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Review: Pawel Pawlak, 'Oscar Seeks a Friend' by Sascha Aurora Akhtar

Updated: Dec 1, 2019


Text & Illustration: Pawel Pawlak

Tr. Antonia Lloyd-Jones

Lantana Publishing 2019.

Original artwork created as a 3D paper collage and completed digitally.

I’ll be honest, I’m not certain I have read such a sophisticated children’s picture book. In the hands, the hard cover feels like black velveteen. It is an object of sensory value to those so inclined. It also tells a tale of an outsider. A character who feels alone & lost in the world – ugly, even.

The character is Oscar. Who is for all intents and purposes a skeleton – a skeleton with a forelock in red sort of plaid shorts who has lost a tooth.

It’s hard for a small, ugly skeleton to make friends.

He does have one companion though and that is Tag, who is a skeleton dog. 3-D layered collage texture techniques against a very lustrous black backdrop make the visual layer of this picture book utterly sumptuous (and I never use that word). I kept wondering what the style reminded me of & I realized it was the Brother’s Quay astonishing rendition of Street of Crocodiles I was thinking of.

Oscar has lost a tooth to boot. He feels he will never find a friend, until a girl appears one day, and she is actually burying a tooth. They make a bargain she gives him the tooth if he makes her wish of finding a friend come true.

Here is where the book really blows my mind. I love a work that manages to reference something potent and pull it off breezily. The girl and him go off to explore meadows and rainbows; her world. Oscar by then has gathered confidence.

So I took her by the hand and we went the other way.

This ‘other way,’ is very important. The pages now turn to completely black and deep purple. The artwork of the pages of the girl’s world are rainbow-infused and the palette is completely different. There are other skeletal friends in this world.

No words are spoken immediately. It is an interactive experience. Unlike other picture books, the visuals are not an accompaniment as such. They stand on their own containing sub-text.

What is this sub-text exactly? The book is an allegory. In the world that Oscar takes her into, the giant rainbow is actually inverted (across two pages) just as in her world (we never find out her name), there is too, a rainbow across two pages, the right way up.

The girl gives an offering and gets taken into the underworld by Oscar the skeleton. Unlike Persephone, she is not trapped. It is after all still a book for young children. She does have to go home, and it is friendship that makes her agree to return to Oscar’s world.

I said it primarily purports to be a children’s book, yes but I’ll be very honest I bought it for me not for my seven year old because it’s bloody brilliant. It speaks to both children and the inner literary child too.

Oscar Seeks A Friend is available to purchase through Lantana Publishing

For a recent interview with Pawel Pawlak click here.

Sascha Aurora Akhtar is a Poetry School Tutor, Writing Mentor, Translator & Editor. She has a new course for Spring 2020 at the Poetry School about love.

She is the author of five collections. 199 Japanese Names for Japanese Trees (Shearsman UK, 2016), The Grimoire of Grimalkin (SALT UK, 2007), called ' a contemporary masterpiece,' by the Chair of the Department of French Literature, Thought and Culture at New York University, Phillip John Usher. Only Dying Sparkles was featured on the Southbank Poetry Library acquisitions page and was featured in the Poetry By Design exhibit at the University of Leeds in summer 2019. A pamphlet, The Whimsy Of Dank Ju-Ju arrived in September 2019 on Emma Press (Birmingham) and the fifth, a full-length collection) #LoveLikeBlood ( Knives, Spoons & Forks Press) has been published on Oct 15, 2019. Parts of this collection are part of the Blackpool illuminations 2019.

Her fiction has appeared in BlazeVox, Tears In The Fence, The Learned PigAnti-Heroin Chic, and Storgy.

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