The Vanishing Lake by Paddy Donnelly, Yeehoo Press
What's it about?
This is the story of a little girl's quest to discover why a mysterious body of water near her grandfather's house regularly disappears and reappears. We see Meara explore and investigate her surroundings, as she searches for answers, while her grandfather suggests increasingly fanciful explanations. Set near Loughareema in Ireland, a real lake close to where the author-illustrator grew up, this celebrates the rugged and mystical beauty of our country.
What can we learn?
There's more to life than what we can see, extraordinary stories are all around us, and if we believe in magic, we will find it. Included at the end are photos of the location that inspired this story, and a fascinating explanation of the science behind the enigma at its centre.
What makes this stand out?
The Vanishing Lake celebrates the marvels of the natural world. It's an intriguing story with brilliant characters, and a visual treat. Paddy Donnelly's prose is elegant and gentle, and the illustrations are amazing.
About those illustrations...
I was surprised to discover that Paddy creates his artwork digitally - I was sure it was all hand-painted! His illustrations are spectacular, with stunning landscapes that showcase the enchantment of the Irish countryside. The images are incredibly evocative, and you can almost smell wet grass and sense soft drizzle falling as you read. There's something to admire on every page. The illustrations feel extremely fresh, the palette is gorgeous, and I love the shafts of light that drift through the water in the scene with the narwhals.
Why we love it...
I keep mentioning this, but when I was growing up in the '80s, there weren't many picture books set in Ireland, besides myths and legends. I certainly didn't own any. I get so excited when I see the vibrant Irish books that are being published now. Reading this feels a little like looking at snapshots of my own childhood. We spent so many summers visiting Ireland's ancient attractions and learning the legends connected to them, while unsuccessfully attempting to dodge the rain. I love how this reflects my children's summers too. Lots of our holiday adventures have taken place surrounded by fields dotted with sheep just like the ones in this book - even when we've been at the beach!
I love the inquisitive Meara and her perseverance, Granddad's elaborate imagination, and their wonderful relationship. Cara the otter, Granddad's pet, is fantastic too. Whether paddling with swans, diving with narwhals, swimming with swans, hillwalking, or helping Meara with her detective work, Cara is always engaging and adorable.
Books like The Vanishing Lake, which make it possible for readers to get lost in their pictures, are always so impressive. Both of my kids love sitting with this and turning the pages themselves, just as much as they like hearing it read aloud. The more you look at the illustrations, the more you see, with giants and other creatures embedded in the hillsides.
I love how The Vanishing Lake has storytelling itself at its core, with Granddad's creativity driving much of the action, blending the imaginary world with reality. Granddad's question, "Do you only believe what you can see?," is not just one of the best lines in this book, it's one of my favourite lines from any book. I love how this ends with the words, "it started to rain." Not only does this mean the lake will return, it's the perfect conclusion to a story set in Ireland, where the rain is never far away.
Why you need it...
This is such a special book - it captures the childlike sense of wonder so well and feels like a future classic. It's a fabulous tribute to Ireland; if you have friends or relatives living abroad and missing the Emerald Isle, this is ideal for sending to them. Irish families will enjoy reading a story set somewhere they know or may one day visit, but this has a universal appeal. If you appreciate exceptionally beautiful books, then you definitely need this one!
About the author-illustrator:
Paddy Donnelly is a freelance illustrator, originally from Ireland and now based in Belgium.
Paddy's recent picture books include Hom with Jeanne Willis and Míp, which has just been shortlisted for the KPMG Children's Book Ireland Awards. The Vanishing Lake, is Paddy's first book as author as well as artist. We are huge fans of Here Be Dragons by Susannah Lloyd which was illustrated by Paddy and also released this year (read our review).