My thanks to Floris Books/Ingram Publishing Services and Edelweiss for a review copy of this book.

The Depth of the Lake and the Height of the Sky is a beautiful picture book which tells a story, or rather gets one to experience it, entirely through pictures, without a word of text, except a short note at the end explaining the author’s intention and idea behind the book. This is the work of South Korean illustrator, graphic designer, and picture book creator Kim Jihyun, who is based in Seoul. (I was happy to see that her name appears in the book in the Korean way, surname first.) The book is illustrated using ‘writing ink’ which enables her to ‘express subtle emotions and illustrate different qualities of light’.

The story itself or rather its premise is simple. A little boy and his parents and dog (a collie, I think) live in the city, where all that’s visible from the window of their flat, is buildings. For the holidays, the family head out in their car, to the country, where one set of grandparents live. The car crossing the river represents the shift from city to country. There they arrive at the grandparents’ home, a complete contrast from their flat in the city—away from anything else (only in one picture can one see a couple of other houses around)—and close to the forest and a lake. Here boy and dog set off to explore the forest and experience nature, just taking in the greenery and calm—and then go for a swim in the lake, looking at the fish down below (at least the boy does). There is then a family dinner and more time in peace, spent simply gazing at the stars.

The story might not sound like much but more than story, this meant to convey a sense of serenity, of peace, and it does this brilliantly. The boy and dog set off into the forest, taking in the calm and the foliage all around them—his expression at first is one of wonder (the dog’s smiley face, I loved). Then they come upon the lake where there is just them and the lake and once again a sense of absolute silence and peace. When he goes for a swim, he sees the different fish and plants under the water bringing him both amazement and delight. Then there is some silent time spent simply lying by the lake and then under the stars, after dinner. The time in the forest made me think of the Japanese notion of shinrin-yoku (forest bathing)—simply immersing oneself in the green forest, taking in nature, experiencing the peace. These moments of serenity also in some senses, reminded me of some paintings by artist Nicholas Roerich which I like very much—ones often depicting just the landscape or just one lone person out in nature.

The artwork was really lovely. I adored the little details in the illustrations—from the boy’s messy room in the city, the boy’s artwork on the walls there, the family pictures in the grandparents’ home, the expressions of wonder and happiness on their faces when they are out in nature, the scene with the family dinner where the family is eating while the dog eyes a cat through the window. And then there is of course the light—and why I quoted the sentence about the author’s medium earlier—this was something I loved in the artwork and it comes through best in the illustrations of the lake (though it is there all through—even for instance, when we spy the lake through the trees)—the sunlight coming through as the boy dives in and once again as he heads back out, as well as the sun shining in the sky (even the splashes of the water are beautifully done). This was absolutely wonderful. And the gorgeous night sky with beautiful stars, another moment of perfect calm (and one of my personal favourites since that is something I like to do myself, though there are barely any stars visible where I am).

A lovely book, and one which I think adults will be able to appreciate more fully, even though it is labelled a Junior Library Guild Section.  

5 stars

All the images from the book are via Edelweiss, while the images of Roerich paintings I had originally copied via Olga’s Gallery for personal use many years ago, but I can no longer locate these here (so the names I’ve used might be wonky). Slide shows of selected paintings are available via the Roerich Museum in New York here


7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Depth of the Lake and the Height of the Sky by Kim Jihyun

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