Title: Pandora
Author: Victoria Turnbull
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
RRP: $24.99

Pandora lives by herself in a land of broken things. She spends her time fixing what she can and making her home comfortable. Never having any visitors, Pandora is surprised when a small blue bird drops from the sky. She is unable to fix him but makes him as comfortable as she can. Slowly the bird recovers and brings seedlings back for Pandora. When the bird goes away and does not come back, Pandora is devastated and goes to her bed. Slowly the seedlings begin to grow and Pandora awakes to a changed world.

This is an exquisite picturebook in many ways. The shiny, smooth cloth cover invites the reader to open to the uncluttered inside cover page.

Turnbull has used a mixture of colour and direction to convey the visual narrative emotively. Placement of items on the page, including Pandora, the bird flying away and elements of the landscape, cleverly lead the viewer’s eye in the direction of narrative. The sombre and depressing, almost apocalyptic colours, at the beginning of the book give way to happier and more optimistic shades towards the end. Turnbull has used graphite and coloured pencil to effect, imitating the cloth texture from the cover in the illustrations.

Frames are used in a variety of influential ways. The illustrations vary from double page spreads to small vignette illustrations. When Pandora takes to her bed we see four framed pictures across a double page spread. In each frame Pandora is in her bed, positioned in the top right hand corner and the box of growing seedlings in the bottom right hand corner. The pictures appear to be placed on a black background, forming thick black frames around the first three, suggesting confinement, mirroring Pandora’s mood. This thick framing is disrupted in the last picture when the growth of the seedlings takes over the frames, bleeding out of the illustration and off the edge of the page. This frame-breaking invites the viewer to step into Pandora’s brightening world and is rewarded when the page is turned.

A variety of angles have been used to effect throughout Pandora, positioning the reader in various ways. At times the reader is positioned to see Pandora’s view, such as watching the bird fall in front of her window. At others the reader is positioned as spectator through a variety of angles. Intertextuality is present with Van Gogh’s Sunflowers hanging on Pandora’s wall. The colour of Pandora’s pinafore is replicated in rich tones in the end papers.

The verbal text is sparse, as is the case with many quality picturebooks. It works with the visual text beautifully, allowing readers to interact and work with the picturebook narrative to make it their own. At no time does the verbal text mention what or who Pandora’s visitor is. Nor does it fully convey the loneliness and desolation experienced by Pandora and the wastefulness of discarding broken things. Pandora, by the way, is an anthropomorphised fox, only discernible through the illustrations.

Pandora has exceptional picturebook qualities and many more opportunities for picturebook analysis than I have offered in this post. The themes of regeneration, conservation and recycling are strong. This is a beautifully produced, written and illustrated work.

Thank you to Walker Books for supplying this book for review.

Activity suggestions:

  • Read in conjunction with a recycling unit of work, or when discussing regeneration.
  • Read the verbal text only, not showing your audience the cover or the illustrations. Have them draw what they think the story might be about, whether in one illustration or in a storyboard sequence. Read the book showing the illustrations.
  • Read in conjunction with The Tin Forest by Helen Ward, illustrated by Wayne Anderson. (Published in Australia 2003 by Koala Books, United Kingdom in 2001 by The Templar Company, Surrey.)
  • Have the students look closely at the discarded items in the pictures and choose one to repurpose. They can design and explain its new purpose through text form or drawings, or find a similar item and change it physically.
  • Discuss the importance of recycling and repurposing items.

Enjoy the following video of Victoria Turnbull discussing Pandora.