By Piret Raud
Published by Thames & Hudson
Review by Derek Brazell
Imagine you’re an ear and you wake up one morning no longer attached to a head. What use are you to anyone if you’re headless? That’s the predicament posed in The Ear.
As Ear ponders how she could carry on, the illustrations around her picture possibilities: an ear mushroom, an ear fish or ear butterfly? You can probably tell it’s not a logic based story…
Raud’s illustrations are beautifully designed on the page, with soft colour combined with intricate line work revealing the inner aspects of the characters Ear meets on her journey to discover her worth.
The surreal aspect of the story is supported by Raud’s curious depictions of the animals Ear comes into contact with, and it’s refreshing to see picture book animals avoiding ‘cuteness’, but still engaging the eye.
Through listening to the other creatures’ problems, Ear discovers that she does have purpose, as her sympathetic absorption relieves them of their emotional burdens. However, a wicked spider appears and traps Ear with spiteful words and an entangling web. Ear knows that if her head were there she’d be rescued from this trap. How is she to escape the spider’s web? Maybe her new found friends will come to save the day?
The story initially poses Ear as being the appendage painter Van Gogh removed from his own head – a slightly bizarre concept which may be referencing mental health, that’s not really required (the Sunflowers painting is depicted but Van Gogh is not referenced again), and something that those reading to kids can easily gloss over! The excellent illustrations combined with a story that foregrounds listening and empathy are enough to carry The Ear.