At the beginning of 2012, I was browsing Netgalley and came across Eep! as one of the titles on offer for review. I could not believe my luck. The Dutch book “Iep!”, of which this is the English translation, is quite well-known in the Netherlands, and is considered a childhood classic by many. I, however, had not read it before. So it was with great anticipation that I requested this title, and was, luckily, accepted by Gecko Press to review it.
Eep! tells the story of Warren, a birdwatcher, who one day finds an unknown species under the bushes on a field where he is birdwatching: Is it a girl in the form of a bird, or a bird in the form of a girl? He takes the girl with wings home and Warren and his wife, Tina, decide to keep the child and raise it as their own. But they soon discover that raising a girl with wings is not as straightforward as raising a child. Especially when the wings make Eep long for the freedom to fly wherever she wants..
According to Gecko Press’ description Eep! is
“The story of a mysterious bird-girl who, on her quest for freedom, teaches four strangers the true meaning of family.”
I do not disagree with that assessment, but for me it was the fact that the book can be read in several manners that made the story so worthwhile. It is certainly a story of adaptation, friendship, love, and letting go, but it can also be read as a charming fantasy tale, or as a story that questions the rigid categories we often impose on the world. Warren, for example, enjoys birdwatching because it means matching up all the details to the descriptions in his book:
“Whenever Warren saw a bird, he checked that all its details matched those in his bird book. When everything matched, he got a warm feeling inside, somewhere around his middle. He wishes there was a book like that about the whole world, where everything matched up.”
Joke van Leeuwen’s style is quirky and funny, and she constantly challenges the borders between the real world and the imagination. Not only the fact that this is a story about a girl with wings, or a bird with the body of a girl, contributes to this feel, but the combination of words and images underline it even more.
A great example of the way in which Van Leeuwen combines words and images to capture the reader can be found on the very first page of the book:
The images not only add to a sense of place or setting, but are often meant to underline the humour evoked in the story or the imaginative flights of fancy that occur in the middle of the larger plot about the girl with wings. I, for one, found myself laughing at Warren and Tina and their attempts to catch words while eating alphabet noodle soup. Why did that make me laugh? Because I can remember how fascinating I found alphabet noodles back when I was a child, and the fact that you could eat words. But there are also images of the many ways in which people eat:
A (sometimes literal) interpretation of illnesses that people can suffer from:
Or the reflections of a girl, Lottie, who tries to think of ways in which she can spend more time with her father who is always busy, without getting in his way:
I have included that latter image because I hope it hints towards the darker side that Eep! often visits in the middle of its imaginative, funny, and quirky episodes. Because as much as this is the story of suspension of belief, imagination, love and friendship, it also deals with the darker and more liminal themes in life. And that is exactly why I loved this book. Children can discover funny images and stories inside Eep!‘s cover that will make them laugh, but at the same time it covers deeper themes that enable reflection at an older age.
Other Opinions: Shelf Love.
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