Picture Book Snob
Why we love The Queen in the Cave by Júlia Sardà
Walker Books, October 2021
The Queen in the Cave is the perfect book to climb into as the days get colder, the evenings get darker and and leaves crunch under your feet. Yes, I did say 'climb into' because this is definitely a book that is explored rather than simply 'read'. As soon as you open it, you are transported to an intricate and intriguing universe that's as alluring as it is slightly sinister.
When we first got this book, last October, my eldest took to carrying it around the house with her. It's a delightfully eerie and atmospheric tale that is ideal for this spooky season but can also be enjoyed at any time, and we have been returning to it regularly all year. It's all about three sisters who venture into a forest, revealing secrets about themselves as well as the mysterious, wild world 'beyond home'.
We love The Queen in the Cave for several different reasons, but here are our top five...
It's absolutely exquisite
The illustrations are truly spectacular and incredibly detailed. We spot new creatures and curiosities every time we read this. The spectacular images are extremely evocative too, you can almost smell the thick vegetation and feel the damp earth as you progress through the story. I love how the artwork and the text capture the childlike sense of wonder, when anything is possible. And our edition is an attractive hardback with thick, creamy paper that also makes a gorgeous gift.
It's wonderfully weird
We adore strange and surreal picture books like this one that are full of surprises, peculiar characters and the unexplained, and that leave plenty of gaps for readers' imaginations to fill. We love the dreamlike narrative and the unusual beasts that lurk within it.
It's deliciously creepy without being too scary
There are subtle suggestions of peril on every pages but it's never anything the characters – or little readers – can't handle and makes the story even more interesting. It's brilliant how this allows children to navigate new and slightly ominous landscapes from the safety of wherever they might be reading the book.
The characters are fantastic
I absolutely love the three siblings at the centre of the story and how real their relationship feels. I love how honest they are with each other and how unbreakable their bond is, no matter how much they grow and change. Each protagonist has their own distinct personality and they all discover their different strengths as the story progresses. I love how the children are allowed to be wild and how they embrace the chaos of the strange world they uncover as they journey deeper inside it.
It feels like a classic
The story and illustrations have a vintage quality, recalling the genius of Maurice Sendak. The Queen and the Cave also has echoes of My Neighbor Totoro and the rest of our other favourite Studio Ghibli films. Yet this book is remarkably original while just as certain to bewitch all who turn its pages for generations to come.
The Queen and the Cave was published by Walker in October 2021 - see this book on the publisher's website