Books

5 books award-winning artist Isabelle Arsenault would love to illustrate

The illustrator behind the children's books Colette's Lost Pet and Virginia Wolf shares why she'd love to illustrate the works of Roald Dahl, Elena Ferrante and more.
( Cindy Boyce)

Acclaimed illustrator and children's writer Isabelle Arsenault is a three-time winner of the Governor General's Literary Award. In her latest book Colette's Lost Pet, a nervous young girl impresses the kids in her new neighbourhood by telling them about her amazing pet bird... which does not actually exist.

Below, Arsenault shares five stories — from classic novels to children's books - that she'd love to illustrate.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Alexandre Dumas is the author of The Count of Monte Cristo. (Penguin Classics)

When I was a teenager, I used to read a lot of Alexandre Dumas' novels while on the bus on my way to school. I found them so entertaining and I loved the romantic feel of Dumas' writing, the epic adventures and his sense of humour. I remember having been blown away by The Count of Monte Cristo. What really impressed me in that book was how cleverly all the pieces came together to build up to a truly satisfying ending. I wish I could provoke these kind of emotions through my work: a sort of joy for the eye, the heart and the brain.

The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante

The identity of Elena Ferrante is secret so this is a picture of an Italian beach, similar to the setting of her novel The Lost Daughter. (Europa Editions)

I liked this book a lot, for many reasons. The story takes place on a beach in Italy. A divorced woman is observing a Neapolitan family on the beach, a missing daughter and a stolen doll and experiences feelings that could resemble envy or bitterness. The story refers to memories and how we are indelibly marked by our childhood. It's also about being a mother and a daughter and the struggle of being both, the struggle between freedom and responsibility. The language and actions are straightforward yet subtle and open to interpretation, which is something I really enjoy while reading and that I try to infuse in my work.

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is the author of many beloved children's books, including Fantastic Mr. Fox. (Penguin/Puffin)

This story has already been illustrated many times by great illustrators and I don't think it needs my interpretation in any way. But I love the narrative tone as well as the dialogue. The language is raw and elegant at the same time. The story is inventive, fun and full of wit. Roald Dahl creates a whole world that's quite imaginative and yet realistic and credible, like if it was happening right in front of our eyes. I admire this ability to bewitch the reader, to succeed at make-believe. It is something that I always keep in mind when creating. Plus, I love foxes!

1984 by George Orwell

George Orwell is the author of 1984 and Animal Farm. (Penguin Canada)

This classic sci-fi novel was a mind opener for me as a teenager. It plays with unsaid authority and control. But it's also about the power of words, those used to define certain concepts and even our own identity. The threat and coldness of the world that affects the character is disturbing and can in many ways echo some aspects of the world today. Sometimes I feel like Winston from the book in that I seek comfort in objects from the past: old-fashioned and unplugged. I think this sort of nostalgia and grayness evoked in the book is something I can easily relate to and that I could find satisfying to interpret visually.

"Evening Over Sussex: Reflections in a Motor Car" by Virginia Woolf from The Death of the Moth, and other essays

Virginia Woolf is the author of The Death of the Moth and Other Essays. ( George Charles Beresford/Mariner Books)

This is a short story from Virginia Woolf that really struck me. The first time I read it, I could totally visualize it transposed into illustrations. Woolf has a conceptual way of telling this story that is so close to how things work inside my head. The character is multiplying as the story unfolds, showing new facets of her mind — just like the way cubists tried to capture each side of a subject in order to create a portrait. Then, the parts assembled together create a whole new thing, another vision. That's also something I aim to do in my work: surprise the reader with something new, with something that I didn't even know was there when I started working.

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