This is a book that I loved as a child; “Het vroutjie van Stavoren” which means “The Lady of Stavoren” written by Maryke Reesink. This book tells a story with words but also with colours, the wonderful illustrations of Jaap Tol.
Jaap Tol’s paintings let colour run into colour in great splodges. The pages seem saturated and stained. We meet a young spoiled rich girl who has all the clothes and dolls and toys a girl could want – but is still unsatisfied.
She grows into a spoiled and self centred woman who owns more ships and houses than anyone else in the city of Stavoren. She is still unhappy and sends out one of her captains to find “the most precious thing in the world”.
He sails far and wide to many countries. He sees many precious things – glass balls so finely blown they float in the air, tropical spices and fruit, beautyful dolls. But each time he asks himself “Is this the most precious thing in the world?” and sails on.
Finally he finds a cargo of golden grain. He looks at the seeds and sees their potential, for growth and for feeding many hungry people. This is the most precious thing he has seen, and he loads his ship with grain.
But the Lady of Stavoren has waited many years for “the most precious thing” and is outraged and furious with disapointment. She does not care for the hunger of others, and orders the cargo to be thrown into the harbour.
And then a miracle happens. The grain begins to grow, there in the salt water of the harbour. Very soon no ships can dock, and the harbour has to close.
Many people lose their homes and their livelyhoods, including the Lady of Stavoren. She becomes a ragged beggar woman, who has to go out in search of shelter. She had been proud and heartless, and now no one will take her in:
At last she finds another harbour town. She is tired and starving and cold. A door opens, and a stranger invites her in. And when she goes closer she sees no stranger, but the sea captain who had gone on the voyage to find her the most precious thing in the world. She apologises to him and admits her mistake. And the sea captain holds no grudge but invites her in to sit warmly next to his fire and share his food.
You can see more of Jaap Tol’s paintings at his website.
On his home page – translated very roughly from the Dutch:
“Jaap Tol asks you to go back to your beginnings, where happy memories and wonder can once again become part of your life, and where you can rediscover the perfection and mystery of the universe as a priceless gift.”
If you enjoyed this, you might also like reading about:
- writer/illustrator Charles Keeping: Joseph’s Yard
- The circle of death and life illustrated by Spirin
- Pictures without Stories – a collection of mysterious images that evoke stories