Are you a fan of gouache, like me? No, not goulash (though I am a fan of that, too, particularly on a cold day). I said G-O-U-A-C-H-E. It’s an opaque, water-soluble paint made from crushed up rocks, mud, insects, and other natural pigments. And it is British author/illustrator Sam Usher’s medium of choice, which he uses to create stunning illustrations, hand-drawn in ink, that sing and sprawl across the pages of his picture books. These are the kind of storybook illustrations that elevate the craft to the level of fine art, and they provide the perfect visual accompaniment to his whimsical stories that are full of adventure.
I was not that familiar with Sam or his work when Candlewick Press offered me the opportunity to review Wild, his latest picture book release. The beautiful cover and intriguing title hooked me pretty much right away, as did the story description about a boy and his grandad taking care of someone’s cat for the day, only to have it go off into the wild on its own. Dusting cat hair off my lap, I decided right then and there that this was a story I wanted to read.
Being the curious person that I am, I wanted to know more about the other books in his authored/illustrated collection. They seemed to go together in a thematic sort of way–Rain, Storm, Sun, Snow, Free, and of course, Wild. So I read all of them. ALL of them. Was it a monotonous chore? Not in the least–in fact, quite the contrary. It was wonderful to experience them all, and I highly recommend it. Each story stands alone perfectly on its own, but when read together as part of a collection, the common themes tying them together become beautifully apparent, and the reader develops an enduring bond with the main characters of Grandad and his grandson.
These two live and spend their days together. Each story begins in the cozy comfort of their shared home, where the boy narrator is just waking up. Eventually, the two venture outdoors for some surprising adventures where the lines between reality and fantasy get blurred, both for the narrator and the lucky reader. The seasonal quartet of Rain, Storm, Sun, and Snow touch on aspects of seasonality, naturally, while Usher’s newest books, Free and Wild, take the reader on animal-led adventures. Each book is beautifully hardbound, with thoughtful artistic details here and there, such as realistic-looking water droplets and shimmering grains of sand on the front cover.
So back to the latest book, Wild–you know, the one I’m supposed to be reviewing in this blog post? It might be my favorite of them all, and not just because it features an adorable cat who has a mind all her own.
I love the distinctly serendipitous way that the narrator and Grandad embark on their adventure this time. They don’t plan this one—the cat does! And that provides for a surprising twist midway through the story, as they follow her out of the house and into the wild.
I will leave the rest of the story for you to discover on your own, particularly since Usher’s books are ones that are best enjoyed visually, and in depth, with time to admire his large, sweeping art spreads.
by Sam Usher
Hardcover ISBN: 9781536220001
Released December 2021
You can follow Sam on Instagram (@samuel_usher) and his author website (www.samusher.com).
I received WILD for free from Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.