Looking for Yesterday

Alison Jay has produced a very philosophical picturebook here. Ostensibly it is about nostalgia and an almost Proustian yearning for the perfection of a past experience. But there is more to it than that. It is also about a rich relationship between a boy and his grandfather. The subtle wisdom of a wise grandfather is contrasted by impulsivity and naivety in his grandson who does not want to let go of his perfect yesterday. It’s not that he wants to recreate it in a new day: he wants to go back and relive it. The little boy is not without resources: he has some grasp of astronomy and physics and even astrophysics, a lovable curiosity and a yearning for learning. His grandad is shown entering fully into the child’s world – he is still in touch with his inner child.

Jay’s illustrations appear simple but are complex. They are fantastical, yet very clearly rendered, while maintaining a dreamlike quality. They are cinematic, perhaps with nods towards Michel Gondry’s La Science des Rêves, and Georges Méliès’ The Trip to the Moon. The use of white space is worth noting: maybe it has something to do with the grandad’s life often depicted in full colour, as are the boy’s dreams, while in real life the boy has much of his life to live yet.

There is lots to think about: Jay leaves one pondering not just the past and time travel, but even that use of white space in the illustration and, perhaps, the future.