Tidy by Emily Gravett

Pete the badger is obsessively tidy. It’s bad enough that his obsession encroaches on his friends personal space but then he turns his attention to cleaning up the environment… and when scrubbing and polishing rocks and picking up every single fallen autumn leaf creates a mound of plastic bags and results in the trees looking “bare and scrappy” he takes things even further. Pete’s extreme cleansing measures, as well as destroying many creatures habitat, result in him being unable to find his way home and after a hungry night spent in the bowl of a cement mixer, he finally sees his mistake. It really helps to pay close attention to the images in this story. The expression on the animals faces as Pete gives them a bath, the flower in the bin, the pile of bin bags, the hoover in the forest, the price tags on the trees…

How does Pete decide which flowers should stay and which should go?

What is the difference between a weed and a flower?

What is beauty?

Can nature be ugly?

Why do the animals allow Pete to wash them?

Should Pete use the hedgehog to brush the fox’s tail?

Why do the replanted trees have prices tags?

What does it mean to be perfect?

Do some creatures have more rights than other creatures?

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The Table That Ran Away to the Woods by Stefan and Franciszka Themerson

This small format picture book written in 1930’s poignantly tells the story of how the author’s writing desk puts on two pairs of shoes, (a pair belonging to him and a pair belonging to his wife) and takes off down the stairs out of a man-made urban environment and back to the woods where it takes root.

The illustrations were created by the author’s wife Franciszka Themersen. Her technique is collage and photomontage. Images from magazines, and  flat colour are in interspersed with hand drawn line on cut-out scraps of paper. Collage with it’s collision of different techniques draws attention to the process of it’s making. Rather than allowing us to become immersed in the illustration it continually draws us back to the surface of the page.  The images of the urban scenes are black and white, jagged shapes and cuts outs of concrete brutalist buildings. Colour is rare: the window on the cover, the green leaves, selected words in the text – it’s a welcome relief from the harsh black.

The book is unsettling.  There are so many conflicts and contrasts, jarring imagery induces the sense of anxiety the author might have felt at the beginning of an era where war threatens to destroy everything worth fighting for and modernity threatens to turn nature into a resource.

Is there a conflict between nature and culture?

Is culture natural?

Is the state of nature something perfect to be protected from the polluting influence of culture? (Rousseau)

It also raises philosophical questions regarding environmental ethics, modernity’s anthropocentric view of nature as resource.

Is nature simply there for us to do as we please with?

Is it right that human affairs spill out to the detriment of other living things?

The images of branches springing from where the ink has been spilled and the starlings nesting in the inkwell raise questions around language. The starlings in ink seems reminiscent of birds drenched in oil.

Do words restrict, and therefore distort/pollute ideas?

And yet, the word starling suggests the birth of an idea. It’s the fertility of the authors imagination that’s sprouted branches and is about to take flight, remaking the world.

How can ideas (something non physical that arise in the mind) alter the world physically?

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