We all think that we are familiar with children’s play, from watching it around us or remembering our own youth. It becomes background noise: princesses, pirates, nothing special. But if we really listen, as does Argentine comics artist and picture book illustrator Ricardo Liniers Siri, then we can discover a surprising and sometimes scary world through which children fearlessly walk just under our noses. Let’s go. His early-reader graphic novel “Wildflower” – a three-book aud also includes the final, stand-alone volume “The Big Weight Balloon” And “Good night, planet” – Liners (who go by this single name professionally) allows us to let Rasila get out of her daughters’ house when they think no one is watching.
The story opens with a distracting image: smoke wreckage of an aircraft, a nose buried in a hill. But we find our three heroines on a beach unheard of, taking it all forward. If his butterfly friend was on the plane then he was the youngest. Some of the oldest ground rules are: “Butterflies don’t fly on airplanes.” The Beach Sister announced that it was time to explore the island. And they are closed!
The lovely watercolor-and-art artwork of the liners is packed in detail so that children can lose themselves. A giant flower talks to the youngest sister, proclaiming her the weirdest wildflower she has ever seen. The girls receive a small house, an equally small gorilla’s house, and an ominous sign stating that “only reality can kill a dragon.” Popcorn-snow provides a much-needed snack. There is a glut of danger, but it is part of the thrill. “I like to be a flower,” the middle sister cries. “And I love being wild!” The smallest roar.
Maurice Sendak had mastered capturing the unmarried underbelly in childhood, most famously in “Where the Wild Things Are”. The adult is untouched by the occasional violence of his protagonist Max and the truly dangerous creatures he cherishes – this is not what we like to imagine our children playing. But children recognize this; This is what the world is like for them. “Wildflower” feels like a big sister to Sendak’s work, perhaps taking place from Max’s wild rump on the next island.
Unlike Max, whose journey is in solitude, the girls are each other. There are some well-watched cinematographics who joke around for leadership, which turns into an exploration of what lies ahead. The oldest of the vocal, sometimes a little knows it all. The youngest to struggle, desperate to join. But there is also a filmy sweetness. The older sisters enjoy the youngest and her wildest thoughts, and comfort her when she grieves for reasons she cannot explain.
Throughout the story we begin to doubt that girls can be architects as well as explorers of the island. “What’s this? Can I say?” The middle sister listened to a mysterious growth. When the sisters finally face their nemesis, a massive dragon in its den, it bites her leg. But her delightful response, and the way she waved her leg in front of her mouth, suggest that perhaps everyone had a plan with it. An adult will gasp in horror at losing a limb, but for a child that is part of the fun.
As we realize the nature of the forest, the reality snaps – as parents call girls to set the table. The gorilla becomes a stuffed animal, an empty bag of popcorn-ice, the crashed plane a toy. We never find out how the wild girls would have defeated the dragon, because reality does that for them. But there is a hope that after dinner they will wake up from where they left. And maybe this time we will talk a little more closely.