It’s hard to believe Du Iz Tak? is only Carson Ellis’s second outing as an author (the first being 2015’s critically acclaimed Home). Prior to her recent foray into writing picture books, the illustrator’s distinctive visual style brought life to titles by Lemony Snicket, Trenton Lee Stewart, and husband Colin Meloy’s middle-grade series, the Wildwood Chronicles.
In her newest title, Vancouver-born Ellis creates a book about construction of language and passage of time without ever obviously pointing to either. The reader is placed eye-level with the ground. To the left is an old log; along the bottom is dirt. The setting never changes, but with every turn of the page, we witness a little play unfold before our eyes. Insects come and go, flowers bloom and wilt. Time passes and we watch as the scene is transformed by seasons, growth, death, and rebirth.
Ellis gives readers many delightful stories to follow. The longest plotline revolves around a trio of excitable little bugs in cute outfits who build a fort in a flower. Other stories, such as that of a stick bug who is only awoken when a spider attacks the aforementioned flower fort, are as short as a page. Various charmingly anthropomorphized, spiffily accessorized insects dominate the narrative, but even the background scenery has its own story that evolves from the first page to the last.
The text is spare and all in dialogue, delivered by the buggy creatures in a wholly invented vocabulary, which nevertheless required foreign editions of the book to have their own translations: Kek Iz Tak? (Dutch) Ke Iz Tuk? (Portuguese) Ma ae Dat? (Danish). Trying to keep a kid’s attention while sounding out nonsense seems daunting at first, but the alternate language is more than a novelty: it has a deliberate logic. Simple sentence structure, consistently repeated words, and phonetic cues come together to create a linguistic puzzle that has the reader flipping back and forth to piece together the complete story. The words may not be in any recognizable language, but there is a rhythm and form that feels familiar, even while the sounds are humorously alien.
Du Iz Tak? delivers a fully interactive, engaging experience that will not only reward but require multiple reads. It’s a truly wonderful book.