When Slovenian-born puppet designer Darka Erdelji illustrated Polly MacCauley’s Finest, Divinest, Woolliest Gift of All she imagined the story was a theatre production playing out in the pages of the book.
“I [work] like a puppeteer, like theatre,” Darka said about her process.
The story is about an old woman who brings hope to the world by knitting a magic shawl and it was written by the award-winning writer Sheree Fitch, so Darka had rich material to work with. Sheree is known not only for the fun slipperiness of her rhymes but also her ability to write with love and compassion about healing through difficult times.
In Polly MacCauley, Darka said she created a parallel visual narrative from the beautiful shawl that heals the world in Sheree’s story.
“I think it’s important that you give space to the text and meanwhile you give space to the picture. So they can live separately… but the stories come together in certain points,” she said.
Darka currently works at a puppet theatre in Slovenia. She lived in Newfoundland and Labrador for some years and worked with author Andy Jones to illustrate his popular Jack tales series.
When Darka illustrates a book, she looks for a strong visual narrative that she then performs in the pages of the book.
In Darka’s illustrations, the healing shawl brings to different people what they need: the shawl brings fish to fishermen; it brings butterflies to a romantic walk; it brings the stars in the night sky.
“I try to find these kinds of things that are part of the story but aren ’t necessarily written in the story. Maybe because I like freedom more than anything,” said Darka.