Review by Ian Keogh
Lorena Alvarez introduced us to Sandy and her gloriously active imagination in the wonderfully drawn Nightlights, but surprises here with the graphic illustration of a dissected frog in the opening pages. While as beautifully drawn as the remainder, it’s a gruesome inclusion for a book that’s intended for all ages. Ignore that, and Hicotea is another imaginative visual feast making astonishingly good use of bright colours on detailed pages, enabling children to become lost in surroundings, stimulating their own imaginations.
Hicotea is the turtle Sandy meets during a trip to the local wetlands, a surprising repository of curious objects within their shell, and with a desire to learn more about the world. The smart comparison with children may fly over young readers’ heads, but won’t be lost on their parents. Hicotea would like to know more about the wetlands, but is somehow cut off from them, but Sandy’s impressive drawing skills are the solution. She’ll be able to bring back illustrations of where Hicotea can no longer visit.
The puzzle for children will be to consider the mystery of what’s devouring the wetlands as they absorb the sumptuous drawing. The environment is a little more abstract than Sandy’s explorations in Nightlights, and when the bright colour arrives it has a purpose beyond decoration. There’s also a greater sense of horror, rather than just the joy of exploration, and when Sandy’s told she’s insignificant and the darkness will engulf her it’s a disturbing scene. Thankfully Alvarez places exactly the right words in Sandy’s mouth to counter it.
Hicotea is another treasure from Alvarez. The subtext is again the power of imagination to overcome obstacles, with just the right touch of mysticism to engage, and the drawing is again a delight.