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Playing in the dark: Shadow [Ombra]




This wordless book by Korean illustrator Suzy Lee is the last one from The Border Trilogy (also including Mirror and Wave) and it has just been reprinted in Italian by Corraini, continuing their longtime collaboration.
For those interested in a deeper review of these three books, and to insights from the author, I recommend Suzy Lee: La Trilogia del Limite [Suzy Lee: The Border Trilogy] which is a reflection on the rules regulating illustration and the relationship between art and its medium (the book as physical object). Also published by Corraini and just reprinted. See here

We have loved and keep reading all of them for multiple reasons.
Just let me take a step back in case you are not familiar with these three books.
They all share the same format, 31x18 cm, with different layouts: Mirror has a vertical (traditional) binding), whereas Wave and Shadow have an horizontal (Italian style) binding.
Mirror and Wave open to the side, while Shadow opens from the bottom to the top.
Reason for this is to mark the separation between the little girl (who is the main character in all of them), and the entity she interacts with: her mirrored image, the wave,  and the shadows.
The two facing pages interact with each other in the reading process, and the limit between them, the limit between reality and imagination, sits right in the middle.
Suzy Lee breaks the rules and puts the illustration just there, where it's not supposed to be, disturbing us in a way, asking us to overcome our laziness and to cooperate to the construction of meaning.
This limit, together with the horizontal layout, also brings the book itself back to life, making the reader more aware of its physical presence. The child is busy leafing through the pages, to try grasping what's invisible in between, going back and forth to establish connections.

These picture books require focus and are deeply engaging as a consequence.
They were the first silent books that I offered to my 3 year old to read on her own, because they are 'easy' enough to be approached without frustration, while being challenging for the reason above.
Plus, they all focus on things that young children are very intrigued by, their image in the mirror, the waves when they go to the beach, and Chinese shadow.
All of them have a magical dimension to explore: the distorted image of ourselves in the mirror and the distorted image of our shadow, as well as the unpredictable movement of the waves, all seem to be governed by some invisible energy.

In Shadow (and in Wave and Mirror, but also in the most recent This Beautiful Day) the narration unfolds in a crescendo of imaginative play, until the limit between reality and fantasy is crossed,  and then finally re-established.
This is marked through the use of colour (yellow here), which progressively intensifies in the bottom pages until shapes and colour in the bottom page dramatically flood into the upper one with a final coup de theatre.
There is enough to keep children busy for a while:)
Suzy Lee's illustrations in Shadow and Mirror have somehow the same energy, while Wave is somehow more contemplative, so each of these books will resonate to different children in a different way, there is no clear-cut way of reading them.
This book can be particularly inspiring for any child with some fear of the dark and of shadows, suggesting a more playful look at the relationship between light and darkness.
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Shadow [2010]
English edition by Chronicle books
Italian edition (reprint) by Corraini [May 2018]
Reading age: 3+
Themes: Darkness, Fun, Silent Book






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