A list about The Liszts

posted in: Júlia Sardá, Kyo Maclear | 7

Reasons to read The Liszts, written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Júlia Sardá

1. At the heart of this story is a gift of a tiny gem of wisdom that will make your day that much richer.
2. It’s a luxurious and sumptuous feast for the eyes, with rich patterning and bold design that will mesmerise and envelop readers and listeners.
3. Its pages are packed with delicious slivers of sharp humour amidst the seriousness of a life led trying to contain chaos with order and regularity.
4. Like a great poem, this book tells a universal and satisfying truth that at one and the same time seems so obvious and yet arrestingly original.
5. It quietly marries philosophy and fun, creating a space to playfully (and yet seriously) think about the big questions in life without feeling overwhelmed.
6. Every aspect of the book exudes quality. From the embossed front cover that you’ll want to stroke, framed in bronze foil, to the secret sharing of quirky biographical details about author and illustrator, this is a book which has been made with total commitment, passion and love.

The Liszts got under my skin the first time I read it. I kept thinking about it, returning to it, struggling to bring all my thoughts about it to order. It’s serious and singular, eccentric and exciting, lavish and yet cuts right to the bone. Almost paralysed by how much I wanted to say about this incredible book, I reverted to that well-worn technique of breaking things down and making them seem more manageable: I made a list.

This seemed only appropriate given that The Liszts is the tale of a family obsessed with making lists. Any why not? Lists help us all feel like we can cope, like we have purpose, like we can achieve things.

But I’m not the only person in the world to have made a list and then questioned whether to do something that has arisen because it is not on the list. Have I really achieved anything if I complete something which I can’t cross off my list?

The Liszts are so obsessed with writing lists that when an unexpected visitor arrives they don’t know how to respond. He’s not part of their plan and so he’s dismissed and ignored.

Except by one of the children in the family.

One child is curious, and somehow the visitor and the child overcome the awkwardness of silent not-knowing-what-should-happen-next, to create a space where they can talk freely to each other. And then the doors open – just a chink – into a world of asking brave and bold and burning questions, of thinking big, of being open to opportunity and wonder and liberating possibility.

The family’s life isn’t changed in any loud, dramatic or spectacular fashion. There’s no cataclysmic or explosive denouement. But there is a quiet and substantial change; they learn from the visitor that leaving just a little bit of space for spontaneity reaps rewards. They come to see that when opportunity comes knocking, it’s worth seeing where it will lead you.

This 21st century story, told with delightful wordplay and atmospheric onomatopoeia, is grounded in terrifically moody, atmospheric and intensely rich and layered illustrations, oozing art-deco and cubist sophistication (though this isn’t a historical picture book – there are hilarious references to Bowie, Bauhaus, lego, Alien’s Ellen Riply alongside Julie Andrew’s Mary Poppins and more – just see who and what you can spot). It’s a rare, rewarding read, most definitely worth adding to your book wish list.

Whilst there’s layer upon layer in this book for adult readers to enjoy, there is also an enormous amount of kid appeal; the dark, mysterious tinge, the wacky, eclectic details, the fact that it is a child that brings a better way of life to his family, and then just the simple joy of listing crazy things, from favourite football players, to worst enemies, best bugs to dreaded chores. This is a game that all kids can have enormous fun with!

And so it was we turned to making some lists of our own.

In creating these lists there were many opportunities for being silly, but also for some rather thoughtful discussion. It was a writing activity which could be as simple or as complicated as people wanted it to be, and it’s created a sort of family archive of where we are right now, one that I think will warm my heart to look back on when the kids are much older.

Displayed in our hall, I think we might start asking visitors (unexpected or otherwise) to add their own favourite lists to ours… (my door is always open, especially for blog readers!)

Music which you might enjoy alongside this book includes:

  • Harpist Sylvain Blassel playing Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsodie No.2. We were lucky enough to hear Blassel perform Liszt live last month – electrifying and mindboggling. Watching him play, suddenly the harp seemed like an organ as so much fancy footwork was required alongside amazing manual dexterity.
  • Bugs Bunny playing some Liszt
  • The Very Long Shopping List by Nick Cope

  • Other activities which would go well with the book include:

  • Instead of using real frames, you could hang some frame themed wallpaper like this one or create your own (using a service like Zazzle, as we did here) and then write lists directly onto the paper. An even simpler approach would be to use post-it notes. Do you think you could cover a whole wall with lists? I think this could work brilliantly as a large group activity, providing lots to talk about afterwards.
  • Trying out writing with a dip pen and ink to feel that “scritch, scratch” that the book delights in. Alternatively you could make quills with craft feathers and and use food colouring as ink.
  • Reading an interview with the illustrator and this post by the author about diversity and hospitality.
  • Teaming up The Liszts with Edward Gorey’s The Doubtful Guest and then keeping your eyes peeled for Kyo Maclear‘s Virginia Wolf, being published next month in the UK by Book Island.

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    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by its publisher, Andersen Press.

    7 Responses

    1. sophie

      I love these illustrations ! very different from usual illustrations.
      just gorgeous. is it the first book they make ?
      thank you zoe !!

    2. sophie

      It exists in french, edited by “La pasteque”, I am not surprised… a very good editor from Quebec.

      • Zoe

        Excellent! Yes, the author is from Canada, so I’m not surprised there’s a French edition.

    3. Rebecca Stonehill

      What a fabulous book this looks! And such striking illustrations. I love that the Liszt’s made lists – how brilliant is that? Another book I really like about a composer is Melody Forest by Katri Kirkkopelto, translated from the Finnish, about Sibelius. Do you know it? A CD comes in the back too and the book + CD is a lovely way to introduce children to the music of Sibelius.
      Rebecca Stonehill recently posted..Move over Valentines, International Book Giving Day, here we come!

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