Time for Julie Morstad

Time is a Flower – written and illustrated by Julie Morstad
Tundra Books, 2021

Readers of my blog know that Julie Morstad is one of my favorite illustrators. Whether she collaborates with an author or, as in Time Is a Flower, accompanies her own text, her work has a distinctive vision.  The dream-like contemplation of time’s passage in her latest book may be linked to other Morstad explorations of childhood, but here she draws a bigger picture of individual children thinking about the cosmos.

The book is full of unaffected poetry. What is time? A ticking cuckoo clock, a seed sleeping in the darkness, a beautiful flower losing its petals.  Children visualize time in different images.  Scale is important, too, and Morstad’s comparison of a growing child to a growing tree takes the long view.

There are pages of spare words against an empty white background, and Morstad shows respect for children’s intelligence in offering these images.  The earth’s rotation, creating day and night, means that a child in one location is exchanging perspectives with his counterpart somewhere else.

Many of Morstad’s books reflect the continuity between children and the adults they will become, and also show a breadth of cultures. One two-page spread of drawings rendered as photographs illustrates how “Time is a memory/captured long ago/in a tiny part of a second.” The pictures take this philosophical statement and make it concrete, depicting a Japanese mother and children, a couple in a photo booth, a girl at the foot of a mountain, and a woman braiding a child’s hair.  Everyone is different and we’re all the same, the sum “of all the seconds that ever happened.”  There are scenes in black and white, pink interiors, yellow sun, a white moon. One scene at the seashore typifies Morstad’s subtle and inventive use of color. We may be accustomed to blue water, yellow sand, and, perhaps, pink clouds, but her pictures’ composition always make us see these choices from a new perspective.  Nothing is extraneous in any scene.

Family relationships also have a special imprint in Morstad’s work.  A father reading to his children highlights his focus on the book as well as the way everyone is embracing a moment of quiet comfort.  The brightest colors in the scene are the invented books, just like in a story by Jorge Luis Borges: The Lonely Ant by Mahalia Mae Stanley, and a small volume about a dog named Minty. Is this a joke or lovely tribute to the potential world of children’s books? I think it’s the latter.  Time Is a Flower is another elegant production from Julie Morstad’s endless imagination.

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