Review: The Liszts by Kyo Maclear and Júlia Sardà

As the cover copy says, The Liszts is about the eponymous family and their dedication to making lists.

Mama Liszt lists terrible illnesses and soccer greats. Papa Liszt makes (the most boring) lists of chores to do (and possibly, procrastinate) and lists about small winged insects. Grandpa Liszt’s lists cover his worst enemies and greatest admirers. Winifred prefers making top ten lists about–I’m guessing from the illustrations–cheese and music (she’s my favourite), while Fredrick, the youngest Liszt, likes listing fun things to do. No. 6 on his list is to “draw the four horsemen of the apocalypse”.

Meanwhile, Edward Liszt, the middle child, has lists that go on for pages …

“… to quiet the swirl of his midnight mind.”

Which isn’t really elaborated on, but I like that it’s left for the readers to interpret (restlessness? sleeplessness? anxiety?) because this story is mainly about the stranger that arrives at the Liszt’s residence. He isn’t a famous soccer player, he isn’t there to fix the roof, isn’t an admirer/enemy, isn’t a hairstylist, or a horseman of the apocalypse. It’s Edward who shyly, reluctantly, welcomes the stranger and, together, they delight in the fun surprises that come with new friendships.

The story is presented partly in lists that are incorporated into the illustrations and partly in the form of fun, playful prose. Maclear is a great writer and I love that her kidlit category of choice is picturebooks because there isn’t a single one she’s written that I dislike. Like her previous ones, this one is charming, well-paced, and has those nice repetitions that make picturebooks memorable. Maclear’s words are perfectly complemented by Sardà’s brilliant illustrations that have a sort of art deco bent to them that I love. Also, the framing of the scenes gives me Wes Anderson movie vibes? Is that odd? Anyway, I love that the list-making runs through the book from the synopsis to the illustrations to even the author and illustrator bios (similar to the way it’s done in The Fog by Kyo Maclear and Kenard Pak, where their biographies are written as descriptions by bird-watchers):

I can’t lie, it was a combination of the punny title, my love for Kyo Maclear’s previous works, and the gorgeous artwork and lettering by Júlia Sardà that drew me to the book. But it’s the sweet story about making space in your life for the unexpected people and the unplanned for events that puts The Liszts in my list of all-time favourite picturebooks.

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