Woutertje Pieterse Prijs to a bizarrely invented travel book

From a distance it looks like a huge ladybug, bigger than two man’s fists. When you come closer you see that the apparent wings are only a red-spotted fur marking. And that the six legs have claws at the ends, and that the animal has a bear’s snout. This is the Coccinellursus hexapedus, the ‘lady bear’, one of the many animal species on the as yet unexplored ‘continent’ Terra Ultima. ‘Explorer’ Raoul Deleo explored it on three expeditions, capturing the animals in photographic-realistic drawings. Behold the ‘Gorillrus’ (a man-sized anthropoid with tusks like a seal), the ‘Coral leopard’ (a predatory limestone skeleton with holes instead of dots), the ‘honey-mouthed ringworm’ (a large caterpillar with a pointed beak like a hummingbird) – and much more.

All those 45 animals, all his ‘discoveries’, have been brought together in what was voted the best children’s book of the year on Saturday: Terra Ultima† Raoul Deleo’s quirky first children’s book received the Woutertje Pieterse Prize 2022 in the radio program The Language State by Frits Spits. The prize, an amount of 15,000 euros, is, in addition to the Gouden Griffel and the Boon prize for children’s literature, the most important annual award for a Dutch children’s or youth book. Deleo let fellow nominees like Anna Woltz (The tunnel), Annet Schaap (the girls) and Erna Sassen (Without title) behind them.

‘Terra Ultima’ proves that science and imagination can go hand in hand beautifully

Jury Woutertje Pieterse Prize

Flamingo deer

Terra Ultima. The Discovery of an Unknown Continent is a book that offers ‘an unforgettable reading experience’, according to the jury, and ‘a book that can be read as an ode to the imagination and that dances on the high waves of the adventure between appearance and being’. That adventure already begins with the author(s): the book is said to have been ‘compiled and introduced’ by one Noah J. Stern. He presents himself in the book as Deleo’s ‘archivist’, curator of his discoveries on the continent that resides somewhere “between Alaska and Asia”. In any case, the person behind the book is the Rotterdam illustrator Raoul de Leeuw (1968), who has been using Raoul Deleo as a pseudonym for some time now. In 2017 he already exhibited his drawings of invented animals – from the sea toad jellyfish to the olilifeniks – in the Natural History Museum Rotterdam.

Those animals, now brought together in this imaginary travelogue annex bestiary, look as natural as they are bizarre. The Giraffe Giraffe: A giant snail with the head of a giraffe. The Flamingo Deer: Its bright pink wings and neck are feathered, but the head and legs are those of a young deer. The twin toucan crab has two toucan beaks where you expect claws.

Dromopteryx Elephoenicus
Raoul Deleo and Noah J. Stern/ Lannoo Publishers
Pages from ‘Terra Ultima’ by Raoul Deleo and Noah J. Stern.
Raoul Deleo and Noah J. Stern/ Lannoo Publishers

Optical illusion

The illustrator often winks at familiar images – a reason for the jury to Terra Ultima as a book “binding generations together.” For example, the ‘rabbit guinea pig’ is a variation on the optical illusion in which both a duck and a rabbit can be recognized. Deleo’s project could also be seen as the artistic interpretation of the game in which one person draws an animal head, folds the leaf, and the following players have the following players draw a center piece and base – leading to bizarre combinations. Children’s literature included the imaginary bestiaries Tjibbe Tjabbes’ world trip (2008) by Harm de Jonge, Sylvia Weve’s Log of hitherto unknown animals (2018) before him, while Deleo’s drawing style is in line with the hyper-detailed surrealism of illustrators Peter van den Ende (vortex) and Shaun Tan (The arrivalCicada

Deleo’s book also offers a layered story, which weaves together truth and condensation just as seamlessly as the illustrations combine the different animal species – proof, according to the jury of the Woutertje Pieterse Prize, “that science and imagination can go hand in hand” . Terra Ultima is therefore also the work of an enthusiast who likes to show ‘perfect nature’. In the fantasy world between the covers of this book it doesn’t matter that the real world is perhaps more unruly and uglier.

Peripatus mellirostratusfrom ‘Terra Ultima’ by Raoul Deleo and Noah J. Stern.

Raoul Deleo and Noah J. Stern/ Lannoo Publishers

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