Categories
Everything else

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses : Ian Falconer

DCIM100MEDIA

This is Olivia. Olivia is awesome. This book is awesome. I shall be using awesome quite a lot throughout this review, so I just wanted to warn you in advance.

I want you to take a moment and think about every signal that that front cover is giving you about how it wants to be read. About how it should be read, really, it’s more than want somehow. I want you to think about the colours used. I want you to think about the fact that there is only a title. I want you to think about the size of that title and of the shift of fonts. I want you to read it out loud and try to read that title as the fonts and the size and the placement is asking you to read it. Everything on a perfect cover like this is done for a reason. Everything. And there is everything on this cover and it is just being given to you on a plate.

Olivia first page
Olivia first page

And then we have this. What I want you to take from this page (apart from sheer genuine delight at how perfect a picture book can be and how it can say so much with one single page) is the idea of placement. This is a fairly well sized book. There’s a lot of page. And here we have Olivia, slap bang in the middle of the first page, right in the centre of your eyeline and she is suffering from the weight of the world (embodied by this heavy and close text, right above her) and it is awesome. It is a page that is just perfect and every time I look at it, I crack up. Genuinely. (And if you’re interested more about placement and white space, go and have a look at what I thought of ‘Ellen and Penguin’ by Clara Vulliamy which is a divine example of such a thing).

So. We have a book that in two short moments (for we must always include the front cover in such a consideration) has given us everything. It’s given us Olivia; a pig who is so glorious that her character spills from every line drawn. She is exuberant. Vivid. And she is, as that title has told us, quite definitely a star.

This book is full of transcendent moments. I won’t spoil the plot (because really, the beats of Falconer’s storytelling are something quite delightful and that should be experienced first hand). I will, however, leave you with some more moments.

And the word awesome.

Because this book really is.

DCIM100MEDIADCIM100MEDIADCIM100MEDIA

God I love this book.

You can view all the other picture books in depth posts here (and that tag also includes my a-z of picture book terminology – all the things I think about when I review a picture book).

Categories
Everything else Theory

An A-Z of Picture Book Terminology

I’ve been thinking about these posts from Sarah McIntyre and how I work with picture books.

I could talk, quite happily about picture books all day and I’m very conscious that when I start going on about recto and verso and page turns and white space that it’s a language quite foreign to many. So, in an effort to address that – here we are. I’ve had a go at putting down an A-Z of picture book terminology. It’s not exhaustive, nor is it perfect, but it is a reflection of all the things I think about when I’m looking at picture books. It is, perhaps, a conversation starter. Please feel free to adapt and utilise if you think it’s of use for yourself and your purposes (ps – I’d be v interested to hear if you do use it!).

Have a look at the #picturesmeanbusiness tag on Twitter for more about this campaign.

Categories
Everything else

Bernard : Rob Jones

Bernard Front Cover
Bernard Front Cover

The debut title from Beast In Show Books, this picture book promises great things. Written and illustrated by Rob Jones, it tells the story of Bernard a ‘misunderstood wild hound’ who just wants to eat strawberry jam.

Categories
Book Reviews

TiN : Chris Judge

TiN front cover
figure one: TiN front cover with unintentional moody lighting

A book which give me good endpapers is basically my literary equivalent of “You had me at hello.” Good endpapers are a mark of clever work, work that revels in the nature of what it is and knows how to fully utilise that space. I mean, picture books are books that, perhaps more than most, have space to play in. You can do so much here. So much.

Categories
Book Reviews

Nuts in Space : Elys Dolan

Before we start, I think you need to know two things.

1.  I think I’m a little bit in love with what Nosy Crow do with their picture books.

2. I am very much a fan of what Elys Dolan does. I loved Weasels and when I saw Nuts In Space, I shrieked and leapt across the library with joy.

I had high hopes for Nuts In Space, and it delivered. It delivered best, I think, at 4.30pm this afternoon, when I was having another look at Nuts In Space and figuring out what I wanted to say about it because it was at this point that I saw the little detail on the ship in the bottom right hand corner of the title spread. (fig 1).

And when I saw that Nosy Crow number plate (space plate?), I thought – well, I’m in love.

Categories
Book Reviews

Chicken Clicking : Jeanne Willis & Tony Ross

sdfsd
Front Cover

Chicken Clicking is a picture book from the amazing pairing of Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross. The back catalogue of these two authors is a solidly joyous thing, so I was very pleased to receive this from Andersen Press for review. It’s a joy, really. I like wallowing in picture books. I like it when they’re provacative and clever and funny. I liked this. May I tell you why and how?

