I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail, illustrated by Ramsingh Urveti, designed by Jonathan Yamakami, and published by Tara Books is a bewitching picturebook which takes as its text the seventeenth-century English poem of the same title. The folk poem is trick verse, and plays with reader’s perception of what the phrases mean by inverting the order so that, as the back of the book says,
Depending on how each line is read, it is either fantastical or makes perfect sense.
What the illustrator and designer have added in this beautifully made book is to offer both interpretations to the reader through the use of cut outs. The cover’s magnificent blue (peacock blue? ha ha) is not repeated on the inside pages, which are solely black and white, as the cut outs on the front and back cover reveal. The inside double spreads are alternately white and black, with the opposite colour forming the illustrations on each page. The cut out portion of each page is in a different shape and position each time, and forms part of the illustration as it reveals the next line of the text. (See below.)
In this way each line of the poem is given in two halves and, as the reader turns the page, a different meaning of the lines (the fantastical first, of course) is revealed. The illustrations themselves are intricate and a wonder to behold as well as satisfying on a tactile level. Like the poem, the pictures are folk art, but of India, not Britain, which adds another layer to the book’s play with perception.
An enormous thank you to Yash, who bought and brought me this book. I kind of want to memorize the poem now and recite it at someone, just for fun.