A breathtakingly beautiful book which, like Shaun Tan's The Arrival, will move and delight readers of all ages. 'Reading this book is like being quietly ushered into another dimension by winged strangers, a place beyond the tread of normal earth-bound language. Ephemeral as a feather, timeless as a rock, and as true as both, Unforgotten is a magical experience.' - Shaun Tan
Tohby Riddle is an award-winning writer, illustrator, cartoonist, designer and sometime editor based in Sydney. He has written and illustrated numerous well-loved picture books; written a young adult novel; was the cartoonist for Good Weekend for nearly ten years; and is a former editor of The School Magazine, a literary magazine for children published by the NSW Department of Education.
Unforgotten by Tohby Riddle is a joyous and uplifting book that is a guaranteed winner for the Children’s Book of the Year Awards for 2013. This is the story of angels who watch over the inhabitants of a city that resembles New York City but could be any city in the world. The angels gently go about the invisible task of caring and warming and mending the people in the book who are all interestingly statue like in nature with stony faces and blank expressions. But taking on the problems of others can be exhausting work and one angel sinks to the cold hard ground. The fallen angel becomes a curiosity and is turned to stone to be marvelled at as a statue in a park until it is rescued by a group of friends, a tatty mended horse, a clown, a boy, a girl and a dog. Like angels they watch over the statue until it is warmed and mended and returned to its angel form, until one day it disappears like the gentlest breeze into the sky to watch over the people once more.
The story is heart-warming and delightful and will appeal to a wide audience. The design of the book is superb with the juxtaposition of the old and the new, with the use of black and white images, sepia and the occasional use of colours such as reds and autumn tones to an emphasis. The black backgrounds of the pages give the reader a feeling of entering another world and the privilege of being given an insight into the goodness that exists that we take for granted. The story is poetically circular and spiritually inspiring. The city that is represented is a combination of the old and the new, of graffiti scrawled walls and flying plastic bags and early C20th motifs. There is an interest use of real images of lights and photos of real birds and animals.
There are many similarities with Shaun Tan’s marvellous The Arrival and both would make interesting comparative texts. I cannot wait to use this book with an English class. Students could look at the narrative structure of the text and write something similar. They could select a particular image and write about what emotions it evokes. I would create questions and talk about these in a discussion circle and I would allow the students to tell the story. You could look at the poem that completes the narrative of the story and encourage students to write their own short epic poem. This is an outstanding read that has so much potential and is Teacher Librarian’s gold.
Sharon Marchingo, Crusoe Secondary College, Kangaroo Flat
To me Unforgotten is a book about hope. The narrative is more poetic than prose and tells of angels who come to Earth to minister their healing and protection. In a world or war and horror, in which the need is so great, one of the angels is overcome and falls to the ground. It becomes discovered and the adults turn it into a beautiful statue to decorate their park, which they then walk past ignoring it. It is the children and the child-like clown who nurture the angel so that it can fly again.The text is bookended by photo like images of the angel, an image that is recognisable. The book is printed on black pages and this decision makes the world seem bleak and the need for the angels so great. Being white, they stand out on each page. The orange and red hues on the page that shows the war are effective and confronting. In contrast the innocence of the children is seen in an almost nativity scene shot of them looking down at the lying angel. It is beautiful.
The book relies on pictures more than words as we see what at first glance seems like a dystopian society but in some ways it is all too recognisable. The faces of the people are made of statues and reflect a multicultural society through the ages. It seems as though their lack of caring is seen in the way they are depicted and shows the needs for these angels. I also love the image with the angel in the puddle on the floor, which we can see but the person walking above it can’t.
While there is limited text, it is well written. It begins and ends with the words “nobody knows” to enhance the mystery of these beings. Riddle utilises metaphors, a simile and short poignant economic lines to good effect. The alliteration causes the reader to slowly ponder the words, “growing numb and stony still.” The text in its entirety is printed at the end as a poem. I found this interesting as it made me think beyond the images as well as recalling them. I love that we are left with hope at the end. Hope in humanity as the angel is rescued, albeit by children, and hope that something higher than us is watching over us. It is a though provoking book, one I am sure would be interpreted differently by others.
As a teacher I would use this book when teaching poetry. I would also include this in a picture book unit for high school aged students. This book would open up a lot of discussion with students on its topic and the way it is presented. I highly recommend Unforgotten.