DCIM100MEDIA
Fig 1: “Once there was a little chick / Chirpy, chirpy, cheep.”
DCIM100MEDIA
Fig 2: “The third night came and just the same / The chicken went online.” “She ordered scooters for all the sheep / and skates for all the swine”
Categories
Book Reviews

Interplay in ‘the yes’ by Sarah Bee and Satoshi Kitamura

I have been aching to do another picture book in depth post for a while now. Whilst I know picture books aren’t the main focus of this blog, they are one of my great and genuine joys and they are something very, very important. Picture books are our introduction to literacy. They’re read by us in so many ways as our reading ability develops, and as such they have to work on a ridiculous amount of levels. They have to reward the adult reader. The child pre-literate. The child emerging literate. The child literate. And quite often they do that with maybe a handful of words, or none.

Picture books are extraordinary.

Front cover of 'the yes'
A) Front cover of ‘the yes’

And I think that the yes stands proud up there with the best of them.

Categories
Book Reviews

Open Very Carefully : Nicola O’Byrne & Nick Bromley

Open Very Carefully: A Book with BiteOpen Very Carefully: A Book with Bite by Nick Bromley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am thinking about Christmas and whether I focus on it on the blog a little with it being, well, the run up towards Christmas. The problem I have is that I think there’s not really any specific book I would reccomend you purchase as a present (for, I hope, if it were worth featuring, I would feature it irrespective of it’s present potential and of the time of year) and I’m not particularly timely with my reccomendations at times (what with being wed to my library and their purchasing patterns). So I think, perhaps, what I can and will do is this.

I will feature books like Open Very Carefully : A Book With Bite and I shall feature them because of what they do. And in a way, it’s through that ‘what they do’ that they earn their worth. One of the greatest things I could ask you to think about and to give to others if you can or want to, is a confidence with reading. I think sometimes we are afraid of reading, wrapping it up in an inapproachable mysticism and books full of dull and worthy ‘let’s learn to read today, kids!’. I learnt to read a long time ago, but I did not learn the difference between active and passive reading until fairly recently.

And that difference is embodied in books like this. Open Very Carefully is an imprint from the increasingly impressive Nosy Crow publishing house and it is, at first, a very simple looking picture book. The paper is weighty, the art fairly straightforward and as we go in, it appears we’ll be reading a book called ‘The Ugly Duckling’. But that title’s been scribbled across and the words: OPEN VERY CAREFULLY are scrawled across the double page spread.

(This is perhaps my only issue with Open Very Carefully in that it flirts on the edge of brilliance. I almost want it to go one step beyond – to have this ‘The Ugly Duckling’ as the front page spread instead of the actual cover. It’s a little bit back to front, with a front cover telling us what the book is inside and then we step back to read what it was and then we read what it is. I long for that front cover to be this spread with the wording wrapped around it like police hazard tape and daring us to go inside. It is so close to brilliant this book).

Once we start reading, we discover that the innocent story of The Ugly Duckling has been invaded. There is a CROCODILE in this book: “A Really big scary one!” This is when Open Very Carefully starts to make my heart sing. We have the Crocodile eating letters (“I think his favourite letters to eat are O and S”) which means that we have moments like: “St p! / Mr Cr c dile!” / Y u can’t eat the letter !”). We have to rock the book: “backwards and forwards” to rock the crocodile to sleep. This level of audience participation continues throughout: “Maybe if you shake the book he’ll / fall / out.” It’s glorious stuff – and it’s through this level of interactive reading, this, for want of a better phrase, of getting up close and personal with the book, that makes readers confident. You’re showing them the power of words – and what’s more important is that you’re showing them that they – that they, themselves can do this. They can make it happen!

Now that I think about it, Open Very Carefully really is a bit of a gift. Through clever storytelling and beautiful construction (the ‘cut-outs’ towards the end are very nicely done), and some very subtly provocative text, we have something rather special. It’s not Christmasy at all (perhaps the bobble hat on the duckling gives it a Winter flavour?) but it is one of the cleverest picture books I’ve read for a long time. Reminiscent of the great, great “Who’s afraid of the big bad book”, Open Very Carefully is very close to perfect.

View all my reviews

Categories
Book Reviews

Weasels : Elys Dolan

This is my first Nosy Crow book. I’ve come across the work of Nosy Book a lot already, what with loving their blog and their books when I’ve seen them (and, er, borrowed them) from the hands of my friends and relatives children. And the thing about them, the standard brilliant thing about them, is that they’ve all been really good. High quality books lovingly produced which are all, to be blunt, really really good.

Fig 1: Front Cover
Fig 1: Front Cover

Trust me when I say it’s taken me too long to get to reviewing a Nosy Crow book and it really shouldn’t take you as long as it took me. I am beyond happy that my first  is Weasels by Elys Dolan.

