Future Girl – Asphyxia

What a beautiful book – the story, the illustrations, the things you can learn, the things you can think deeply about!

As an artist, author and activist (who also happens to be Deaf), Asphyxia has created a sumptuous book with a tale to be considered carefully. Her illustrations are just beautiful, as they reveal Piper’s emotions as she journals her personal insights.

Piper has been deaf since 3. Her mother wants her to be seen as normal. In a near-future dystopian society, life is hard enough, but Piper finds school and its demands more exhausting each day. With the ability to ‘tell it from the heart’ (as a Deaf person living in a hearing world), Asphyxia reveals through Piper just how hard it is being Deaf.

‘Future Girl’ is also coloured by the real characters Piper meets, as she struggles to find direction for her life outside of her school experience. There is so much more she learns (and teaches us) from these people.

Marley first helps her fix her bike, and becomes a future love interest. Robbie, his mother (who happens to be Deaf), opens up a new (Deaf) world to her – a new way of being herself. From her, in a world of economic chaos and rationing, she also learns ways to provide for herself (and her mother, Irene) and begins growing her own food.

Gradually, Piper becomes part of a different community, where her talents are applauded. Her voice is found in her art. At the same time, many upheavals in her life create challenges, and she has to decide what is important to her.

Asphyxia’s gentle education of the reader is fascinating.

I was re-introduced to the sign language alphabet which I had played with at school, and found quite exhausting (imagine having to spell everything you want to say!). Her explanation of Auslan through Piper’s gradual introduction to ‘whole-word’ signs was eye-opening. I found the concept of how exhausting it is for a Deaf person using a hearing device and lip-reading thought-provoking too. (It reminded me of Being Jazmine by Cecily Paterson.)

The importance of community and belonging is another element ‘Future Girl’ raises. Just starting out with a local community garden myself, I found this a wonderful and warm attachment to the story. It was also timely in this COVID climate where relationships, separation and restrictions mark our current world. But there is so much more… it is impossible to deliver it all here!

Asphyxia ‘speaks’

This is a book you want to read, hug and re-read carefully. Absorb the ideas, the beautiful illustrations and the inspiration it gives us all. Inspiration to look at the world differently, with hope and with concern for those around us. (Recommended 14+)


# Asphyxia gave permission to include some of her stunning artwork – I hope this entices you to pick up a copy soon. There is so much to learn through the story and the personal notes from her at the end.

# A younger series she has written also displays her creative puppetry skills – the Grimstones, a gothic fairytale series introduced here. 

(Apologies for the quality of the photo images taken…)


Being creative: 1 – Anne Spudvilas

peasant-prince-coverAnne Spudvilas is the illustrator of ‘the Peasant Prince’ – the picture book derived from ‘Mao’s Last Dancer’ by Li Cunxin. At the recent Children’s Literature Festival, at Norman Lindsay’s Gallery (on March 20 and 21 2010), she described the journey she undertook to create this book with Li Cunxin.

The first task was to reduce a story, which was first published as an autobiography covering 450 pages…

 “During a holiday at Lorne, in Victoria, soon after he stopped dancing, a friend, Graeme Base, the children’s author and illustrator, persuaded him (Li Cunxin) to list the big turning points he had experienced. This 10-page “general sketch of my life” led to a deal with Penguin. Two years later, helped by two editors, he had expanded the sketch to 680,000 words, then cut them down to 160,000 covering 450 pages.”

(Neil Jillett September 6, 2003. Dance of the Peasant Prince. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/09/05/1062549014871.html)

For a picture book, this needed to be reduced further – to less than 40 pages! Quite a task! How do you do something like that?

Anne described the process she often follows as:

  • beginning with thumbnail sketches
  • creating a storyboard with these
  • revision with the author (Li Cunxin)
  • additions of descriptions to storyboards (filling out details)
  • use of a databank of images (to find faces, places and realistic detail of the story)
  • concertina of the storyboard (to see how it flows)
  • research into appropriate illustration techniques ( for ‘the Peasant Prince’, this included studying Chinese brush painting)
  • use of post-it notes to highlight details she needed to check for authenticity
  • continual revision  and review with the author

To create ‘the Peasant Prince’, Anne was fortunate to be able to travel to China for 3 ½ weeks, and be with Li Cunxin on one of his speaking tours. She was therefore able to see some of the places and indeed, meet some of the people he wrote about in his autobiography, firsthand. She was also given access to family photos and memorabilia which she used to bring a realistic feel to the book.

To contrast, Li’s poor beginnings in China, Anne used a low colour palette, including the use of found old newspapers illustrating the meagre inside of his family home. For Li’s life in the United States as a principal dancer with the Houston Ballet, she used vibrant richer colours in layers of oil paints and glazes. And the shine on his parents’ faces in the audience scene is glowing in the final pages to represent their great pride in the achievements of their son.

The journey of the illustrator is an interesting tale – a tale about revealing a tale – and the steps along the way are always exciting as they unfold. They are unique for each special book like ‘the Peasant Prince’ and inspiring to hear about. Thank you, Anne.

N.B. Recent titles illustrated by Anne Spudvilas (with links to her website) include:

Baby days | Covers | In my backyard | Jenny Angel | Woolvs in the Sitee