Tag Archives: Art

Katie’s Picture Show

This is the last (of my pile) of James Mayhew’s picture books about Katie, but I understand that it was James’s first one, which was re-issued a couple of years ago to celebrate 25 years of Katie misbehaving in art galleries. ‘Katie had never been to an art gallery before,’ but it might as well have said something about Katie never having climbed into famous works of art before.

James Mayhew, Katie's Picture Show

Here we discover how she began (after all, how do you find out you can climb into art?), and it does explain why she has continued her art visitations ever since. I sympathise with Grandma who needs to sit down as soon as they arrive. It’s what I do, too.

In Katie’s Picture Show Katie meets some of the best known art, art that even I have seen in real life. But none of this spilling tea on elegant French ladies or stealing pieces of cake, shifting her booty from picture to picture. She helps herself to quite a lot of food, but then I’ve never before considered that people – or tigers – in pictures might be hungry. Or bored and lonely, wanting a conversation or a play session.

James Mayhew, Katie's Picture Show

Modern art, on the other hand, can prove dangerously slippery, and Katie ‘didn’t want to be eaten by a piece of modern art.’ That particular escapade shows us that the guards in the art gallery aren’t such complete idiots after all. This one knew exactly what Katie was up to.

(So it might not merely be Katie’s personal talent, but a more general magic. Don’t touch the displays!)

The Greystones Press

It’s not every day that a new publishing company is born. The Greystones Press is a brand new publisher’s of quality books, started by Mary Hoffman and her husband Stephen Barber.

Very sensibly they are sticking to what they care about most, which is literature, art, music, history, mythology and fairy tales. This will sound silly, but I feel quite excited at the thought of this, in a world too full of publishing companies who concentrate on, well, other things. And it’s because they do, that people like Mary and Stephen are needed. They want to publish the kind of books that won’t necessarily appeal to everyone, or sell in vast numbers. (Although it’d obviously be nice if they did.)

We’ve got used to self-publishing by now. Authors who either can’t get commercially published, or who want to have some level of control over what happens to their books, publish either ebooks and/or print copies. But most of them don’t go all the way and start something that will publish other people’s books as well.

This is quite a brave thing to do, but then where would we be if no one tried something new occasionally? Mary clearly has a lot of experience after her years of writing over a hundred books. One of them, the one about David, is going to be part of their first list, and it’s a book that personifies what The Greystones Press stands for. They also have plans for translated novels later on, which I look forward to.

Among the other first books will be Seven Miles of Steel Thistles by Katherine Langrish, whose knowledge of fairy tales I have long been in awe of, and here she will expand on what she’s been writing about for several years on her blog with the same name.

Mary also has a YA/adult crossover book for The Greystones Press, called Shakespeare’s Ghost, which rather suitably will be published on April 23rd. Jules Cashford and Kate Snow complete the first list of books this spring.

3, 2, 1… Draw!

Who doesn’t want to draw in books?

I can still remember the secret thrill of doing just that, many years ago. Either hoping to improve some of the existing artwork, or playing libraries, and ‘having to’ draw the library stamps…

Serge Bloch, 3, 2, 1... Draw!

Well, in 3, 2, 1… Draw! by Serge Bloch you can. It’s – almost – the whole purpose of his picture book. An invitation to draw clothes peg crocodiles, book covers, scary eyes, or anything else that tickles your fancy.

Serge Bloch, 3, 2, 1... Draw!

Serge provides photographs of all sorts of things from tomatoes and conkers to prickly pot plants and empty picture frames. He has then drawn suggestions for what you might want to draw yourself, so you can either copy his crazy ideas, or you come up with even better ones and draw them instead.

It’s very tempting.

I can see one drawback to a book that gives you permission to do those forbidden things, however. It might give you a taste for more, and before you know it, you’ll be merrily drawing away in any old book you find.

But that’s between you and your mother.

Fire Colour One

It’s been too long. I’ve missed Jenny Valentine, but she’s been ill. And that’s why she knows how to write a book like Fire Colour One. Finding Violet Park was about death, and so is this one. And it’s also about life.

Jenny Valentine, Fire Colour One

Iris is a teenage ‘arsonist.’ No, perhaps that is too strong a term for what she does, but there’s no getting away from the fact that Iris likes setting fire to things. She feels better when there is fire.

Her rather uncaring and unpleasant mother and stepfather don’t exactly help. After many years in the US they have returned to Britain, and as luck would have it, Iris’s long lost super wealthy father is lying on his death bed. In her mother’s eyes this means a great potential inheritance, so off they go to visit and to get a closer look at all those lovely paintings Ernest owns. Iris would rather not go, since she feels she doesn’t know this man who abandoned her as a toddler.

