Anna and Johanna: a Children’s Book Inspired by Vermeer
illustrated by Florence Koenig
Prestel Publishing, 2018
published in French in 2016
Delft. Delft blue. The book begins
with blue and yellow. 1666.
Two friends born on the same day.
This day, their birthday.
They are each making gifts for the other.
Lace and chocolate.
One the daughter of the house,
the other the daughter of the maid.
This is how the story begins. It unfolds with a surprise. A very dramatic surprise. It makes for a memorable story.
And yet, this book is more than that. It unwraps itself in layers, inviting us to dig deeper, turn pages back and forth and then again, examining closely, uncovering those rewarding layers.
You probably noticed the subtitle. This is a story developed by the author from two of Jan Vermeer’s paintings, The Lacemaker (1665) and The Milkmaid (1658÷60).
Imagining a story about what’s depicted in a painting is a satisfying way to understand the work when the artist leaves no notes, no memoir.
The author points out in the book’s back matter, which is critical for this book, that almost nothing is known about Jan Vermeer. He did not leave notes.
Vermeer painted everyday people doing ordinary things with extraordinary results. He saw, and conveyed, light in a way which illuminates life, no matter how mundane the task he depicts.
Sharing this book at home or in the classroom will inspire young listeners, young readers to write their own stories about artwork. The back matter will inspire teachers. A trip to the museum to see the art in the proper light, the depth of the paint, the texture of the brush strokes? While it may not be possible to see a Vermeer painting in person, going to an art gallery or museum to see paintings in person will add to the inspiration and the understanding.
This is a beautiful book. The artwork tells the story as much as the words do, all the while evoking Vermeer while true to Koenig’s style. The color palette conveys the city of Delft, a time long ago, drawing our eyes to the water, to the sky … there is much to admire.