Irma Gold and Susannah Crispe: Where The Heart Is

EK Books, an imprint of Exisle Publishing, Australia, 2021

This book is a perfect example of the capacity of the picture book to both enchant and inform us. Based on the true story of a remarkable relationship between a Magellanic penguin Called Din dim and Joao, the man who rescued him after an oil spill, Where The Heart Is is on first reading  a love story.

Irma Gold and Susannah Crispe talk about Where The Heart Is

On second reading it is an opportunity to consider the environmental degradation caused by oil spills. On third reading it provides the impetus for children and adults to discuss the bigger impact of destructive human activity on fragile natural places and the animal world.

Dindim stays determinedly with his human friend until natural forces call him to make his annual migration from Joao’s island off the coast of Brazil to Patagonia, For reasons unknown to scientists, Dindim chooses each year to return, making an 8000 km trip and then spending eight months in his place of rescue with Joao near Rio de Janeiro. And much though the island home might be an incentive to human visitors, it is clearly the love between penguin and man that drives this behaviour.

Evocatively illustrated by Susannah Crispe and skilfully told in words by Irma Gold, this story is indeed one that both touches our hearts and intrigues us. Both main characters endear themselves to us through the artist’s portrayal.

The penguin changes from his fluffy juvenile feathers to his sleek adult coat during the course of the story, also demonstrating his courage and determination to return to Joao under attack from a sea lion.

Joao shows his gentleness, care for natural world and capacity for love not just by rescuing his feathered friend but by letting him go back to the ocean when the time is right. His tears of joy upon Dindim’s return are all the more affecting, the mutually loving embrace delightfully painted by Susannah Crispe.

Irma’s words ‘his lullaby of belonging’ are particularly poignant, I found, such a beautiful turn of phrase, and one to which those of us who are fortunate in our homes and families can so readily relate.

Where The Heart Is is Susannah Crispe’s first picture book but, happily, it’s the first of many to come. I hope that this author and artist will work together again as their combination does seem to be especially magical.

Thank you to EK Books for a review copy and to Irma and Susannah for spending time with me to talk about this work.