Ballad by Blexbolex, translated by Claudia Z. Bedrick, 280 pp, RL: 2
Ballad marks the second book by Blexbolex to be honored on the New York Times Best Illustrated Picture Book, a list that often features the book that will go on to win the Caldecott or Caldecott Honor for the year. Blexbolex's books were singled out in 2013 and 2010, although, not being an American citizen, his work is not eligible for the award, which is too bad. Ballad is a magically stunning, impossible to categorize, wonder of a little book. You probably can't tell from the cover images above, but Ballad is about 6 inches by 7 inches and an inch and a half thick at 280 pages. The size of the book and the story and illustrations inside inspire you to tuck it in your pocket and pull it out to read, over and over, finding or adding something new each time.
The structure of Ballad is especially innovative. There are seven chapters in the book and each one begins with a paragraph or so of text, followed by several full-page illustrations, each with a word or two on them, divided by a comma and a page turn. The number of illustrations between chapters increases as the story unfolds and the pace quickens. One review of Ballad put it so succinctly that I have to quote it here, "The delicious temptation to take an active role in the surreal adventure by adding details or even whole subplots will be hard to resist."
Maria Popova, editor of Brain Pickings, "a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness," shared a trove of lovely images of and from Ballad (and used throughout my review) in her article Ballad: Beloved French Graphic Artist Blexbolex's Visual Allegory of Life's Evolving Complexity. Of Ballad she wrote, "All throughout, we're invited to reimagine the narrative as we absorb the growing complexity of the world - a beautiful allegory for our walk through life itself." Eloquently and perfectly stated for the many, many adults who will be drawn to this elegant little book. But what will kids make of it?
In my opinion, Ballad is, in many ways, the chapter book version of the amazing picture book Press Here by another innovative and creative Frenchman, Hervé Tullet. In Press Here, Tullet invites readers to perform a new action on every page, the illustrations on the following page corresponding to the instructions. With Ballad Blexbolex invites readers into the story, linking words and images but leaving ample space between for so much more. While I love the idea of a child curling up in a quiet corner with Ballad and slipping into the story, I think that this book begs to be read by a few people at once with everyone contributing to the plot. However you choose to read Ballad, and whoever you choose to give it to, I guarantee that it will become a treasured book!