#RivetingReviews: Anna Blasiak reviews BICKI-BOOKS by various authors

The wonderful Emma Press has released two sets of Bicki-Books. These are charming, small-format picture books for children aged three plus, all translated from the Latvian, and curated by Rūta Bride.

The first set of six books was released in January 2019, the second in January 2020. January 2021 has come and gone, but perhaps there will be more at the start of 2022.

The very first of these postcard-sized delights is – I presume – where the whole series gets its name. Bicki Bucki tells of the friendship between a boy and a dinosaur whose tail gets stuck under a stone. Or is it really a stone … ? There are further animal encounters in the second book, Calm Beasts. In the third, Topsy-Turvy Tasks, everything goes … well … topsy-turvy, while a cat concentrates on his bowl full of milk. My favourite of this first set was The Door Wizard; the tale is based on the surreal concept of leaving the door open so that all manner of things (the sky, blankets, and more) can travel freely in and out, and it features simply stunning graphic illustrations. The fifth story, Ice Cream, is a cautionary tale with a sprinkling of absurd humour, as is the final book, Naughty Gnat.

The second set of Bicki-Books starts with Secret, the story of a very important secret, so highly confidential that nobody can know about it. The book also contains a cryptic puzzle for the reader to resolve. Story number two, Potato Potato, will appeal to all avid young gardeners and cooks – and to lovers of French fries and crisps. Next up is Mole, which tells of an underground transport system dug by moles, and topped with mounds of earth that act as stations. Who knew? I absolutely loved The Tall Tale of a Mischievous Mushroom Picker, the fourth story in this set, for its surreal humour, delightful block illustrations and language games: ‘scissor-whizzers’, anybody? ‘Fungus (not humungous)’? ‘Bag of swag’? The fifth book is called Emil and is styled as a love poem, but also discusses and slightly ridicules gender differences. Rounding off this second set is I want a little puppy dog, complete with stitched illustrations (yes, you got that right), it is a story about dreaming of having a dog when one has a serious allergy.

Many of these books have a strong surreal tone, so they are not necessarily your straightforward children’s stories. Here, in the Bicki world, forests and the moon come indoors, while dishes and ceilings go out; mice attend school; gnats draw; moles dig the metro system; and children turn into snowmen.

What I found the most striking about this enchanting series is the visual side of things. The illustrations vary from book to book – from simple, block-colour ones to more painterly ones; from cut-out cartoons to mesmerising geometric illustrations; from watercolours to marker-line drawings; from block print to stitched illustrations. What visual richness!

I do hope there’ll be another helping of these pocket-sized picture books.

Reviewed by Anna Blasiak

BICKI BUCKI

By Janis Baltvilks, illustrated by Reinis Petersons

Translated by Žanete Vēvere Pasqualini and Kate Wakeling

CALM BEASTS

By Herberts Dobre, illustrated by Gita Treice

Translated by Žanete Vēvere Pasqualini and Kate Wakeling

TOPSY-TURVY TASKS

By Maija Laukmane, illustrated by Sabine Moore

Translated by Žanete Vēvere Pasqualini and Kate Wakeling

THE DOOR WIZARD

By Pēters Brūveris, illustrated by Paulis Liepa

Translated by Žanete Vēvere Pasqualini and Kate Wakeling

ICE CREAM

By Arnolds Auziņš, illustrated by Līva Piterāne

Translated by Uldis Balodis and Kate Wakeling

NAUGHTY GNAT

By Valdis Grenkovs, illustrated by Zane Zlemeša

Translated by Uldis Balodis and Kate Wakeling

SECRET

By Jāzeps Osmanis, illustrated by Ingrīda Pičukāne

Translated by Žanete Vēvere Pasqualini and Kate Wakeling

POTATO POTATO

By Vitauts Ļūdēns, illustrated by Ieva Jurjāne

Translated by Žanete Vēvere Pasqualini and Kate Wakeling

MOLE

By Vitauts Ļūdēns, illustrated by Dita Pence

Translated by Žanete Vēvere Pasqualini and Kate Wakeling

THE TALL TAKE OF A MISCHEVIOUS MUSHROOM PICKER

By Inese Zandere, illustrated by Edmunds Jansons

Translated by Žanete Vēvere Pasqualini and Kate Wakeling

EMIL

by Inga Gaile, illustrated by Anna Zvaigzne

Translated by Kaija Straumanis

I WANT A LITTLE PUPPY DOG

By Ilmārs Šlāpins, illustrated by Dārta Stafecka

Translated by Kaija Straumanis

All published by The Emma Press (2019, 2020)

September 2021 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.


Anna Blasiak is a poet, writer and translator. She has translated over 40 books from English into Polish and, mainly as Anna Hyde, Polish into English. She is a co-translator (with Marta Dziurosz) of Renia’s Diary by Renia Spiegel. Her bilingual poetry book, Café by Wren’s St James-in-the-Fields, Lunchtime, is out from Holland House Books, as is Lili. Lili Stern-Pohlmann in conversation with Anna Blasiak. annablasiak.com.

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Category: ReviewsSeptember 2021

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