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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
by Antje Damm
Age Range: Under_5
Elise is scared of everything – people, spiders and even trees. She lives alone and never goes out, staying within her tiny dimly lit grey spic and span house.
One day a strange object floats through the open window and lands at Elise’s feet. It is a sky-blue paper aeroplane. That night Elise is too scared to go to sleep. The next day comes a knock at the door. No one ever knocks at Elise’s door as she never has visitors. Standing on her doorstep is the owner of the aeroplane, a little boy called Emil. What should she do?
This is a moving, understated story by award-winning German author and illustrator Antje Damm, translated by Sally-Ann Spencer, about the power of friendship and how it can transform someone’s life. Emil is able to break down Elise’s fear of everything by his sheer boldness. His fascination with Elise’s bookshelves bring her out of herself and before long she is reading him stories, playing hide-and-seek, and making him snacks.
The expressive illustrations show Elise’s transition as she goes from grey/sepia tones to a riot of colour. Damm’s unusual technique, seen in Waiting for Goliath, is to create a 3-D diorama from cardboard and photographs of the home’s interior which are juxtaposed with ink drawn cartoon-style cut-outs of the two characters – Elise in her black and white checked dress and plain apron contrasted with Emil bright yellow t-shirt, red shorts and cap and bare feet.
It is Damm’s use of colour that brings the story to life. Everything in Elise’s world is dull but once Emil appears a palette of brilliant and vibrant colours emerge. “I’m here for my plane”, says Emil. “And can I visit your bathroom? It’s urgent!” As he heads upstairs, Emil leaves a vivid red trail behind him; by the time he comes down again the walls are also infused with a warm yellow and soon the books on the shelves and the walls have fuchsia tints. The final wordless page is powerful as readers see Elise smile for the first time.
Damm captures Elise’s loneliness and isolation, her joy in having companionship and the importance of having someone else to care about. Through the clever use of colour, she demonstrates the change that comes over Elise making The Visitor an extremely poignant and striking picture book that is sure to leave a lasting impression.
The Visitor won the Leipzig Book Fair children’s choice award and the Nimmerland picture book award. Other titles by Damm on our website are: Ask Me (2005); Waiting for Goliath (2017) and The Wolf and the Fly (2020).