In a return to the same world as Tellegan and Boutavant’s The Day No One Was Angry comes ten interconnected, anthropomorphic tales in which powerful and unexplained emotions are exhibited with the surrounding cast there to pick up the pieces and wonder why. From a Firebelly Toad who seeks to cause pain and misery to his fellow creatures in order to see if they experience the same anger he does to a solitary scarab who pens a letter to a dung beetle that leaves him feeling ill and enraged, this collection of tales invites the reader to reflect on the complexity of our feelings and how emotions are as diverse and multifarious as the person feeling them.
Each of these stories interweave in some way, often only fleetingly with a familiar character passing through, but they are all connected through the powerful concept that feelings, even those of anger, are often unpredictable and unexplainable. Free of any stern moralising, something that Dutch children’s literature like this steers clear of, No One Is Angry Today invites a deeper, philosophical reading about the nature of our emotions. Much like the animals in the story, some young readers will be able to connect to the different shades of anger performed here whilst others will watch or read on with fascination and curiosity. There are no answers here, only contemplations and reflections.
On their own, the written narratives may have been a cognitive step too far for the younger reader but Boutavant’s dark yet humorous illustrations shine a light on the complex emotions with rich caricatures throughout. Strong palettes of yellows, pinks and greens evoke French illustrators such as Grée and Beuville: this is a richly depicted and oddly real world that Boutavant has imagined; I found my smiling at the Elephant energetically dancing with Squirrel and Bear frolicking joyously through the forest heading towards a party that he ignorantly ruins on an annual basis.
This is a challenging illustrated book that invites questions and philosophical debate rather than preaching and providing simplistic answers. At a time when we are all trying to make sense of the world around us during these trying times, stories that refuse to offer clear answers but rather bravely own up to the fact that our feelings are complex, messy and often difficult to understand makes for a refreshingly welcome reading experience. Tellegen’s tales invite such a journey through multiple, complex narratives and I suspect that with each re-reading, new meanings will arise. This is a welcome and worthy collection of tales that are as funny as they are wry and reflective.