Written by Kit Chan
Photos by Kit Chan & Wong Sze Chit
Do you know what the adventurous story of The Little Red Riding Hood is about?
Indeed, it can be interpreted as such: a big grey wolf happened to hurt itself before springing on the little girl who ran into it in the forest, the girl gave it a cure instead and both unexpectedly became good friends. The girl did not reject to have fun and go picnicking with the wolf provided it no longer killed any animal in the jungle.
The wolf kept its promise but was getting thinner and weaker. Finally the girl understood, instead of forcing the wolf to change, there would be mightier love if she agreed to the inborn nature of the wolf and the difference between humans and wild creatures.
The last picture of the story shows that both missed each other deep down from their hearts though they were physically way apart.
It is so obvious that such a message behind is already far more avant-garde than that of most mainstream picture books today.
"Apparently it's a story for adults and the message deep down is the definition of love," analysed Sze-chit Wong, one of the founders of independent bookstore Book B and the father who always selects picture books from all over the world for his three-year-old girl. Much impressed after reading it, he finds the French version of The Little Red Riding Hood a brilliant example of picture books. "The coolest part is that children are not considered premature and are told instead what normal persons have to know. This actually shows how children are seen there," commented Wong.
Meanwhile, he took out another groundbreaking picture book called CODEX SERAPHINIANUS. Illustrated by Italian architect Luigi Serafini in late 1970s.
It was an exceptionally whimsical encyclopedia of plants, animals, buildings and even daily living beyond the imagination of modern civilization and the realisation of the present planet》
According to him, many scholars have for decades tried to crack the "extraterrestrial" textual code but failed until the author unveiled the truth in his speech made in The Oxford
University in 2009: Everything was fabricated so as to deliberately take you back to an unknown world where you would have immediate fantasy when looking at the pictures, like a three-year-old reader excitedly focusing on pictures rather than the text.
"The charm of picture books is pictures are more than words. When adults are used to reading words, the books full of pictures without text are powerful enough to make you relax suddenly and turn to your primitive feeling."
Wong put constant emphasis on "adults" because he opined adults should be the first ones to read picture books and not give those books to children unless they already like them.
"Picture books should not be 'unintelligent'. First of all, they should be able to attract adults so that the latter can show the illustrated world to the kids in their own way." What matter most is both enjoy reading. "Picture books are for adults and children to get along with. The focus is on the recital and storytelling with the mobile phones temporarily aside," claimed Wong.
He cited an example: how will the parents interpret a book without text? It is indeed a rare and good exercise for the grown-ups and the young.
Thus, he does not opt for academic picture books and those emphasizing the benefits after reading. "Poor Hong Kong children are already learning everywhere and anytime. Can we leave them some time to enjoy picture books?"
If reading has to be educational, picture books should facilitate teaching by example. "Every day, whether you play with smartphones or read, or whatever you read, children are observing and learning," stated Wong.
Trying to be a responsible father cum bookstore owner, he runs picture book gatherings only for adults, through which he relaxes them with alcoholic drinks, allows them time to read and talk about the stories. He thinks adults will also be able to taste the beauty of picture books if they read in the perspective of children.
"Hong Kong people are so insecure that they need everything to be precise. Actually, for a song without lyrics or pure music, you can also have a feeling on it, so you don't need to be exact on everything," explained Wong.
Perhaps, this is also the beauty of picture books.
*The picture books mentioned in the article can be read or purchased in Pop-up Book Store at Picture Book Adventures.
**More details about 'Picture Book Adventures' Exhibition and Programmes: https://www.pmq.org.hk/event/picture-book-adventures/