This Bletchley-Bond-Hank Scorpio hybrid of a book which features the titular weasels throughout is very, very good.  And, I think, it all starts on the front cover (fig 1) as good picture books like these tend to do. See those weasels? They’re made of a slightly shinier paper than the rest of the front cover and what that means is they are tactile. You feel the weasels and see them catching the light on the front page. The title and author are done in the same shinier paper.

Remember, in these books, it’s all about the incentives. We want these books to be read and dwelled upon. We want these books to be touched and pawed and combed over, and it’s the simple things, the simple yet madly clever things such as making the weasels stand out, that do that. This is clever, smart production.

And production matters, and it matters so much because it shows value and respect and belief in the contents of the book. The content of Weasels is content worth dwelling on. And it is. And you’ve got that all just by closing your eyes and running your finger over the front cover.

Fig 2: Endpapers (Front)
Fig 2: Endpapers (Front)

So let’s open our eyes and actually have a look at the book itself. There’s a lot going on here and it’s a book that rewards rereading. It rewards dwelling on and tracing all of the narratives threading through. You know that person you know who says picture books are easy simple things? They’re not. They’re possibly one of the hardest forms of children’s literature out there.

Just have a look at the practically edible front endpapers (fig 2) . These are the bits between the front cover and the actual internal title page and copyright blurb. They can sometimes be a dead space, caught in library stamps and padding, but Dolan’s created at least sixteen (sixteen!) tiny beautiful moments here. I’ll repeat that again. Sixteen tiny, beautiful frames of a story and you’ve not even got to the ‘actual’ story yet.  (Sixteen, if not more!!!)

I really loved Dolan’s art in this. It’s so clever in the smallest of spaces. She’s got a real gift for the moment, capturing the awkward, the funny and witty all in the briefest of beats. She gives you so much and never, ever goes for the easy way out. In one scene in particular, where the lights go out, we have one weasel saying with a bit of bemusement, “Why is there a wet patch here?” and then, in the next spread, we see the white weasel (a beautiful recurrent thread throughout the book) nonchalantly whistling as it clears up a broken mug.

Fig 3: Coffee
Fig 3: Coffee

And the coffee! Oh God, the coffee! There’s elements of this book that are beautiful and brilliant and very cleverly aimed for the adults to enjoy and I think that one of those threads is coffee. I refer you in particular to Fig 3 (which, though the picture is a little rubbish, I hope you can still make out). It’s one of many, many equally glorious moments throughout this book but this genuinely had me cracking up. It’s something about the way the top weasel goes “My mocha!” and the bottom one is just caught in his appalled reaction.

This book is very lovely and very good. I hugely reccommend it, and I’m so glad I finally broke my Nosy Crow weasel duck.

You can read previous picture books in depth posts here, and there’s a really fascinating post from Dolan here on the creative process behind Weasels.

Categories
Book Reviews Theory

Rhythm and Rhyme in Madeline

Rhythm is a comforting thing in picture books. At a stage when the reader is pre-literate, or developing their literacy, and the book is being delivered in the norm by another, literate, individual, the aural nature of language comes to prominence. Or, to be less wordy, rhythm and rhyme are deliciously divine.

Categories
Everything else

Slog’s Dad : David Almond and Dave McKean

You know, sometimes, how a book catches you? How it sits there very quietly until you notice it and then, just, holds you to it? This is one of those books.

I’ve talked about the wonder of David Almond before, and about his skill in capturing the quiet, and yet somehow immense, magic of the everyday. He makes me rampantly, vividly, awfully,  jealous of his skill. If you look back at his books that I’ve reviewed (The SavageMy Name Is MinaMouse Bird Snake Wolf), they’re all five stars. All of them. Joyously, incredibly so. And I love his work with Dave McKean. I love it with a passion that startles me. I love  the bravery of it, the wild darkness, the just-that-little-bit-on-edge feel of a McKean line. I love that they are producing such intensely superb, challenging, heart-breaking, lovely books.

It is because of that, all of that, that I am beyond thrilled to be able to talk about Slog’s Dad with you in this  post (and I am hugely indebted to Walker Books for giving me permission to use the enclosed images which truly do justice to this book). This post is the first of two which will come at the book at slightly different angles. The second post in the series is a perspective on the book from my incredibly talented friend Jackie Grant, a trained bereavement counsellor (coming tomorrow!).

Categories
Book Reviews Theory

The eyes have it : “Hugless Douglas” by David Melling

Front cover
Front cover

Can I talk to you about Hugless Douglas?

Firstly, I need to give you a bit of background. This book is not one to read when you are feeling remotely hormonal. I read it, and I sobbed. Hugless Douglas broke me in a very good way. It’s a simple, emotional and beautifully told story.