But he doesn’t die immediately, and they get to know each other a bit. We also learn a few things about Iris in America, about some of her fires, as well as her only friend, Thurston, who’s been lost in the move, and whom she can’t contact.

You can guess at some of what will happen in this book, but I didn’t see the really big thing coming. Fire Colour One is a lovely, life affirming story, despite Iris’s fondness for matches and dry stuff. Jenny’s writing really is magic.

Katie and the Starry Night

Here is Katie, back in the art gallery, back causing mayhem, in James Mayhew’s Katie and the Starry Night. Which, as any old person will know, is about Vincent van Gogh, and you probably know all the words to the song as well.

Katie’s Grandma feels sleepy, so ‘rests’ on a bench while Katie looks at a painting with lots of stars in. And she helps herself to one of them. After which mayhem breaks loose, as the stars float away, out of the picture, with Katie in hot pursuit.

James Mayhew, Katie and the Starry Night

In order to catch them she needs the help of various people from some other of Vincent’s paintings, as well as implements such as chairs and ladders and fishing nets. Luckily the people in the paintings are helpful and up for anything, so those stars are eventually caught and returned to where they belong.

In turn, Katie and every reader now knows these works of art rather intimately.

I know I say this every time, but I felt especially close to this story. I used to be very fond of van Gogh. In fact, during my year as a student in Brighton, there was a van Gogh in my bedroom, and for a while I was awfully worried it was the genuine deal.

Numbers, or is it art?

One, three, forty, eighty, one hundred. This Numbers book by artist Paul Thurlby might be ‘simply’ a children’s picture book to teach them numbers.

Paul Thurlby, Numbers

But I don’t think so. It’s art. The adult in me could – almost – be willing to tear the pages out and frame them. Luckily I have no wall space left.

Most books that teach young children numbers go to ten. This one goes to one hundred, by doing one to ten and then the tens up to a hundred. (So you get more for your money…)

Paul Thurlby, Numbers

There is nothing average about these pictures. Take four, for instance. You get the Beatles, the Fab Four, no less. (I just have to tear that one out!)

I know nothing about retro-modern Paul, but it seems he’s also responsible for Alphabet, and I bet that’s wonderful to look at, too.

You don’t need a child for this book.

Katie and the Impressionists

I suspect Grandma. Too much funny business happens when Katie is with her. This time it’s her birthday, and Katie wants to find some flowers for Grandma. Where better than in a work of art?

James Mayhew, Katie and the Impressionists

I can’t think of a more fun way of introducing young readers to classical art than to show them James Mayhew’s books. They will learn without even realising.

In this book Katie jumps in and out of Impressionist paintings, covering quite a few famous works of art. I wish I’d known it was possible to do this, back when I used to return to the Courtauld Insititute every time I was in London. Those were the days!

It’s so interesting the way James can shape an actual story out of several paintings, making a coherent plot as Katie falls in and out of masterpieces. The last tiny picture is really very clever indeed.

Happy New Bear

We all – well, most of us – have, or have had, a bear in our lives.

In Something About a Bear Jackie Morris uses her customary fabulous art to tell the reader about bears. It’s not so much a picture book as art, really. (With a bit of reference on the side.)

On eight double spreads, Jackie introduces the reader to eight different wild bears, shown in what I take to be their natural habitats. And at the end of the book she has written eight short paragraphs of facts about these beautiful creatures.

But as she so rightly points out, we generally have a bear that is most special to us; our very own teddy bear. That is the best bear of all.

Jackie Morris, Something About a Bear

Dragons, Selkies and Fairy Princes

Dragon at the Scottish Storytelling Centre

Roy Gill

I should have known. I was reading Lari Don’s book on the train to Edinburgh yesterday, and it features a boy called Roy (which is a less common name than you’d think). Clearly it was there to warn me that within a few hours I would behave really rudely towards another Roy (Gill) in a way that can best be described as that unpleasant way older women say things. I shall henceforth strive for young age and better judgement, not to mention hearing. Possibly thinking before I speak.

Anyway, I’ll blame it on Kirkland ‘Him Again’ Ciccone. It’s the accent. It gets me every time.

Dragons, Selkies and Fairy Princes

Dragons, Selkies and Fairy Princes

So, there we all were, at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, to admire the art by three young illustrators, who have made fantastic pictures which accompany three traditional stories by Theresa Breslin (The Dragon Stoorworm), Lari Don (The Tale of Tam Linn) and Janis Mackay (The Selkie Girl), published by Floris. The exhibition will be on from today until the 24th January next year. Do go and see it, and have some tea in the café, which I’ve been assured is lovely. I’ll be trying it myself one of these days.

Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross

The ‘usual’ lot of Edinburgh literary people were present. The further west you came from, the less likely you’d be to have managed to get there, seeing as we were blessed with a bit of a storm. Not so much that the ferris wheel stopped for long, but enough to flood things and prevent certain people from travelling. Kirkie even checked with me to see if I thought we’d be unable to go, but the Resident IT Consultant could foresee no problems.

Matthew Land and Theresa Breslin

Speeches were made, and crisps were eaten, washed down with wine and juice. Theresa talked about her story while her illustrator Matthew Land told us about how he went about doing the pictures. Apparently a green dragon against the green hills was, well, too green. The dragon is now red.

Lari Don and Philip Longson

Lari wanted to thank people involved in making the books, including one person who she said she didn’t know what they did, but still. Her illustrator Philip Longson was saying how he’s not used to being with people or make public speeches. Illustrators sit on their own, working quietly.

Janis Mackay

Janis is the kind of woman who has seals born in her garden. She also made sure that us short ones at the back could see a little, by making the crowd part down the middle. Her illustrator, Ruchi Mhasane, was home in India, and had sent a message, which Janis read out.

Janis Mackay

Then there was signing and pictures were bought as well as books. With my distinct lack of wall space I merely looked and admired, but I could tell that other, less afflicted, people were buying some nice prints for Christmas.

Theresa Breslin's shoes

After admiring Theresa’s shoes (New ones, again! Why Mr B doesn’t put his foot down, I don’t know. He, in turn, wore one of his very fetching ties, and I told him about the wooden ties I’d just seen in the Christmas market.) I decided it was time for tired witches to go home, before more feathers were ruffled.

Kirkland Ciccone and Roy Gill

Kirkie decided he’d walk me to the station, only to discover – to his horror – that he had to travel on the same train. That should teach him. (It was raining, so he had to stuff his faux leopard into a carrier bag, floppy ears and everything.) He really wanted fish and chips, but all I had was humble pie, so he had to starve. That’s Kirkie, not the leopard. There was no Irn-Bru, either. I did offer my tale of not going to Linlithgow, however, so there was something.

James Mayhew at the Scottish National Gallery

Or was he?

Someone didn’t seem to think so. When I got to the foyer of the Scottish National Gallery on Thursday, I thought I’d save myself some time by not wandering aimlessly through the whole place, searching for the James Mayhew exhibition. I knew it was on (until 1st March), and I’d read the press release and everything. But the greeter by the door had not heard of James and looked at me pityingly, as it was clear I’d come for the wrong thing. I insisted. She leafed through their current brochure, and when I saw Grandma on the back of Nessie, in the doorway of the gallery, I stabbed my finger at the picture and said ‘that’s what I mean.’ ‘Oh, that one,’ she said. She knew where it was. (Garden level, next to the café, the shop and the toilets. Very convenient.)

It was lovely! Small, but perfect.

There were framed illustrations from several of James’s books, and they had his real sketchbooks on display, to show us how a book is born. Seems there is a lot more work than just sitting down to draw pretty pictures. Very interesting, very professional.

James Mayhew - dummy book 1985 slide 2

I’m the type of gallery visitor who tends to avoid the video shows, but in this case I was happy to make an exception, even wearing headphones and sitting down to my ten minutes with James.

He paints upside down. That’s so clever. He had been filmed talking to a group of children, and he drew as he talked, making it the right way round for his audience. It was some tall story about his Uncle Henry and the pirates from Treasure Island. As if that could be real! And who’s to say that the real shark’s lens he had in a box was a real shark’s lens..? Hmm?

They have a reading corner, with a couple of nice rattan chairs and samples of James’s books to read.

I went and had some tea in the café, and then I returned to look at the exhibition once more.

A James Mayhew van Gogh, with Katie

You know, were it not for a distinct lack of wall space, I could see myself having a real Mayhew van Gogh or Turner (or Monet or Renoir) on my wall at Bookwitch Towers. Anyone who believes that picture book illustrators are merely people who can do passable and childish pictures of small children and dinosaurs, need to get better acquainted with James Mayhew (yes, he does exist) and his books. He’s proof that you need to be a pretty capable all-rounder in order to make those ‘simple little illustrations’ in children’s books.

(Naughty Saint George! Forgetting everything for Mona Lisa…)