illustrations, made up of collage and filled in pictorial work, draw the eye in to notice the detail. And what detail! Photos from the turn of the century European cities are juxtaposed with photos of New York, warehouses and lifts; pictures of people in Victorian dress stand alongside those in more modern clothing, or those of the 1930's; cars from the early part of the twentieth century stream along the roads, bridges and buildings highlighting the ever passing traffic, both of people and cars, ignoring the angel. People have statue heads, bodies are part statue and human, emphasising their indifference, watching as a statue might, with unseeing eyes. Metaphor abounds in this richly layered book, and will be looked at with awe by someone intrigued with the symbolism of the illustrations. Not for everyone, this sumptuously produced book will find a willing home amongst more discerning middle school readers.
Fran Knight

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