Dianne Bond, Shoalhaven Anglican School
A story of overcoming adversity, of hope and compassion, this is a beautifully illustrated poem. This is a story of guardian angels, no-one knows where they come from, but they are everywhere to help us, guide us and comfort us when we need them. However one of the angels is overcome with the grief of the world and falls to earth, the angel stays here until one day when its plight is noticed and people gather to help and comfort the angel, it eventually recovers and returns to the heavens. To watch over us, once again. With 128 pages of haunting illustrations and carefully selected words, this book will draw you back again and again. On the last page the poem is written out in full.I feel that this book would be very useful to English teachers in lower secondary classes.
Jan O’Sullivan, Library Technician, Mooroolbark
With complex graphics and sparse text, this is an evocative book. The dark, busy pages disturb, the winged creatures soothe. What complicated feelings it brings to the surface. What discussion this book will provoke. Is it a metaphor for the state of the world? Is it pure fantasy? Aimed at the 12 – 18 age bracket, this is a book for all ages. It is crammed with real and imagined picture scapes. In a SOSE classroom it provides images for discussing history, geography, economics and sociology.In a writing class it provides themes for both fact and fantasy writing. At $35 it also makes an unusual and affordable gift for all kinds of reasons. That is if you can bear to part with it.
Lois Best, Western Australia
I have hesitated to write this review of Tohby Riddle’s Unforgotten – not at all because I don’t like but because there is so much to say about it. Each time I have sat down and spent some time with the book – I haven’t yet read the book all the way through without stopping – I find new things to see and new things to think about, and my emotions are engaged and at times, challenged. It is a picture book which can be read on many levels, by all ages, but the older and more mature the reader, the more that will be seen and understood. However, late primary-aged students and up will understand the many visual references. Riddle has combined photographic images from different historical periods and locations with superimposed hand-drawn angels to tell the story.any of the people have stone-like heads, with ancient-looking features. He has used a mainly monochrome palette (browns, greys) dominated by the black of the pages but occasionally the reader is surprised by colour, sometimes brilliant and at other times, subtle. The story is uplifting. Angels fly over the world “to watch over and to warm and to mend”. But one can’t cope, falls to earth and is then nurtured and loved back to health, giving hope in our challenging world. Much of the book is wordless but the final pages give the whole text, in the form of a poem. It is a must-have for all school libraries and will make a great study text for upper primary and secondary students.
An artistic masterpiece by this creative illustrator and writer, easily on a par with Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. The illustrations, a combination of archival photographs and drawings, tell a visual story that keeps us thinking deeply long after the book is finished.The author’s poetry, drifting through the pages, adds to the ethereal quality of the dark images. What is happening in this story? Who is it meant for? Life and beyond is a mystery. The angels in Unforgotten float down, giving care and help to those in need. But it is too much for one angel and she falls to Earth to rest and be cared for herself.Ultimately both the poem and pictures tell us that no matter who we are, we all are in need of care and nurturing at various stages of our lives. Recommended for age 12 and up.
Sue Greer, Cranbourne Secondary College
This uplifting story of an angel facing the harshness of the world is told through a combination of visuals and sparing text in this beautifully presented book. Each night angels fly over the world. From a distance, the world looks like a place of light and beauty, but as the angels draw closer it becomes clear that the world is a dark and cold place, clearly in need of the nurturing and supportive presence of the angels. One angel, worn down by the coldness of the world and the tragic things that he has to witness, finds his spirit becoming so heavy that it weighs him down until he is trapped on the Earth. The worn down angel becomes still, a statue as frozen as those around him. However, there is hope presented, in the form of a group of compassionate people who have not succumbed to the coldness around them. They try to help the angel before it is too late. This beautiful, glossy book explores the idea of hope and faith through its depictions of the angels. Constantly moving until weighed down by sorrow, the hand drawn white figures are only visible in tiny glimpses to the people they are helping, reflected in puddles or mirrors. The world they are flying through, however, is much darker, with stark city scapes and anonymous people. The people are presented as a pastiche of photographs, with stone heads from statues on their bodies. This makes them lifeless, appearing impersonal and uncaring. It is little wonder that these creatures can inflict some of the misery the angels witness in their mission to ‘warm, and to mend’.
Though there is a sparse written narrative, the meaning and the message of the story are contained in the detailed visual images. The statues used in place of faces, the clothing worn by the people shown and the houses and other elements of the street scenes are taken from across history and from different nations, linking different times and places and giving the story a sense of universality. The visual elements of the book are something that could be focused on in a classroom setting for discussion and analysis, and compared with other graphic novels and picture books for a sense of genre and style. In many ways, the story can be seen as an allegory about the role of hope and the importance of kindness in the lives of all. The poverty, violence, pollution and crowds that nearly defeat the angel are all pressures the students are exposed to in their lives, at the very least through the media, and the potential effect of this is something that needs discussion in a school setting. The idea of individual and groups on the environment and on those around us, as well as what human traits are truly important and admirable, would make for worthwhile discussion at any year level. The significance and meaning of the title is also a good point for debate. Unforgotten is a beautiful text which invites reflection on fundamental human values and the state of the world. It would be a stimulating read for either a single student, or as the basis of work and discussion for a whole class.
