by Sam Juliano
Deborah Freedman’s Shy is the most metaphysical picture book of 2016. It is also unique in that the prime allure of its captivating art are alternating hues that are attuned to the various settings and climates traversed by our incognito protagonist and the lovely purveyor of song that brings him out of his self-imposed limbo. Children of course will be hankering to know the identity of this book spine stowaway, but those of any age who come upon this most unusual of works will find the color washes exotic and intoxicating, almost setting aside the book’s indelible mystery. Of course Freedman never allows the delicate, minimalist narrative to divorce itself from the shadings that define place and atmosphere far more compellingly than straightforward drawings. This is the kind of picture picture book that Terrence Malick might come up with, but the talented Ms. Freedman has brought a wholly new dimension in creating a book that gives the full spectrum of color a vigorous workout.
The basic mise en scene is established in the opening spread: Shy was happiest between the pages of a book. A curving arrow leads from that statement to the book’s spine, where this most extreme of introverts learns all about the world through books. Much like Henry Bemis of The Twilight Zone’s most celebrated episode “Time Enough At Last”, a bookish bank teller who revels in spending all his free time hidden in an underground bank vault reading the classics, the object of Shy’s title is more than happy and content to learn about the world from the most claustrophobic of vantage points. In the end Freedman’s enigmatic cross between Boo Radley and Bilbo Baggins undergoes an acute metamorphosis, moving from self-imposed shackles to the most adventurous of free spirits. Freedman’s Dawn of Man opening is etched in muted yellow, with only the faintest light brown tracks to denote internal activity. There is a distinct air of serenity in this hue, one any celestial entity would be loathe to intrude upon. In the second canvas a pile of books, categorized in the text as fantasy adventures are visible. The books Shy loved the most were about birds, though of course the prime allure of these graceful air borne creatures is their singing. In any open book showcasing the blue sky, a yellow bird glides. At least Shy can negotiate the jeweled colors and acceleration. (more…)