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A Long Way Away

by Frank Viva

Lauded graphic designer and commercial illustrator Frank Viva takes the mastery of avant-garde picture-book creation he displayed in his 2011 debut, Along a Long Road, to a staggering level in his third title. This self-proclaimed “two-way” story has no definitive front or back, so readers can begin at either end and find a cogent, sparse narrative about a small squid-like alien’s lengthy journey. Depending on which side of the book you start from, our hero is either travelling down from outer space to the depths of the ocean or vice versa.

While this would seem a recipe for frustration, Viva’s execution is impeccable. Our smiling extraterrestrial guide and his surroundings are portrayed in the illustrator’s signature retro style. The matte, bold colours make it easy for children to follow the long, yellow line that extends on either side of the alien protagonist, practically begging little ones to trace it with a finger as the trip unravels from page to page.

Viva manages to incorporate several elements within the larger sea-to-space (or space-to-sea) concept. From the creative labelling of recognizable elements (a fish on a line is “a tug” while a whale on a line is “a bite”) to clear-cut opposites like left and right, this single book does the work of at least three. What’s more, the text also rhymes, and does so perfectly.

An easy-to-follow, rhyming, two-way presentation of several nested concepts would be enough to qualify this book as inventive and ambitious. But Viva ups the ante one more time with a design that demands the book be viewed vertically rather than horizontally. The result is a work of the highest calibre that can truly be enjoyed by children of all ages.