Landing with Wings (Trace Balla, A&U)
In Landing with Wings, Trace Balla’s latest graphic novel–picture book hybrid, Miri and her mother have moved to a new home in the Victorian Goldfields, and Miri’s feelings about this are decidedly mixed. Through an illustrated journal tenderly addressed to a tea tree she has left behind, Landing with Wings details the first year of those mixed feelings as Miri forms friendships, marvels at nature and slowly but surely puts down roots. Similar to Balla’s her earlier works Rivertime and Rockhopping, the story being told here is not nearly as important as the evocation of place, community and life lived in step with nature. Balla’s art is unmistakable and irresistible. The first thing the reader notices is Miri’s careful labelling of every bird, plant, bug and tree she draws—there is so much life in this book. The artwork is imbued with a childlike delight in drawing for pleasure, but this is not to belie how well-observed Balla’s illustrations of the natural world are, or the exquisite design of her visual storytelling. Reminscent of Alison Lester and Roland Harvey, Landing with Wings is a story about moving slowly, looking carefully and remaining curious, and it is a book that leads by example. In her loving portrait of community life in Dja Dja Wurrung Country, Balla achieves something like a contemporary visual bush poetry. It is spellbinding.
Phil Lesnie is a children’s illustrator and a bookseller at Kinokuniya, Sydney