Ricochet-jeunes, the "European Portal
for Children's Literature,"[i] finds what seems to be a puzzling incongruity in Christine Davenier's
work: "One aspect of her work is peculiar: In effect, she illustrates texts that
are not written in her mother tongue. This distance between the text and the author is strange but rather constructive."[ii] These short sentences comprehend the difficulty that
an illustrator encounters in trying to illustrate text that is not written in one's native language; the burden falls on the
illustrator to correctly interpret context and subtleties of text in his or her depiction of the writing.
While Ricochet-jeunes points out the difficulty, it seems to fail at understanding
that a skillful illustrator like Davenier can, indeed, understand text written in another language. It takes effort, perhaps
a good dictionary, and above all, a sympathetic comprehension of the text being illustrated. Davenier excels at this comprehension.
Quite simply, she understands – and joyfully portrays – children.
Davenier's style favors pen-and-ink for her portrayals, sometimes enhanced with
watercolor. Her sense of line – sometimes long and flowing, sometimes short and winding – emphasize the always-on-the-go
world of children. The double-page spread that opens Iris and Walter and Cousin Howie provides a good example. Short,
curling lines – some belonging to the shrubbery – are placed to emphasize Walter's precipitous entrance on the
scene. Walter's long legs and arms are outstretched, showing his speed and exuberance. The red line of a hose splayed along the bottom of the page, beneath the text, beckons
the reader to turn the page.
Davenier uses color to draw the reader in and around her illustrations. In the
same double-page spread noted above, Walter appears against a swath of turquoise blue. A line, then shapes, of this color,
lead the eye to Iris, likewise displayed against a swath of turquoise. The same turquoise leads the eye down to the pool in
which Iris and Baby Rose are playing, then to the ground, then to the red hose – which leads the reader to the next
In another colorful example, Mabel (in Mabel Dancing), tries on Mama's
robe. The pattern of the long robe – roses on green fabric – are reflected around the illustration: Papa's green slippers, a red carpet with green fringe, and finally, red roses in a vase. Davenier skillfully
uses color to draw the reader in.
In the same Mabel Dancing spread, Davenier uses a circular composition
to draw the reader in and emphasize the universal experience of trying on a parent's clothing. All of the colorful items mentioned above (Papa's slippers, the green-fringed carpet, the red roses in the
vase) and Mabel herself form a circle around a circular mirror. This composition makes the reader look into the mirror. The reader then sees Mabel's enjoyment and experience that enjoyment, too.
Christine Davenier exhibits such a superb talent in drawing the reader into the
text, that one can't help but reach the conclusion that Davenier understands not only the text, but the world of children
Selected Bibliography of Books Illustrated by Christine
Davenier, Christine. Leon and Albertine. New York: Orchard, 1998.
Guest, Elissa Haden. Iris and Walter series. Harcourt.
Havill, Juanita. I Heard It from Alice Zucchini: Poems about the Garden. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2006.
Hest, Amy. Mabel Dancing. Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick, 2000.
Mazer, Norma Fox. Has Anyone Seen my Emily Greene? Cambridge, Mass.: Candlewick, 2007.
Millen, C. M. The Low-Down Laundry Line Blues. Boston: Houghton, 1999.