Sjaantje doet alsof by Sjoerd Kuyper and the multi-talented Daan Remmerts de Vries is a very colourful picture book, both literally and figuratively, and it may be classified within the genre of the ‘consolation fantasy’: in order to make life bearable, a young child unconsciously imagines a life peopled with characters who don’t exist or with loved ones who are no longer there.
Little Sjaantje is precisely this kind of imaginative dreamer. All she needs to play her ‘let’s pretend’ game is the empty biscuit barrel at her grandma’s house. The biscuit barrel urgently needs to be filled. And so Sjaantje sinks deep into her grandma’s blue-checked armchair and dreams away – until her grandpa flies in through the window and takes her off to buy ‘a hundred million new let’s-pretend biscuits’. This happy imaginary shopping adventure ends when Grandma comes into the living room. Sjaantje tells her that she has been able to buy new biscuits, because she’s been ‘pretending that Grandpa’s still alive’, which comes as a surprise to the reader.
In spite of the emotional issue of a dead grandpa, this story by Kuyper and Remmerts de Vries is by no means a gloomy one. They convincingly demonstrate that humour does not have to come at the expense of integrity and sincerity, and provide a perfect illustration of how young children can handle grief in a playful way, without losing their cheerful natures.
Remmerts de Vries has given Sjaantje a happy, cheeky little face. And by depicting Sjaantje’s memory of Grandpa as a lanky, clown-like man, he emphasises their close and fun-filled relationship in a simple and effective way.
Remmerts de Vries’ lavish, lively collages, made up of wallpaper, printed fabrics and a great deal of colour, are a perfect complement to this light-hearted story with a serious undertone. The window through which we see Grandpa coming and going is beautiful, as is Grandma when she eats a ‘let’s-pretend biscuit’ with Sjaantje at the end of the story. Another beautiful feature of the book is Kuyper’s text, which is simple, yet sometimes slightly ambiguous, and gives the pictures all the space they need to relate Sjaantje’s imaginative tale: a wonderfully honest consolation fantasy for children.
By Mirjam Noorduijn (https://www.letterenfonds.nl/nl/boek/606/sjaantje-doet-alsof)