Book Review: The Fate of Fausto by Oliver Jeffers

Aaaaah! Oliver Jeffers has a new picture book out! If you're a picture book fanatic like me, I don't need to explain why this is so exciting. And if you're not, then trust me you will be by the time you've got through this blog post!

Oliver Jeffers is one of my all time favourite picture book makers. There's this child-like innocence to his works which make them so pure and joyful to read, balanced with painstakingly crafted illustration and artistry. Like Jon Klassen (another picture book author-illustrator I adore), his books are sophisticated yet understated, simple on the surface but incredibly complex and meticulously structured underneath.

The Fate of Fausto is a departure from Oliver Jeffers's previous works and radically different to some of his better-known books like Here We Are and We Found A Star. It's in a smaller format to his other picture books and is the first to use traditional lithographic printing techniques and hand set lead type. Reading the book, you can understand why Jeffers has gone old-school with the production process; The Fate of Fausto is described as a "painted fable" and it reads as a timeless story with a message that (unfortunately) bears as much relevance now as it would 200+ years ago. The story is about a man called Fausto who claims nature as his own. Consumed by greed, Fausto takes everything from a single flower to an entire mountain. It is not until he tries to take possession of the sea that Fausto is bested by nature and ultimately ends up in a watery grave.

As far as children's stories go, it's pretty bleak but despite Fausto's demise, the story is one that I think children will enjoy and parents will approve. Given the current spotlight on environmental issues (the fires in the Amazon rainforest, Greta Thunberg's climate strike, etc.) it's an incredibly topical book and one that provides a brilliant entry point into the climate crisis for younger readers who are new to the subject. And given the sorry state of global politics and our rather questionable world leaders, it's perhaps more important than ever that we share stories of kindness, empathy and unity, and show how harmful greed and entitlement can be. Nature cannot speak up to defend itself, but in The Fate of Fausto Jeffers provides it with a voice that children will understand and sympathise with. It's a wonderful concept with an incredibly powerful message.

This isn't the first time Oliver Jeffers has used his art to make a political statement. I love his Map of Land and Sea with Borders (2018) which uses cartography to explore geopolitical borders and poke fun at the idea that the Earth (or parts of it) can belong to any one person or people. The Fate of Fausto was written in 2015 (the illustrations didn't come until a few years later) and it's fascinating (to me at least) to see how these political and environmental issues have become more prominent in his work over the years. (If you follow him on Instagram, you'll see a lot of this sort of stuff @oliverjeffers).

What sets Oliver Jeffers apart from so many other picture-book illustrators is the craftsmanship that goes into his work, and having recently read The Working Mind and Drawing Hand, I was amazed to see how the initial concept, production and presentation of his art are as integral to its story and meaning as the finished product itself. The lithography and lead type give the book a traditional, old-fashioned feel, reflecting the tale as old as time that is human greed and corruption. Concealed beneath the dust jacket are the three illustrations shown earlier (the flower, mountain and sea). These emblems show the progression of the narrative and it's a nice touch to have them hidden under the dust-jacket - clues for an attentive reader of what is to come. The endpapers do a similar job, framing the narrative with the opening endpapers featuring a lavish, luxurious marbling to represent Fausto's vanity and greed, and the closing endpapers depicting only the sea, creating a sense of finality to Fausto's fate and emphasising the story's message that nature will carry on long after humans are gone.

As ever, the illustrations are stunning. Oliver Jeffers is the master of white space and he uses it brilliantly, punctuating it with vivid blues and neon pinks that really capture the eye and direct your attention exactly where Jeffers wants it. Admittedly, the artwork for this book isn't as vibrant and doesn't burst from the page in the same way as some of his other picture books, but that's sort of the point. There's a different, more mature tone to The Fate of Fausto and unlike a lot of his picture books where the narrative is pretty self-explanatory, Fausto is a book that demands discussion and interpretation. I actually think this book leans more towards contemporary art than children's book (not that the two are mutually exclusive of course) and if you read it with this mindset you'll get so much more out of it.

Overall, The Fate of Fausto makes an excellent addition to Oliver Jeffers outstanding collection of picture books. It's a departure from his previous work and while some readers may be hesitant to the change in tone, rest assured his inimitable style jumps off every page. It's the perfect book for discussing politics and the climate crisis with younger readers, and the attention to detail and outstanding craftsmanship will no doubt win over the grown-ups too. The Fate of Fausto really is a book to cherish.

Oh and special thanks to Ammara at HarperCollins for hooking me up with a signed copy! You have no idea how much it means to me. Seriously you rock. ✊

Have you read The Fate of Fausto?

Do you have a favourite Oliver Jeffers picture book?

Let me know what your thoughts in the comments below!


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