Nancy Knows

Cybele  Young is a Canadian author, illustrator, and artist. Her newest book, Nancy Knows, was published in 2014 by Tundra. Of her many oeuvres, Young is most recognized for her paper sculptures, some of which are housed in galleries in New York, Calgary, and Vancouver.


Young incorporated her paper sculptures combined with simple sketches to illustrate this notable picture book. Traditional Japanese washi – Japanese handmade paper – and papermaking is an art form in itself but according to Gary Michael Dault’s Globe and Mail article titled “The Wonders of Washi” Young: “…seems to have led washi as far from its origins as possible…” While I can’t speak about Young’s work in the context of washi as an overall art form, I can say that Young’s use of paper sculptures in this context is innovative and unique.

Nancy is an elephant who sometimes forgets:

Nancy knows she’s forgotten something… Something important…

Often when Nancy tries to remember, she thinks of all kinds of other things.

nancy[click on the illustration for a larger version]

The paper sculptures add a level of depth – in the literal and figurative sense. The combined mediums of sketch and washi suggest the dichotomy between the literal and figurative world and how our our emotional inner life enriches our outer life. Nancy’s physical form is filled with her experiences, memories, and imagination.


Nancy Knows reflects on the importance of perspective and personal experience, offering some subtle reminders for the adult reader while providing hours of amusement for a younger audience. Young’s book requests a pause at every object, big or small, to appreciate the craftsmanship and intricate detail of the tiny fishing lures, the accordion folds of an old camera, or the inside of a sliced apple.

She remembers things from long ago.

Or two days before tomorrow.

Floating-around things, just out of reach.

And those that take flight,

then land on the beach.

The book doesn’t uniformly rhyme or follow one overarching meter but Nancy Knows inhabits the subtle space of poetry with short lapses into rhyme that give the entire text a lilting feel. The text could stand alone but without the illustrations it would encompass a very different tone and meaning.

I recommend this book to everyone.


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