Who Done It?
Chronicle Books, 2015
Hardback, AUD $27.95, EAN 9781452141985
French edition: Quiquoiqui Actes Sud 2014
Visual literacy! the kinder teacher exclaimed as she leafed through the pages of Who Done It? in the bookshop where I work. Who Did It? provokes a series a series of questions, and answers are not always easily found. Questions include: whose arm hurts, who’s shy about dancing, who is in love, who forgot a swimsuit, who played with that mean cat, and who couldn’t hold it? The book is to some extent a study in motive. Why, the reader asks, is the character doing what they do?
Who didn’t get enough sleep? is the opening question. Ten characters including a small bird stare more or less directly at the reader, challenging us to work out just where they are in this moment. A wide smile on the boy in blue suggests he slept well, but what of the bleary-eyed bear leaning on the lounge? Or the boy in the Zorro outfit – perhaps his activities are nocturnal? The pleasure of the pages is that while the reader can usually confirm one certain figure, there are several others that could fit the frame.
In this way Who Done It? is more than a beginner’s game of Where’s Wally? In the panels Who ate all the jam? we observe a range of contented and oblique behaviours. Is someone hiding something from us? That orange furred bear lying flat on his tummy, for instance? Or is it the last boy in the panel strolling nonchalantly out of the frame, a fringe of hair masking his eyes?
There’s a gentle pleasure in the spaces between, too. Illustrator/author Olivier Tallec, working in pencil and acrylic paint, establishes enough movement with subtle addition of shading that ground and animates each figure. The white space separates and harmonises the gallery. The book's flip-up format suggests an artist's sketchbook, or detective's notebook, as each character takes their place in the line-up.
In finding an answer to the questions, readers will ask questions about motive, what is revealed and perhaps what is concealed or hinted at. Questions such as ‘Who is in love?’ might lead to questions about how we behave when we are in love, and what it is we can love. Can we love our toys, or skateboarding, or wearing a Superman costume, or going on a picnic?
The scenarios reflect a range of situations and challenges that a young child might meet. Children aged from four and up delight in Who Done It? So too will adults as this elegant parlour game defies age categories. The last page of the book provides an answer key, though I’m not sure that was absolutely necessary. I suppose it might settle any disputes, but it’s in the nature of the book that one answer may not exclude other possible readings.
Who Done It? will most certainly enhance visual literacy and also develop language and critical thinking skills. The text only poses the question, so readers will have to talk about the possible answers and alternatives. You might say that for the reading child, philosophy begins in the kinder.
About Olivier Tallec
Olivier Tallec was born in Brittany in 1970. He graduated from the École Supérieure des Arts Appliqués Duperré in Paris. His work has appeared in many newspapers and magazines, and he has illustrated more than 60 books for children. He lives in Paris. Tallec came to children's books by chance at the invitation of a publisher.
"The most important thing for me is to tell a story within the story", Tallec says.