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Book Reviews

Over the Rooftops, Under the Moon

by JonArno Lawson; Nahid Kazemi (ill.)

“You can be far away inside, and far away outside. With others but still on your own.” So begins this haunting meditation on loneliness and the importance of community. Everything changes for a despondent bird when it leaves the flock behind and bonds with a young girl in the city. Time passes, seasons change, life ebbs and flows. Richly illustrated and deeply contemplative, Over the Rooftops, Under the Moon explores and reflects on some of life’s biggest questions.

Toronto-based writer JonArno Lawson is perhaps best known for his highly acclaimed 2015 picture book Sidewalk Flowers, a wordless ode to the importance of small things. If there is a thread that links these two works, it is the underlying emphasis on interconnectivity – of being a small part of a greater whole. Lawson is attuned to the timbre of our time. In under 100 words, this book pinpoints the modern sensation of urban isolation and the universal search for belonging that defines the human (or in this case, avian) condition. What does it mean to know yourself? How does change affect us? Ultimately, Lawson is hopeful: “Color arrives, sometimes when you least expect it.”

Montreal-based Iranian illustrator Nahid Kazemi dedicates this book “to all of you who like picture books chock full of details, as I did as a child.” Indeed, the pages of Over the Rooftops are to be savoured. Every inky mixed-media spread, from layered cityscape to lush landscape, is alive with pattern and texture. As an artist, Kazemi is a rare bird: her perspectives are enigmatic and her use of colour surprising. The result is exuberant and at times unsettling.

Over the Rooftops defies classification. Its clos
est relations may be found in Shaun Tan’s The Red Tree or Oliver Jeffers’s The Heart and the Bottle – picture books that have as much to say to adults as they do to children. As with any work of art, interpretations of this book will be as varied as its audience, and therein lies its appeal.