Category Archives: Picture book

Drawing on the Imagination

We need more ‘deprived’ picture books. That was one suggestion coming from the audience with Debi Gliori and Faye Hanson at Thursday lunch time. Theirs was the kind of event I find perfect;  for adults, by children’s books authors and illustrators. We should have more of these. Lots more.

Debi Gliori

Very nicely chaired by Kathryn Ross, we learned new things about Faye and Debi and how they work. And by ‘we’ I mean a whole theatre full of adults eager to hear about illustrating picture books. And when I say new things about Faye, I need to disclose that I knew nothing at all about her, and of course, that is one of the charms of this kind of thing. Go and hear someone speak about their work and suddenly you feel as if you are old friends.

Faye Hanson

Faye has only done two picture books so far, having had an earlier career in fashion with Alexander McQueen. She read a bit from Wonder, so I can’t totally claim not to have read her books. And the pictures are rather nice.

Debi ‘has lost count’ of the number of books she is responsible for. And it feels wrong with applause – as happened here – before she’s even spoken. She sat on the floor, the better to see her pictures from Hebridean Alphabet (which I’ve not had a chance to read…). The island in her book is a mix of several real ones, including Iona. She had to place her story in the past to get away with having two young children alone all day, out on the island, having fun, the way we used to.

There even had to be a pretend kayak, as you can’t have children playing on boats. Debi said she regretted giving the girl a beautiful Fair Isle cardigan, as it was a lot of hard work drawing, over and over. And as for the very patterned wallpaper, well…

The two illustrators had had a good discussion in the yurt before the event, and they agreed that what they draw comes from their own lives. And you need to put something more adult into a picture book, to keep the interest of the grown-ups who have to read these books to their children.

Kathryn suggested that children no longer have time to get bored, and Debi reckons ‘boredom is pretty creative.’ Every book begins with a picture in her mind, although – and here she was afraid of being hideously indiscreet – she once took an idea from an editor, because there was a mortgage to pay. With the US in mind, there must be no hedgehogs, no badgers and no red squirrels. In fact, Mr Bear was originally Mr Badger.

Faye feels it’s much easier to draw than to write, but hopes it might get easier with time. ‘Hell, no,’ Debi replied.

Debi Gliori

Someone asked if there is an age limit for reading picture books (if there is, I haven’t reached it yet), as her 10-year-old son needs to relax with a picture book when things feel hard. Debi said picture books make for great comfort reading, and of course we now also have graphic novels, aimed at older readers.

Another question referred back to what you can’t put in children’s books, because we now have different rules as to what children are allowed to do. Debi once had to remove a fridge, because of the potential danger to children getting locked in, and she was grateful to have had that pointed out to her. Faye had had to move a table lamp away from the edge of a table so it wouldn’t fall off. Whereas the problem with mice nestling in an electric blanket, the answer is that mice don’t read!

They were asked about their thoughts on the suitability of Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton today, with a view to safety and political correctness.

Faye Hanson

And then we arrived at the request for more picture books about deprived inner city areas and children in poorer districts. Somehow there are disproportionately many books set in the Highlands and Islands, with their beautiful scenery and seemingly idyllic lifestyles. Debi feels she’d quite like to, but wasn’t sure she had the right credentials, while Faye said that she comes from a poor background and definitely wants more of this in picture books, as she has done already.

Monday, Mounties, Metaphrog and the Makar

On my walk from Haymarket to Charlotte Square on Monday I was overtaken by a Mountie. This doesn’t happen often, and as this one was a fake, it might not even count. But still. That’s Edinburgh in August. Thank you kindly.

Just before the entrance to the book festival, I came across our new Makar, Jackie Kay, being photographed by a fan. On my way to a reception in the Party Pavilion, I first stopped by the signing tent to see who I could find. I had missed Philippa Gregory, but caught Dominic Hinde with his last fan. He’s written a book about Sweden, which I’ve not read, but is why I sort of knew he’d be there.

Dominic Hinde

Got to the party just as it was beginning, finding Debi Gliori in the queue by the door and had the nerve to ask her why she’d been invited… (For a good reason, I may add.) She was debating the impossibilty of removing more garments in the somewhat unexpected heat. It’s hard when you are down to your last cover.

Janet Smyth

We were there to eat scones and dainty sandwiches, and to hear about the book festival’s new-ish venture outside Charlotte Square and August, Book-ed. Janet Smyth introduced the speakers, who told us what had been happening, or was about to happen, in their home areas, primarily half a dozen new towns, including Irvine, Glenrothes and Cumbernauld. It seems that having the EIBF behind you means any venture stands a much better chance of success, so I believe we can look forward to many more little festivals here and there.

