Mary Who Wrote Frankenstein, illustrated by Júlia Sarda, written by Linda Bailey, published by Tundra, ISBN: 978-1770495593.
Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein turns 200 this year, and this properly creepy and goth picture book biography emerges as a perfect way to introduce young readers to the 18-year-old author who created it. I pretty much love everything about this account: the layout, the design, the book’s dimensions (tall, like the monster), and of course the art and writing. Júlia Sarda’s brilliant, slightly macabre (but not overly so) art captures the eye right at the very start, before the title page, with a drawing of the rather-pale people at the center of this true story, namely Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and their pals. Frankenstein’s monster appears as well, along with some ravens and other creatures. Page after page, Sarda serves up vivid, experimental imagery that startles and haunts: Mary lying on her bed as if positioned in a coffin, stormy skies with clouds shaped like gargoyles and reptilian monsters, hair and trees flying in gusts of wind (look at that motion). And yet, the spookiness in these illustrations also feels playful with the wide-eyed Mary fascinated with ghost stories and unsettling poems meant to make the audience squirm. This playfulness reaches a fever pitch when Sarda draws a frog being brought back to life with a surge of electricity (seriously, she deserves a special prize for her rendering of that reanimated frog).
Meanwhile, Linda Bailey’s text has an interactive immediacy to it that captivates the reader. She asks questions throughout, involving the audience. She skillfully employs the present tense, and this grabs you and never lets go. “Here is Mary. She’s a dreamer. The kind of girl who wanders alone, who stares at clouds, who imagines things that never were.” Mary Shelley may have passed away a long time ago, but Bailey brings her back to life with this jolt in her prose. Mary suddenly feels alive again. And Bailey does a great job explaining the conditions that led to the creation of Frankenstein: daydreams, visions, wild imagination. It all feels like a fever dream, especially thanks to a mesmerizing image of the Frankenstein monster watching over Mary as she sits up suddenly in bed filled with inspiration. And Sarda’s illustrations do a remarkable job conveying the excitement of this literary journey. Bailey’s excellent afterword is an added plus to an already impressive title. Beautifully done.