Anna and Johanna

Anna and JohannaAnna and Johan­na: a Chil­dren’s Book Inspired by Vermeer
Geral­dine Elschner
illus­trat­ed by Flo­rence Koenig
Pres­tel Pub­lish­ing, 2018
pub­lished in French in 2016
ISBN 978−3−7913−7345−4

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.

Anna and Johanna, illustration by Florence Koenig, Prestel Publishing, 2018
Anna and Johan­na, illus­tra­tion copy­right © by Flo­rence Koenig, Pres­tel Pub­lish­ing, 2018

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.

High­ly recommended.

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