When you crack open one of Phoebe Wahl‘s intricately illustrated and thoughtfully plotted children’s books, you may very well be opening a treasure chest. But the scintillating trinkets and down-right adorable baubles Wahl offers you are not so precious that they must be held at a remove, kept behind glass or under the belly of a sneering dragon. Instead, Wahl wants you to hold them, feel them, cup and ponder them delicately close to your heart and mind, like you might do with a freshly fallen oak leaf or a young phlox bloom at the first sign of spring or a glimmering pebble that sings out its iridescence from the creek bed.
My favorite title of Wahl’s is “Little Witch Hazel: A Year in the Forest,” which is a treasury of stories that follows the industrious, kind-and-brave-hearted Little Witch Hazel as she goes about her life in Mosswood Village across the seasons. Without giving too much of the fun and feels away, the four interconnected stories in this collection — “Spring: The Orphaned Egg” 🥚; “Summer: The Lazy Day,” 🌼; “Autumn: The Haunted Stump” 🍂; and “Winter: The Blizzard” 🌨️ — are wonderful and wondrous examples of curiosity, joy, respect and commitment to the various kinds of community and/or family that both sustain and challenge us.
Moreover, Wahl’s illustrations are richly astonishing, both cozy and extravagant, fantastical and tender. As Wahl shared in an interview when she was first starting as a designer, illustrator, sculptor, author and artist ten years ago:
So much of my work is about the idea of home. Of comforting spaces. Spaces of nostalgia and sanctuary. Quiet moments between people and nature or parents and children or lovers. . . Both in my two-dimensional and three-dimensional work, heavy handedness is important to me, touched-ness. I think as we move further into the digital age, the relationships we have with hand-made things are growing increasingly important.
Ultimately I think what draws me to Wahl’s work is her celebration of and creation of an intimacy that is dynamic, radiating and, most importantly, shared between creatures and characters, readers and listeners, stories and spaces.