Marie Dorléans’s Our Fort

h1 April 28th, 2022 by jules

“It’s spring! Every day, nature calls to us to come outside and play. Birds chirp in the garden. Trees rustle in the sunlight. It’s as if the entire countryside were waiting impatiently for us to wander through it. ‘Hey, guys! Want to go to the fort?’
‘Yes! To the fort!'”

(Click spread to enlarge)


If you saw last year’s exquisite Night Walk (named a 2021 New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children’s Book) from Marie Dorléans, you might be very happy to know she has a new picture book. Our Fort (The New York Review Children’s Collection) — translated from the French by Alyson Waters and, like The Night Walk, originally published in 2020 — will be on shelves in early May.

As you can read in the spread pictured above, the first one in the book, “nature calls” to three children to “come outside and play.” Just look at the tantalizing road beyond the open door for those three children: It shoots straight ahead, like an arrow, inviting and directing them (and readers). The three children have built a special fort outside (I had one of those as a child, even if my brother had built it and I’d adopted it as my own), and it’s classified. Not even the younger sibling of one of the kids can join them, because she can’t keep secrets.

The plot here is easy to summarize: They head to the fort; they get caught in a dangerous storm that leaves them feeling delirious; and they make it to their fort, miraculously still standing after strong winds. But it’s everything they see and experience on the way to the fort that fills the dramatic action of this satisyfing tale. There are the sheep they always see (they each have one of their own whom they’ve named); there are the “vast, billowing green fields”; there’s stopping to enjoy cookies while “the shadow of a passing cloud flickers” across that glorious green meadow; and there are “murmurs in the air all around us — vague, distant whispers, as if the sky were plotting something.” It’s a massive storm, and (as you can see below) crows warn them of the impending danger.

The storm itself is exhilarating. It may or may not be a bit of visual hyperbole, the moment we see them almost fly through the air as the wind picks up incredible speeds. One child grips another’s waist, the only thing keeping the “blustery” wind from carrying him away. The storm clears away almost as quickly as it came, and the sky afterwards, with rays of sun beaming from billowy clouds in a sky now the color of eggshell blue, is worth the price of admission alone.

Dorléans’s beautifully wielded artwork possesses a boundless energy. The delicate lines; the eye-catching details; the tight focus on the kids when the storm arrives; the quality of light before and after the storm: It all adds up to a visually rich story of the gifts (and scares and thrills) that the capricious outdoor world brings to those who make time for it. It’s a thrilling adventure, this one.

Here are some spreads. …


“Next, we walk past the sheep meadow. Usually we offer the sheep a few blades of grass through the fence. We each have one of our own. We’ve named our sheep Titus, Alfred, and Gideon. But today we have so much to tell each other that we forget to say hi to them. ‘I found a little saw in the attic at home. We can bring it with us next time, to make our fort stronger.’ ‘That sounds great, but your parents will never let you take it.’ ‘We’ll show them that we know how to use it!'”
(Click spread to enlarge)


“We plow ahead haphazardly,
swallowed up the tall grasses where we love to get lost.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


“‘Look at all these crows! Where could they possibly be going?’ ‘What did you say? I can hardly hear you!’ ‘Crows, I said. Crows! It’s strange. It seems like they’re fleeing something.’ Suddenly everything grows dark, and a sound swells and draws near.”
(Click spread to enlarge)


(Click cover to enlarge)


* * * * * * *

OUR FORT. Copyright © 2020 by Éditions du Seuil. Translation copyright © 2022 by Alyson Waters. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, The New York Review Children’s Collection, New York.

One comment to “Marie Dorléans’s Our Fort

  1. Another one right up my alley. These moments of childhood are everlasting!

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