Anne Sim, Dromana Secondary College
Tohby Riddle’s mesmerising book takes the reader on quite a journey. From the outset, it is rather unusual to be confronted with a picture book that has as its primary colour palette a gloss black. This stylistic choice makes the pictures pop for the reader and draws us into the depths of this evocative text. It is a book that calls you; a book that you simply must fall into. Riddle shares with us his angels; those hard-working ethereal beings that ‘no ear can hear’, the ‘impossible birds’ that ‘no eye is sure it’s seen.’ They come to all of us in the darkest of times to watch over us, comfort and care for us. They come ‘to mend’ and ‘to warm’. We never appreciate their strength and importance and most of us continue in our daily lives, forgetting that we are so protected. It is when one angel becomes so overwhelmed with the task before them and, weakened, sinks to the earth below, that the true depth of this book is revealed. Invisible, forgotten, the angel soon becomes part of the landscape; part of the hard, ever-turning world. No one cares to give the angel their time and it soon takes a hardened, statue-like form. It is only when someone notices the plight of the angel that things begin to change. For this reader, rescue in the arms of the innocents is a powerful image and one that stayed long after the pages were closed.
This award-winning author and illustrator, has created an impressive piece of art in Unforgotten. Lyrical, compelling, the images in this text are a kaleidoscope of eras, places and faces. It is timeless and, to some extent, faceless: the reader being able to place this provoking story into any time and location. The human-like images are almost expressionless, allowing the reader to fall right into the book and express their own emotional reaction to the text and images. There is room for one’s own personal reaction and there is a definite sense of movement as the world turns.
It is difficult to decide who this book is for and what its true message really is. It could be something different to each person who encounters Riddle’s fine work. Young adult readers will be engaged quickly by the images and the many pages where no words are necessary. It will make them think and search inside themselves for meaning and placement. They will read it again – and probably again. Meaningful, contemplative, provocative: Unforgotten will be remembered by this reader for a very long time indeed.
Peta Egan, Senior School English Teacher, Ormiston College
What a delightful compilation of collage, poetry and whimsy this graphic novel is! It has so much relevance to the secondary English classroom, with added scope for integrated learning with junior History provided by the many iconic representations of people, places and phenomena throughout time. The audience are drawn from above, as if looking down from a plane to the immediacy of the city below. Equally, we see the city from the viewpoint of the angels, ‘impossible birds’ descending with ‘faintest whispers’. At ground level, ibis and seagulls, traditional scavengers, remind us of the demanding nature of life in the city – or perhaps the human condition in general.
The city is populated with characters from various eras and cultures, architectural anachronisms like Corinthian columns and the obelisk ‘Cleopatra’s Needle’, examples of which were relocated to Paris, London and New York. Sculptures, like that of the beautiful boy Antinoos, found in the sanctuary of the temple of Apollo at Delphi suggest the timelessness of human suffering and conflict that makes the endeavours of the angels to ‘watch over and to warm and to mend’ work that is ‘not easy’. Identification of individual faces rendered as stone in some cases and photographic images in others will present an engaging challenge to secondary students and perhaps their teachers. Is that William Shakespeare? This one looks like Elvis Presley!? The plight of the angel who is ‘overcome and sinks to the ground’ captures the reader’s imagination. It ‘[grows] numb and stony still’ as autumn becomes winter. Finally, ‘its plight is heeded and it is watched over and warmed and mended’, providing the reader with a satisfying resolution to the narrative. Who are the ghostly figures that rescue the angel? ‘Unforgotten’ is a perfect companion to Sally Rippin’s ‘Angel Creek’, the Doctor Who episodes featuring the ‘weeping angels’ and the film ‘Skellig’. These texts could feature in a junior secondary unit exploring the depiction of angels and winged messengers in art and literature. Reference to Book 1 of Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ and perhaps statues like the Nike of Samothrace could also be included. There is even scope to include this text in discussions of the VCE English contexts of ‘Encountering Conflict’ and ‘Identity and Belonging’.
The symmetry of the poem is appealing as ‘nobody knows’ where the angels ‘come from’ or where they go. Use of metaphors, similes and alliteration add a dimension to the study of the text, providing an opportunity for students to discuss poetic devices and perhaps create verse of their own that could then be illustrated using collage. Even the title provokes discussion – is it an oxymoron or simply a ‘found’ word – what is suggested by the double negative?
Wendy Jackson, Healesville High School