By David Litchfield
Published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ISBN 978-1-78603-339-0
Reviewed by Louise Date
Lights on Cotton Rock is a new book by David Litchfield, beautifully illustrated and with a compelling narrative. AOI Member Litchfield became known as the author of The Bear and The Piano, winner of Waterstones Best Illustrated Book Prize 2016, which became an international bestseller and sold in 20 languages. It’s a tough act to follow, but Lights on Cotton Rock is a very good publication for only his fourth work.
The book follows Heather, a little girl who is desperate to experience Outer Space, with its sparkling stars and galaxies, and visits Cotton Rock one night in the hope of getting closer to that goal. The encounter that takes place that evening will change Heather forever, and cause her to question whether she is ready to leave everything on Earth behind for a life in the stars. As it turns out, everything she had wanted was right in front of her all along. There’s a very nice undertone of choice, dreams, and feeling able to never entirely give up the child inside us all.
As a piece of illustration, it almost reads like a comic book in places, with thumbnails, split pages and horizontal splices that help to really drive the story, especially on a page where Heather flashes a torch on and off which makes an excellent piece of visual storytelling. The images are colourful, but don’t fall prey to the urge to make children’s books overly bright, and the colour palette and use of overlaid white details are rich and sophisticated. As most of the scenes are set at night, the use of shadow and texture are a masterclass in creating depth in dark places in a storyline. Likewise, the visual characterisation of Heather and her human and non-human friends appears simple, but provides a wealth of details and an excellent overlay of emotions.
There’s a nice pace to the way the story unfolds, and there are some nice points where children can take over the reading, or stop and discuss some of the questions that the narrative throws up. The language could require some guidance from an adult every now and again, but Heather’s tale will encourage young readers to keep going, and the depth and complexity of the images mean that readers can come back and find something new on every time round. The quality of the production from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books is very high, and the text has been kept large and legible for all readers even against dark backgrounds.
Lights on Cotton Rock is a fantastic book, aimed at children between 4 and 7, but visually compelling and beautifully created – something lovely for anyone to read and admire. The storyline is something familiar to lots of us, and yet still feels fresh and new, and will likely become a firm favourite going forward.