Every morning early, when no-one’s about, Satin slips out of the forest and walks along the sleepy sunrise streets, looking for blue…
Satin is an atmospheric new release from an award winning creative duo: prolific writer for children and adults Sophie Masson and skilled illustrative photographer Lorena Carrington. Together they’ve conjured a haunting fairy tale inspired by the Satin Bowerbird’s habit of gathering blue objects from its environment to line its bower.
Here, we meet Satin, in the form of a young man, who emerges from the forest each day to collect blue. He stores the blue in his cloak, taking it home to create something wondrous. The blue makes him happy, but there is still a certain something missing from his life. He slowly comes to realise that sharing his blue might invite new, equally wonderful things into his lonely life.
In nature, the Satin Bowerbird, most commonly sighted on the Australian east coast, is thought to acquire the blue objects to attract a mate. The male bird itself has vibrant blue/black feathers and violet eyes, and variations of these colours dominate the book’s illustrations.
Across the story, Satin cautiously moves from bringing all his blue items home, to leaving them on the doorsteps and windowsills of the township outside his forest. At the last house he visits he is welcomed in by a young women ‘with blue in her hair and blue at her throat’, suggesting the subtler colours of the female bird. He discovers that he can still collect blue, but he doesn’t have to do it alone. Masson’s long association with imaginative exploration of the fairy tale genre is evident here, leaving us wondering whether Satin is a mythical, personified bird, a symbol, a loner, or a little of all three.
This is a rich and layered picture book, ideal for multiple reads and close examination of the illustrative details. There are many interpretations of the story, like all good fairy tales, but one enjoyable take is a reframing around what it means to feel ‘blue’. There are also worthy lines of discussion around how we define what makes us happy, why we create art (to share or for its own sake?), and the ways in which one person’s trash is another one’s treasure.
Lorena Carrington’s work is based in the creative photography of found objects, which she then manipulates digitally to create fantasy landscapes. In this case, she has drawn inspiration from the shards of blue crockery commonly found in backyards around the Castlemaine area where she lives. A legacy from the region’s mining history, fragments presented themselves by the bucket load as Lorena worked on the book and they appear in myriad forms throughout. Each page features a china fragment secreted up a tree, under the water, or within a shadowy background – go hunting, like Satin! Then, we get subtle glimpses of what Satin may be building with his blue from a forest floor carpeted with shards, to elaborate bird images made up of the lines, swirls and markings of this eclectic collection.
If you are looking for a change of pace from bold coloured, rhyming picture books (as much as I love those too!) this is your tonic. Thoughtful, enigmatic and optimistic, this is a ‘quiet book’, suitable for all ages. Satin could be as effective in a high school media class or tertiary examination of allegory and visual literacy as it would in a preschool library. Gift it to your adult friend who is experiencing a ‘blue’ period, or your favourite young art student. Or buy it to mount on the wall, perhaps open at the endpapers, which is what I just might do with my copy!