A wealthy Bookwitch would have offered to sponsor something on the spot, but in this case she merely had another piece of rather nice cake. Met a crime colleague, who was able to tell me what I did last August, which is something I increasingly need help with. To make the most of my invited status, I sat outside on the decking for a while, enjoying the sunshine.

Charlotte Square

It was going to be an afternoon of bookshop signing photos, and I hurried over to catch Nicola Davies and Petr Horáček (for a while I lost Petr’s lovely accents, which was worrying, but they have now been found again), who had so many young fans I didn’t stop to talk.

Nicola Davies

Petr Horacek

The really great thing about Charlotte Square is that someone built it near a good shoeshop, making it possible to pop out for new shoes whenever a gap presents itself. I found such a gap on Monday.

Richard Byrne

Back for Richard Byrne, who seems to be a very nice man, with a whole lot of lovely little fans. And then I crossed the square for Jackie Kay and Zaffar Kunial, checked out the sandwich situation, and went and had a chat with Sarah from Walker Books.

Zaffar Kunial

Jackie Kay

Refreshed from my brief rest, I braved the world of Harry Potter. Jim Kay, who is illustrating the books about the famous wizard, had a sold out event, which then filled the children’s bookshop. Although I couldn’t help noticing that those first in line were really quite old. I chatted to Jim’s chair, Daniel Hahn, who is so relaxed about travelling that he’d only just got off the train.

Jim Kay

After a little sit-down in the reading corner I was ready for Ross MacKenzie and Robin Jarvis. The latter had brought a skull. And with all three signings happening side by side, there was quite a crush. On the left side of the queue I encountered Ann Landmann, who told me she was feeling stupid. When she’d told me why, I also felt stupid, so it must have been an Ann thing. (We should have brought our copies of A Monster Calls. And we didn’t.)

Ross MacKenzie

Skull

My sandwich required eating, and I repaired to the yurt, before going zombie-hunting. Darren Shan was signing his Zom-B Goddess (and I can’t tell you how relieved I am I haven’t really started on his – undoubtedly excellent – books). His hair was extremely neatly combed. I liked the way Darren allowed time for chatting with his fans, initiating a discussion if they seemed shy. I can’t see how he’d have time to do it with all of them, but maybe he feels that those who’d waited to be first in line deserved a bit of extra attention.

Darren Shan

Over in the children’s bookshop I found Metaphrog still signing, and was pleased to see they look nice and normal. The name has always worried me a little…

Metaphrog

And then all I had left to do was get ready for Jo Cotterill and Kathryn Evans, which you’ve already read about. Listening to others in the queue, I got the impression, as with Michael Grant on Saturday, that many people buy tickets on the day for an event that sounds reasonably suitable, but might be with an author they’d not heard of before. I like that. It’s good to know you can discover a new favourite out of the blue.

Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World

Rather like Mariana, the young girl in Laurence Anholt’s new book about Frida Kahlo, I have been a little scared of Frida. She seems so different, and intimidating. She’s not, of course, and now both I and Mariana know this.

As in Laurence’s other books about famous artists, Mariana is a real child from Frida’s real life. Her father was a wealthy art collector, and Frida painted portraits of everyone in his family, and Mariana was the last to sit for Frida.

Laurence Anholt, Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World

During the time it took for her portrait to be painted, Mariana learned about Frida’s life, including the accident that almost killed her, and why Frida always wore long skirts, and about her husband Diego Rivera. By the end of the painting the two were firm friends. Not even the skeleton above Frida’s bed scared her any more.

I love these artist’s life books! I actually have a whole pile here at the moment, because I’ve been hoarding them. Frida Kahlo is new, but the ones about Matisse, Degas and Cézanne have recently been reissued and they are so enjoyable.

Laurence Anholt, Matisse: King of Colour

Matisse might have been my favourite. Except I really loved Degas. And Cézanne was touching. So I don’t know. Either all these artists were really special and lovely people, or Laurence knows how to make them appear so. I especially admire the way he uses children and young people close to the artists to show what they were like as human beings, and not just the way we view these famous painters now. Life wasn’t always a bed of roses back when the painting was happening.

I do like Matisse’s chapel!

The Great Big Body Book

One phrase in The Great Big Body Book really jumped out at me; ‘we are more alike than different.’ Those are the kind of words we need to come across more often, the way things are.

