In Deesje by Joke van Leeuwen you roll along with the main character from one adventure into the next. And not only as far as the story is concerned; reading the words and looking at the pictures is one big surprise. In the work of the doubly talented Van Leeuwen, text and illustrations complement each other perfectly, and humour and seriousness intermingle. The language is packed with puns and the comical black-and-white drawings are really different and also tell a story. A veritable feast for the eyes.
In a large picture-book format, the story of Deesje is told over 88 pages. All by herself, she travels to stay for a while with her half-aunt, because her father and the lady who studied child science thought it was a good idea. And, after all, Dad and her two big brothers have no time for her. During the day they’re always busy knocking together strips of wood and in the evening they watch Big Adventures from America on TV.
And with this journey begins a series of misunderstandings and adventures. Deesje can’t find her half-aunt on the packed platform and she’s taken away by the wrong lady on a bus full of children.
When they go to look round the city, they visit Escher’s house and Van Leeuwen treats her readers to truly Escheresque drawings. Deesje seizes her chance and runs away. After an eventful detour, she ends up at the house of the Gate Shutter and Tina Teen, who are really nice to her. As Naturelle Gazeuse, an expert on the universe, she goes out earning money on the streets with Tina Teen and before long she accidentally ends up on television. And, fortunately, that’s where her half-aunt finds her.
This genuinely childlike but also eccentric way of looking at the world is reminiscent of Annie M.G. Schmidt; in Van Leeuwen’s work, outsiders such as Tina Teen also come off a lot better than the people with authority.
By Dorine Louwerens