And it’s one that, I think, is all about the eyes.

Categories
Theory

The use of paratexts in Egg by Alex T Smith

” Fig. 1: Front Cover

This is ‘Egg’ by Alex T Smith. It is very very lovely (as is all of his work) but what makes this one shine (and inspired this post) is the use of paratexts in this book.

“Paratexts?” I hear you say, “What are these paratexts you talk of?”

Take a seat my intrigued friend!

Categories
Overviews Theory

The use of Framing and Composition in Ellen and Penguin : Clara Vulliamy

I’ve spoken before about how much I love Clara Vulliamy’s skill with picture books. She’s got an awareness and respect – and love – for the medium that translates into some very good and very smart books. It was with some excitement when I discovered Ellen and Penguin and the New Baby nestling on the bottom shelves of my library.

Ellen and Penguin and the New Baby is a very sensitive and  charming book that is practically a lesson in frames and composition. So I thought I’d share some of that with you by looking at how Ellen is treated throughout the book.

Categories
Book Reviews

Martha and the Bunny Brothers : Clara Vulliamy

DCIM101MEDIA
(1) Front Cover

I’ve been wanting to do a slightly more in-depth review of a picture book for a while, and when I came across the very gorgeous Martha and the Bunny Brothers by Clara Vulliamy it felt like the perfect opportunity.

What I want this post to do is give you a bit of background on how I read picture books. I don’t have children. I don’t read them with children. I read them in a sort of different manner that I think is worthy of examination.

So where do I start? I take a look at the plot, briefly, but usually I start by looking at the front cover (1). The front cover of a picture book is vital. The intended audience is quite often pre/emerging literates and so the words may mean very little. It’s about the feel. And this feels gorgeous. It makes me smile. Hugely. I love how the little I ❤ School motif on the bottom, right in the centre has a distinct exercise book / name label quality to it , what with the little dashes underneath and the carefully formed lettering on top of it. There’s a lot to be said as well about the exuberance of the bunnies. We have Martha and her brothers, all of them smiling and arms outspread. This is such an open moment, these rabbits aren’t hiding anything from you. They want you here. This book wants you here. It would be rude not to read it.

DCIM101MEDIA
(2) Page One

Once inside, we immediately see this (2). There’s a lot here that’s making me happy. The bold felt-tip pen colours continue (which I like, feeling instantly drawn back to school), and we start to see shapes being introduced. One recurrent motif turns out to be these scalloped edged circles. I really enjoy the dialogue between the pink circles on the left hand side – one, two, three “That’s me!”. There’s an exuberance in that movement, stretching all the way across the double page spread, pulling the reader visually to a bright and exciting discovery at the end of it. I also love the way that Martha errupts from the inside of her own circle. That springy sense of ‘I’m here!’, the way she doesn’t quite fit in her circle, she’s too big for it. I love that – the construction of an image that is, in its own way, as complicated as the highest of textual metaphor. To discover it so early in a book is reassuring to say the least.

(3) Page 2/3
(3) Page 2/3

The next double page spread (3) is the moment that I know this book has got me. And it’s a very specific moment. It’s in this little section (4), right by the spine, where Martha says that she likes doodling, and the way the typography slides, very gloriously right through to the ‘background’ of the page, and the doodles spin off into the page. I love books that acknowledge their form, that connect the front image with the back, and acknowledge the glorious potential of these layers of image.

(4) Doodling close-up
(4) Doodling close-up

I mean, it’s glorious. This book is so lovely and put together with such a genuine love for the subject and the medium, that it’s a rampant pleasure to read. Moments such as (5) where the story slides into the picture frames set against a rabbit Toile de Jouy is lovely. It’s a play on the overly formal living room setting, cheekily undermined by Paws racing across the bottom with a shoe in his mouth.

And so this is the moment where I make my decision, and it’s balanced on all of this. It’s balanced on how a book makes me feel, on whether I go through it with a smile, of whether I’m intrigued and excited, of whether I’m surprised about what comes next. It’s also thinking about whether I’d like other people to see it, to enjoy it, to feel like what I did. And it’s about thinking about how I’d feel if I saw it in the hands of my niece or nephews, or my friend’s baby. It’s about thinking what I want this books journey to be in the world.

(5) Picture frames
(5) Picture frames

But, sometimes, all of that doesn’t matter. Not at all. Because sometimes a book just makes you feel intensely happy that it exists and that’s what has happened here. I’m sold.  I was sold ever since I saw those pink circles, that doodling beat, and the way the book is so furiously happy in what it is.

Martha, I really really like you. You made me proper happy.