Most of the picture books in my collection are feasts; pages overstuffed with visual delectables and sensory stimulants. Sometimes gluttony leads to bloat, and the only thing that will bring relief…other than the unfastening of the top two buttons of my jeans, is a cold glass of water. Sylvia and Bird by Catherine Rayner is that cold glass of water, which is not to say it’s unemotional or without visual complexity. The ice blue illustrations in this book are restorative, a cool facecloth on a weary face. When I first flipped through the pages of Sylvia and Bird in the bookstore, it was like hitting the refresh button on my brain. If only I had a refresh button on my brain.
Sylvia and Bird is about a lonely dragon (Sylvia) who befriends a bird (Bird.) It is a simple tale of friendship, but the illustrations have the charm and impact of a sapphire on a sidewalk. Rayner has an ease and fluidity in a variety of mediums, and each page is a perfect balance between white space and image. Sometimes she uses a wash of colour, sometimes a scattering of stylized foliage. Other times the page is an empty backdrop for the giant curving neck of Sylvia as she engages Bird in conversation.
Sylvia’s reptilian skin is a carbonated pool of swirling aquamarine watercolour. It’s beautiful, and mesmerizing, and I want to jump in and take a swim. And you certainly can’t say that about every dragon. Sylvia’s face is all snout, but her expression is nothing but sweet vulnerability. You really feel for her as she searches for a friend, which she eventually realizes is Bird. A cool glass of water indeed.
Sylvia and Bird is the first book I’ve encountered by Catherine Rayner. I have since discovered that this British illustrator has many books, all of which seem delightful. Also, her website is awesome, and well worth a browse.
Sylvia and Bird by Catherine Rayner. Published by Good Books, 2009 ISBN: 978-1561486618