By Barbara Reid, illustrator and author
As a child, my travels took place between the covers of books. I read and re-read kids books until I knew the landscapes like the back of my hand. While I haven’t been able to get to Narnia or Through the Looking Glass (yet!), I have visited the Paris of Madeline, the Central Park pond sailed by Stuart Little, the highlands of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and other storied places. Traveling to a book setting is a journey of discovery and a homecoming at the same time.
When our daughters were young we spent hours pouring over the pages of Jeannie Baker’s Where the Forest meets the Sea. In simple words, a young boy describes a day trip with his father to the Daintree Rainforest in North Queensland, Australia. The real story is in the illustrations. Using modeling clay, papers, textured materials, natural materials and paint, Baker has created stunning relief collages that draw the reader into each page. Along with the narrator, our eyes adjust to the light filtering through the trees and more details appear. The richness of plants, animals and insects is astounding; double exposures hint at creatures and people from the forest’s past, and the boy’s imagination adds to the sense of adventure.
Where the Forest meets the Sea encourages readers to slow down, explore, observe and ask questions, perfectly mirroring the way the boy in the book experiences the forest. The attention to detail and child’s eye view influenced and inspired my own work in creating kids books.
Recently, we followed one of our now grown-up daughters to Australia where we had the opportunity to visit the real Daintree wet rainforest, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The forest was so exactly like Jeannie Baker’s illustrations I thought my head would explode. I couldn’t stop leaping around, pointing and exclaiming. Buttress roots! It’s those ferns! Oh the vines! Look at the butterfly! Oh my gosh, look at the stream! Much to the relief of my family, I eventually was able to slow down, observe and absorb the spirit of the place.
Having read Where the Forest meets the Sea enriched my experience in the rainforest, and experiencing the rainforest heightened my appreciation of the book. This back and forth exchange between art and life is magic—almost like stepping through the looking glass.
Author and illustrator Barbara Reid lives in downtown Toronto with her husband and two daughters. At the Ontario College of Art and Design, her focus was illustration, and it was for a class assignment that she first experimented with plasticine artwork. While she likes working with authors and enjoys writing her own stories, she still loves making pictures best of all.