Page 45 Review by Stephen
Now out in softcover, just in time for its sequel, HICOTEA!
And that cover is such a pretty thing in orange, blues and purples, with tactile spot varnish picking out the title, some flowers and Sandy's sketches. Oh how she loves to draw! But I promise you that this is nothing compared to the wonders within...
Sandy is lying flat on her back on the lounge carpet, as far from her bedroom as possible, positively gluing herself to the ground.
"I'm a heavy, heavy rock..."
Haha! So many kids do love to prolong the day, don't they? They go to great guileful lengths, first to avoid climbing those stairs to Bedfordshire, then to keep Mummy or Daddy reading to them for as long as possible. For example, when all else fails and her bedside light looks like going out, our Jonathan's young Nutjob has been known to clasp her hands studiously, look him in the eyes with a serious, concerned expression and say:
"So, Daddy, tell me about your day..."
I don't quite know why Sandy's so keen to delay, for her day is far from done.
Once the bedroom is dark, tiny pink baubles of light appear above her head, which - with a whoosh of wide-spread arms - she transforms into the most magical and diverse parade of magnificent space-swimming creatures! Some come from the ocean, like a gigantic red octopus with big bulbous yellow eyes; some seem to float in their own bubbles of water complete with seaweed. One's like a giant white wolf with huge orange orbs, there's an owl, a regal lute-strumming monkey and a cat at the back that could be its queen. She might be reading her own bedtime story.
There's so much for wide eyes to explore and linger over - those two double-page spreads are actually one long scroll which I'll show you at the bottom - and Alvarez does aqueous and gelatinous so very well, with pools of light reflected on the membranes. As your eyes drift slowly from left to right, you will see Sandy drifting too - off to a contented sleep.
In the morning it's time for school. It's run by nuns, and the Sister supervising the front gate to take attendance is ever so stern.
"Where's the rest of that skirt, Miss Garcia? This is a sanctuary for learning, not a disco.
"Miss Lopez, are you trying to blind me with that pink hairband?
"You there! Pull those socks up!
"And I don't want to see you wandering off at break again, Sandy."
Break seems like fun, and they've grass to play on rather than a hard asphalt school yard. It's just as well, because one of the young ladies is rugby-tackling another to the ground!
Sandy is diligently sketching some of the wonders from the night before when she's interrupted by a moon-faced girl with lavender-tinted white hair who asks to look at her drawings. She studies them while Sandy waits, worried that she might disappoint and that this newcomer won't like what she sees, but...
"Your drawings are really good!
"You'll be famous one day!"
Her name is Morfie, she says, and it's her first day. But suddenly a storm sets in and Sandy quickly gathers up her school books and hurries inside.
But how did she know Sandy's name? And why - when Sandy looks out of the window during lessons - is Morfie sitting perched up a tree, with the rain pouring down all around her, her hair blowing like the loose leaves in the squall?
Rain is another element which Alvarez excels at. I can hear all the little droplets' individual, pitter-patter impacts and splashes on the grass and the trees, and then on the fresh, green heathers and ferns as Sandy cycles back home.
Alvarez incorporates so many of these feathery fronds into the fantastical pages too. But soon the eyes from the nocturnal sequences start to appear in the woods during daylight. Fungi sprout from the tree trunks and the leaf sprays take on a purple, luminous glow.
Morfie's expressions, already ambiguous, begin to look greedy, her flattering attentions more overtly manipulative, and her demands on Sandy's creativity become... vampiric.
More than once Sandy uses her drawing skills to create escape routes, and her clever delaying tactics prove that she does at least occasionally pay attention in class.
You will be unsurprised to learn that this gorgeous graphic novel comes from Nobrow. They and their Flying Eye imprint are responsible for a significant sum of our most luxurious Young Readers picture books including Luke Pearson's HILDA.
Alvarez has lavished NIGHTLIGHTS with so many double-page spreads festooned with such a variety of cute wide-eyed wonders that perhaps your young ones' imaginative minds will make up adventures of their own. When Philippa Rice once filled Page 45's window with a vast diorama of colourful paper figures, I saw a five-year-old boy singling some of them out, and I overhead him tell his grandfather the most elaborate stories about them, conjured up on the spot.
There's certainly plenty to play with here.