Don’t Cross the Line, text by Isabel Minhós Martins, illustrated by Bernardo P. Carvalho, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn
English language edition published in 2016 by Gecko Press
General Alcazar dresses in an olive-drab officer’s coat strewn with colorful military medals. His jutting officer’s cap adds height and swagger; his sturdy boots are planted in a firm stance. The General is a toothy fellow with a loud mouth that barks out orders, his fists staunch at his hips, elbows flaring out with authority. Don’t mess with me.
When things look like getting out of hand, the General mounts his powerful black steed. What an imposing sight. Horse snorting, mighty hooves pawing the air, reined back into a towering height. The General’s face contorts with anger, glaring at troublemakers. Soldiers with rifles line up behind him, ready to carry out his fierce orders.
What has upset the General?
At the outset of this most unusual, provocative picture book, the General issues an order to one lone guardsman. “This is how it’s going to be. I give the orders around here!” he screams.
The order, apparently, is that the right-hand side of each two-page spread in the book must be kept completely clear, blank, snowy-white, for the general, just on the off chance that he might want to wander in there beyond reach of the riff-raff. Incongruous, arbitrary as it may seem, that’s the wish of the general and it must be followed.
As the other citizens of this oppressive society come wandering into view – bicyclists, soccer-players, moms and kids, a honey bear, a grunf – the guard dutifully restrains them from the blank page.
The left page grows ever more crowded as everyone crams into the space allotted them. Folks become more agitated as their plans and dire needs are quashed. “Why can’t we cross the line?!” The guard is feeling a lot of pressure here.
What happens next?
Coming out of Portugal, this remarkable, powerful story brilliantly conveys the strangling oppression of authoritarian regimes and of any figure in power — politicians; business leaders; religious leaders, perhaps? maybe some teachers? parents, even? — whose selfish dictates compromise the welfare of those in their charge.
Definitely one of the most intriguing, thought-provoking books I’ve seen this year. Gloriously quirky illustrations galvanize our affection for The People and keep us rooting for the small guy. It’s a conversation-starter for folks ages 2 to 100.