Zindzi Zevenbergen, Hedy Tjin and Brian Elstak
Lennox and the Golden Sickle
Eye-catching, magic-realist debut about being brave and about sickle cell disease
Although Zindzi Zevenbergen’s debut is about an invisible illness, the book itself is a real eye-catcher. The striking cover is wrapped around a text with an ingenious and surprising design, with some paragraphs printed at angles or vertically, so that you have to turn the book as you read it.
Two artists joined forces to create the vibrant illustrations. Hedy Tjin works in dramatic and expressive felt-tip colours, Brian Elstak uses watercolour and pen, skilfully capturing facial expressions in a sketch-like style. This combination results in a contemporary, dynamic look, which is reminiscent of street art and comic strips. The magic-realist story begins with a powerful sentence, which immediately reveals Zevenbergen’s talent as a writer: ‘Lennox wanted to become brave – and soon.’ The usual things, like monsters, don’t scare Lennox, but real things do, like the neighbour who always looks at him for too long without blinking.
At its core, the story is a simple one: Dad has gone to hospital for his invisible sickness – Lennox does not know exactly what is wrong with him – but he has left his lucky necklace with the golden sickle at home. Lennox decides to take it to him, even though he’s a bit scared of hospitals.
After an adventurous journey through the city, Lennox comes to an overgrown field with a tiny building: the Invisible Hospital. Then Zevenbergen adds a dash of magic: the more Lennox learns about sickle cell disease, which is what his dad turns out to have, the bigger the hospital becomes (a corridor extends ‘like a selfie stick’). Zevenbergen turns a story about an illness into more of a story about how not everything that goes on inside us or that is wrong with us can be seen on the outside – and, more important, how what we learn expands our horizons. Lennox’s adventure has made him look different, as Zevenbergen concludes at the end of the story: ‘Like a boy who had become brave. But no, maybe you couldn’t see that at all. Only if you knew.’