Island Life

Stig & Tilde – Vanisher’s Island and Stig & Tilde – Leader of the Pack by Max de Radiguès

In our town for as long as anyone can remember, when a kid turns 14 years old, they must leave by boat to one of the hundreds of islands around the town and survive alone, for a year. When they return they officially step into adulthood. It’s what we call ‘Kulku’.

Vanisher’s Island

Now as the parent of a teenager, I should say the idea of taking them at the age of 14 and stranding them on an island for a year sounds like an excellent one. I would even be prepared to extend it by a year or two. Luckily for Tilde and her twin brother Stig, this tradition has mellowed over the years and these days it is a one month summer camp with wifi (don’t imagine you could persuade any teenagers to go to an island for a month without wifi.)

Children having independent adventures, with no adults around. Authors have been finding ways to get rid of the pesky grown-ups for as long as there have been children’s books. Orphans, evacuees, boarding schools, plane crashes and magical cupboards (or some combination thereof) – all effective means to cut the ties and have a proper adventure.

In ‘Vanisher’s Island’ the siblings don’t make it to the land of broadband and fridges. Instead, fate intervenes and they find themselves on a darker journey. Tilde makes a friend on the island, Arne, a child of the same age. The trouble is that Arne is dead. He is a ghost, a spirit. And he is not keen to be left alone again.

Tilde has a rough ride. Having your first kiss is a big deal, but when the person you are kissing is a possessive poltergeist, well that is a whole new level of coming of age adventure.

The wolves will not harm one of their own

Leader of the Pack

Leader of the Pack sees the fleeing teens arrive at another island, but still not the one they were looking for. This one is infested with wolves and the lupine menaces have a master, or rather a mistress. This leader of the pack, Matilda,  has a close connection to the previous tale and like Arne she has survived her isolation by building her own world. Her world is a solitary one with only the wolf pack for company. Her self-reliance has seen her lose some of her humanity – she really is a part of the pack. 

Finding your place and navigating the feelings and needs of others, including those who might be in a worse place than yourself is a key part of growing up. The two books take up this theme. We can be chased by the pack or part of it. Finding your role and keeping your individuality – a difficult balance. The islands that Tilde and Stig move around offer freedom but they also offer isolation.

Leader of the Pack

The artwork of the two books help to convey the mood. Despite the underlying serious themes, these are not dark books. The illustrations convey a bright world of sea and forest. Stig and Tilde dress colourfully and this helps convey their optimistic determination. There is peril in the form of ghosts and wolves, but even the most slavering wolf is still quite cute. 

Max’s illustrations build a fascinating world of hidden dens, cabin refuges and island hopping – of ghosts and wolves. These are adventures imbued with a spirit of freedom, of eternal summer without school or parents, that children and young adults will love. Adult readers will also enjoy the books for the beauty of the art and the quality of the printed object which is lovely. They might also have wistful thoughts of long lost summer holidays with the joy and pain of discovery before us.

Max de Radiguès is a Belgian author, writing originally in French. His earlier work Meanwhile in White River Junction was part of the selection for the Angoulême Festival in 2012. He can be found on Twitter, Instagram and on his website.

Stig & Tilde – Vanisher’s Island and Stig & Tilde – Leader of the Pack are published in English by NoBrow 

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