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, The Great Big Body Book

The Great Big Body Book is the latest in a row of Great books by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, who do a Great job of putting fun and interesting facts together and then providing pictures to help us see better. The body is so simple, in a way. You have the outside, the inside and the skeleton. Interesting bits can be found in all three.

And did you know your dentist was once a baby? (Mine is still about 22, so that wasn’t such a long time ago.) I’m glad only 8% of people have blue eyes, having grown up in a place where being a brown-eyed beauty felt all wrong and boring.

And don’t get me started on colours! I bought a purple and orange (girl’s) t-shirt for the toddler Son, and had Daughter’s credentials as a girl queried by someone who felt her neutral coloured coat was wrong. Had there not been a few navy blue flowers to rescue her, she’d probably still be a boy.

It’s normal for teens to spend hours looking in the mirror, but no, that fat man is not pregnant. Older people are not necessarily useless, and we will remember our dear ones who have died.

At the back there is an illustration of Mary and Ros. I didn’t know Ros is tall and thin. I know Mary is short, but she is definitely not round. But whatever their shapes, they have yet again made a rather lovely book.

Oi Dog!

It’s not often I laugh out loud when reading picture books. This was one of those rare occasions.

I didn’t read Oi Frog!, but its sequel Oi Dog! is a lot of fun. Words (and what words!) by Kes and Claire Gray, and scene stealing illustrations by Jim Field, tell us what happens after (the frog, I presume).

Jim Field and Kes & Claire Gray, Oi Dog!

It starts with the dog sitting on the frog. Obviously. The dog likes sitting on the frog, because when you do, they go ‘plurppppppppppp.’ Obviously.

The cat believes the rules as to who sits on what or whom are set, but frog decides to change this. Dogs are to sit on logs. Not on frogs.

And after that there is no end to the rhyming the frog can do. Or, for that matter, how many animals you can come up with and rhyming things they can sit on; puppies on guppies and poodles on noodles.

Great stuff, and I can imagine it would be even more fun if you actually had a child in the room with you when you read. (Well, I did, but he’s pretty old and he was busy opening new bank accounts for me at the time…)

Guess what frogs get to sit on now?

Board classics

Tony Ross has two new boardbooks out, which I think is slightly younger than his usual picture books. They are Goldilocks and the Three Bears, and Jack and the Beanstalk.

Yes, you’ve heard of them before, haven’t you? I think it’s pretty good, actually. It’s sort of the baby version of dyslexia books for older readers; introducing something that the reader isn’t able to ‘read’ in its normal form.

Tony Ross, Goldilocks and the Three Bears

They are not Tony’s stories, obviously, but are re-told simply, accompanied by Tony’s illustrations. They are even divided into little chapters, in that there are board tabs showing what’s to be found if you open the book right there. So you want an axe, you can see where to go, or if it’s Little Bear’s empty bowl you require.

For the technically capable there is a code on the back cover to scan and get a free audio fairy tale. But don’t let that stop you from reading to your parents! There’s nothing like a live voice while turning the stiff pages. They are just right!

The 2016 medals

I was witchier than I thought, yesterday morning. Chris Riddell reported being on his way to the Carnegie ceremony, and I thought to myself ‘he’s not won, has he?’ and ‘no, he’s just going because he’s the children’s laureate.’ It was early. I couldn’t remember who was on the shortlist and who not.

And then I forgot to watch the live presentation of the awards, having only thoughts for my dinner, so I had to consult social media for the results, and watched later. Never having made it to one of these events, it was fun being able to see what goes on, and to hear the winners’ speeches rather than read them.

Sarah Crossan

One won! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Sarah Crossan’s novel in verse, about conjoined twins, is one I’ve not read, and I was so expecting The Lie Tree to win, that I didn’t speculate that much, even in private. Sarah’s speech was a great one, partly in verse, and it seems she might have brought up her daughter in verse, too. Sarah ended with a few poetic lines about an MP needing to use the toilets at the library, which is something they ought to think about before closing them all down.

Chris Riddell

Chris Riddell, who did win [the Kate Greenaway medal] after all, for The Sleeper and the Spindle (with Neil Gaiman), also spoke about how crazy our dear leaders are, and how children should be allowed to read without having to be tested on it, and all that. This children’s launderette (I believe this is a private joke) praised all his co-shortlistees, pointing out how talented they are, and reminiscing about kindnesses shown him in the past, and how he doesn’t like Campari.

‘Reading gives you ideas.’

And that’s presumably what worries them.