Nelly Stéphane (or Nelly Gensbourger) was a 1950s French novelist. André François, illustrator of Little Boy Brown and more than 60 New Yorker covers, has been called "the greatest French graphic designer of the 20th century." Together they made the picture book Roland, first published in 1958, the invigorating story of a French schoolboy who has the power to create living, breathing things with just a pencil and a word.
When Roland is banished to a classroom corner, he draws "a long tiger" on the wall and says, "Crack!" A real tiger materializes and stretches to its full length, like a parade dragon, to greet the teacher. Dismissing all the students but Roland for recess, the teacher scolds the young tiger-maker: " 'See to it that you don't say "CRACK" again.' " It gets worse. When Roland pets his friend Isabel's fur coat and says "CRACK!" the coat turns into "many little fur animals" who run away. She accuses him of theft, "So the police took Roland to prison." One of the little fur animals that Roland magicked helps the boy escape while the guard is sleeping. The surreal story becomes more and more absurd (dancing dolls, donkeys and swordfish!) and eventually circles back to tie up a few loose ends... but not at all tightly, thank goodness.
François's splendid illustrations with their expressive dots and bold brushstrokes in black, mustard and blue are as extraordinary as Roland himself. There are plenty of children's books about the power of imagination, but few as much fun--or as gorgeous--as this one. A treasure. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness