At seventeen, Elias Martin was driven north ‘by dint of not fitting in anywhere else’. For twelve years Elias lives a solitary life of constant struggle to stay warm and fed as he slowly learns the skills that allow him to survive in the harsh tundra of the far north. One day, he sees strange tracks leading to his woodpile, the prints of small bare human feet – a ragged child, whom Elias takes into his hut and names Birch. The story is robust and harrowingly realistic, while also drawing on myth and legend, with touches of the supernatural.
This book continues a welcome trend of producing illustrated books for older children and the black and white artwork give it a stylish retro look. The sky and the movement of air are particularly well depicted in the illustrations. In most of the images the landscape towers over diminutive human forms – making the double-page-spread of the child at the centre of the book all the more arresting. The shape and size of the book feels satisfying in the hand and the clear typeface and layout help to ease the reading of a text that though short, is often complex and always poetic.
Elias Martin is one of the four-part Shadows and Light series by Nicola Davies that explores the connection between humans and nature. Produced by Welsh publishing house, Graffeg, the series is a collaboration with the Swansea School of Art. This beautiful book throws up so many talking points it could keep a book group or classroom talking and wondering for many an hour.