Being a big fan of Alexis Deacon, ever since Beegu, I was delighted to discover that I am Henry Finch also provokes much debate and thought. It is great when picture books tell a good story, but there’s an added bonus when a picture book punches above its genre and reaches older children through concept and design. I Am Henry Finch tells the story of a flock of finches with a shared look, sound and identity. Then one finch has a revelation, not unlike the French philosopher Descartes, ‘cogito ergo sum’, or in this case:
“I am Henry Finch, he thought.
I think, he thought.”
The realisation that he can have his own separate thoughts gives him the freedom to have his own identity, and ambitions, and to take his own separate course of action. His aspirations to greatness lead to adventure and enable him to overcome adversity (depicted here by the beast) and finally to enlighten his fellow finches on the gift of free thought and freedom. By the end each one of the finches has its own separate ambition, from travelling the world to falling in love. Not only is the story liberating, but the genius is pairing it with Viviane Schwarz’s illustrations. She uses red fingerprints (apparently gathering them from her friends) to depict the finches, and has added wings and faces with simple black strokes. The cartoon-like faces lighten the tone, and the fingerprints give the book a dynamic distinct identity of its own.