A Lion in Paris
Illustrator/Author Beatrice Alemagna
Publisher Tate Publishing, Hbk, AUD $29.95, ISBN 978 184976 171 0
Translator Rae Walter in association with First Edition Translations Ltd
Details of French Edition Un Lion à Paris, Autrement 2006
One day a lion arrives in Paris (via Gare de Lyon, where else?)
He was a big lion. A young, curious and lonely lion. He was bored at home on the grasslands, and so one day he set off to find a job, love and a future.
The book begins with a hand-drawn map of Paris, held by paws, inviting the reader to play the role of the lion. Making a new home in a big city, or coping with any major change, takes time. So the lion needs time to get to know Paris as he visits some very recognizable sites. But people mostly seem uninterested or unimpressed. Some carry a strange kind of sword under their arms, and the weather gets him down. And, hey, a lion likes to be noticed. At last, a girl notices him “and her eyes followed him for a while with loving, tender look”.
Of course with Paris as a backdrop things can look easy. And yet Beatrice Alemagna is able to give many of the familiar places and ideas a fresh new twist. The images combine collage, pencil, pen and brush and this mixed media roughly translates the diverse textures of the city, while the text employs some gentle, sly humour. Her design is uncluttered, like a stage set upon which this drama can play out. The perspectives and scale of figures in the streetscapes skillfully modulate the lion’s initial discomfit and his growing adjustment to new surroundings. The double page image of the Eiffel Tour has an especial lightness and brio.
But I think what makes A Lion in Paris really succeed is the way the lion carries the same curiosities and anxieties we all do (children and adults), in facing new situations. The lion is brave and vulnerable, curious and anxious. But ultimately the story achieves a resolution that satisfies the mind and the eye. Familiar places are borne along by the story’s emotional weight.
Winner of the Bologna Ragazzi Special Mention Award in 2006 it has taken eight years for the book to appear in English and I’m not sure why. I can only conclude that’s arrival is a sign that the English language world is really waking up to what French illustrators are capable of.
In France a picture book is an ‘album’ (l’album), and with A Lion in Paris this seems particularly just. It’s big (385mm x 290mm), landscape, and tucks under the arm like an artist’s folio. It opens from the top, and in the hands of a child, it’s lion-sized.
About the illustrator
Beatrice Alemagna was born in Bologna, Italy, in 1973 and now lives in Paris. From the age of eight she knew that she would be make picture books. She first attended the Bologna Book Fair aged 14 and received early encouragement from Tomi Ungerer. Beatrice is the author of more than 20 books, most of which were published initially in France. Her books have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, English, Dutch, Czech, Slovenian, Greek, Taiwanese, Korean, Portuguese, Brazilian-Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese.
Other books in English include: Little Big Boubo (Tate Publishing), the 'Bugs' books (Phaidon) and The Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty (Thames & Hudson).
Beatrice told www.blog.finelittleday.com that first inspirations “came from Picasso, naïve paintings from Douanier Rousseau, essential forms from Bruno Munari (that was very present during my childhood), wild characters from Bosch. Piero della Francesca or de Chirico inspired me a lot too. Nowadays, I admire mostly contemporary art or paintings.I feel fascinated by composed universes, in balance between a grown-up vision and a childish one like the ones from Chris Johanson, David Shrigley, Anne-Marie Schneider, Jockum, Atak, Marcel Dzama, Anke Feuchtenberger, etc…”