A Story About Sorting and Classifying
Written & Illustrated by Neil Packer
Published by Walker Studio ISBN: 978-1-4063-7922-8
Reviewed by Karl Andy Foster
We live in a world where there is never enough time, where we are told we should desire quick results. ‘One Of A Kind’, a picture book by Neil Packer is an excellent publication that allows you to stop, be still and take the time to think. I spent five minutes looking at the delicately described images on the end papers alone. Inside our protagonist is a youngster called Arvo, whose journey takes us from Linnaean nomenclature to the Dewey decimal system by way of aspects of time and space. This large picture book from Walker Studios is a visual encyclopaedia of classifications that will delight and satisfy in equal measure.
When I was a boy my siblings and I would pour over illustrated science books and watch as men orbited and then landed on the moon. We were transported to the Cretaceous Period just as the meteor that wiped out the Dinosaurs was about to land. This book reminds me of those times, and I didn’t realise how much I needed to see artworks that require plenty of time to enjoy and process. The simple narrative follows the traditional structure of a main character interacting with a string of scenarios to weave a tale and engage the reader. Beginning with a beloved ginger cat, Malcolm, and ending with a deeper realisation.
I am new to Packer’s work, but I found the following spreads of particular note:
The Animal Kingdom spread (above) has a complexity that reveals something novel each time I look at it. The pages illustrating the Buildings opens up layers of meaning behind the construction techniques that make up our architectural forms. I think this will make readers more observant of the world around them. Why? How? and What? need to be more fashionable questions. The Vehicles take me back to the Russian Constructivist imagery combined with Soviet Manuals for mechanical engineers. This is what is so magical about the artwork – it’s the contextual references and the precision that impresses me.
The Apple market stand is striking in its forensic exploration of what it is to be a piece of fruit. The street scene behind of monochrome buildings is reminiscent of the artwork of Ronald Searle for St. Trinians. Imagine finding out just how many different types of cultivated apple that there are with evocative names such as Pitmaston Pineapple, Newton Wonder and Knobby Russet! The Cheese board spread (below) is a collection of precious tasty treats for those who have only known supermarket bulk cheddars! There is a richness in these images that can only come from someone who is passionate about their subject matter. Packer’s passion is everywhere in his picture book.
Are you truly one of a kind? It seems that we all are but we still need to fit into a wider world and navigate skillfully to understand our place within it. Ultimately, as Arvo discovers, your uniqueness is most important to those who love you, and that is no bad thing.
As I finished reading the book and reflected on the contents my mind was filled with these words; How beauteous are the works of humankind! Oh, brave new world, that has such things in ‘t! Oh, to be Arvo’s age once more – what splendid fun we’d have.