Title: The Gargoyle
Author: Zana Fraillon
Illustrator: Ross Morgan
Publisher: Hachette Australia/Lothian Children’s Books, 2023; RRP: $24.99
“There’s a gargoyle on the train.”
This is a beautifully written and illustrated story about an ancient gargoyle ending up on a train as his home has been demolished to make way for a new development. He is even thrown off the train by the ticket inspector and given a fine, leaving his suitcase behind for a child to open.
“A small spout of rusted water drips from his mouth and splats on the ground like rain.” This is the gargoyle’s purpose, architecturally, as a waterspout designed to drain water from the parapet gutter. The water collected is channelled to the mouth of the statue, where it is shot out and directed away from the structure’s wall and foundation. But there are new ways of collecting and directing water and gargoyles are no longer needed.
The Gargoyle evokes the past, the rush of civilisation and its forgetfulness in its haste to the next new thing to treasure the old moments (shown in the opening of the gargoyle’s suitcase) and to make time for the natural world. The Gargoyle speaks to conservation and extinction as the boy wistfully ponders if he will ever see the gargoyle again.
Ross Morgan’s illustrations provide the visual imagery that Zana Fraillon’s words evoke. The language is simple and haunting. The boy hears the gargoyle sigh: “An echoey, achy, hollow sort of sigh, like the wind when it gusts down lanes and through tunnels and in and out of the big drains that stretch under the city.” The visuals are dark and grey, making the memories in the suitcase even brighter.
The story would be suitable for a middle primary grade reading level but can be read to preschoolers and could be used with older grades to generate discussions on conservation, aging and legacies.
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The Gargoyle is a great example of the best of children’s literature’s ability to communicate at both child and adult level. Do yourself a favour: find a quiet corner, read it and absorb its gentle message and then go and share it with some little people to shape a brighter future.
Zana Fraillon is a Melbourne-based, multi-award-winning author of books for children and young adults. A teacher, Fraillon is from a family of writers and began writing fun picture books with her son. A friend encouraged her to submit these to a publisher and her writing career was launched.
Ross Morgan is an award-winning fine artist and illustrator. His background as an exhibition artist, portrait painter and surrealist have given him a unique approach to illustrating books. He loves searching for quiet little moments that are filled with magic.
Reviewed by: Marian Chivers, June 2023
Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group
Review copy provided by the publisher