I stumbled onto Colin Thompson in the shelves of the public library the other day. I was looking for another author, who I never found, and was drawn in by the title “The Big Little Book of Happy Sadness”. After quickly flipping through it to discover that he was the illustrator as well as author, and that the artwork was excellent, I checked out three of his titles. (When I got home I learned he has published more than 40 picture books!)
Of these 3, Unknown is the only one with an outside illustrator – Anna Pignataro. I can’t say this was the only reason I liked that volume less, it was certainly a reason. The illustrators have incredibly different styles, and that has a huge effect on the tone of any picture book. But this book is also missing a certain sense of magic about the world that the other two had.
I won’t spoil the plots for you, as they’re such little stories, and the covers really tell you all you need to know, but I will say that these books are not for overly sensitive children (unless you’re attempting to help them break out of that mould). And that is really what I like about them.
The thing all 3 books have in common which convinced me Colin Thompson was going to be one of my all-time favorite children’s authors is that they’re not sugar coated. The world can be a dark, depressing place, even for small children, and it’s important to learn how to cope with that. The parts of these titles that are sad are presented with a raw emotional honesty which draws you into those situations right along with the characters, teaching empathy. And while these are not exactly “and they lived happily ever after” books, all 3 main characters end up in a good place, teaching that you can change your situation. I felt they had the perfect balance of happiness and sadness (one very similar to real life).