Book Club Review – Kiss it Better

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Author: Smriti Prasadam-Halls

Illustrator: Sarah Massini

Publisher: Bloomsbury

 

I think it’s important to begin here by noting that a book with the word ‘kiss’ in the titles, adorned with hearts and cuddly bears is not my usual choice when browsing the shelves of the kids section.

It’s pretty fair to say I am not the saccharine type, and tend to learn towards picture books that come with a sense of quirk, adventure, humour or, dare I say it, even a touch of darkness?

That said, I was drawn to this one initially by the beautiful, elegantly drawn characters on the cover. The quality finish on the thick, textured paperback, coupled with the tasteful touch of the title foil, made it feel like a product of real quality when I then came to pick it up. I was sold on the cover, and began to flick through it.

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Kiss it Better is exactly book you expect it to be. Classically inoffensive, tender, loving and heart warming throughout, its what I tend to think of as the perfect grandparent book. Prasadam-Hall’s cutesy poem, champions the power of  family and love in conquering the day to day perils of young childhood in a series uplifting and feel-good couplets. From bruises and bumps to the fears of leaving mum and the playground gates, Prasadam-Halls  captures a number of common fears for little ones, reassuring readers that strength and comfort is always found the family unit.

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Geared up towards the 2-4 age bracket, I think Prasadam-Halls does a great job at tackling the most relevant problems for children of this age, taking the first steps towards independence. Personally, I’m not quite sold on the use of poetry, catching one or two slightly forced rhymes that, for me push the limits of sweetness just a little too far into the diabetic danger zone. It’s, naturally, a thing of taste, but I can’t help but think of the parents reading this one at bedtimes, and feel it could be something of a one sided relationship. Completely relevant for the child, yet potentially not quite such a pleasure for the adult of the bedtime routine.

But of course, heartwarming tales of reassurance ARE most necessary for children who do worry, and Kiss it Better  does a great job at preemptively tackling young-perils with Mumma bear’s aresenal of types of kisses for every occasion.

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Its also important to note that, while a touch on the ‘safe’ end of things, I enjoy this book. I really enjoy it, for the very same reasons I picked it up that afternoon in that bookshop in Bath, against all my cynicism.

Massini’s illustrations are utterly delightful. Her anthropomorphised characters are charmingly animated protagonists, filled with character. Their faces are simple, yet so elegantly drawn that they effortlessly communicate all the genuine love of Prasadam-Halls’s tale. In a book where the poem gives nothing away as to the character specifics, Massini’s interpretations seem to perfectly capture the heart of the story.

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Their charmingly vintage wardrobe and soft palette gives a real personality to the book that elevates it visually to something a little more interesting than classical cuteness. Or I’m just a sucker for a bear in a hat.

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Similarly, texture and rough painterly marks give the images a real depth and bite that set them aside from the more classical, painterly illustrations you may associate with a traditional children’s book. The rough and ready touches add a quirky, offbeat life to the pages and the clearly considered-to-look-unconsidered scatterings of hearts bring it all together into an image that’s contemporary while still drawing from suitably, classic influences, all in the soft, pastel palette.

The location of our story are also moved along within the visuals, as we follow our family from the fairy tale, forested home, to the schoolyard to family holidays away at the beach. This seems a really strong visual device for the book, not only to allow for Massini to emphasise her retro styling (these bears know how to ROCK that rockabilly bathing suit look) but more importantly to allow the strength of the family unit to shine. Childhood woes can appear anywhere, but wherever they may be, a kiss from Mum, a hug from Dad or a bit of generosity from your sister will save the day.

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On top of the strength of the illustrations, I think the design overall is equally well executed, with a good combination of full page imagery interspersed with spot, sequential images. The flow of the book is kept well without pages becoming too samey and the fluid layout of the text gives creates a real movement in the reading that carries you through the poem with ease and grace.

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Sure, Kiss it Better may not be my cup of tea entirely, but it’s a beautiful and heart warming read without a doubt. The prefect ‘safe’ book for the picture book traditionalists and romantics among us, this title knows it’s audience and I think the dependence on family values is something we can all appreciate.

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While there are increasing numbers of boundary-pushing, quirky and, dare I say, post modernist picture books gracing the contemporary market, I think it’s really important that more classic, uplifting reads like this one remain on our shelves. The world of the picture book market is vibrant and versatile and it’s vital it continues to offer something for every taste. Especially when the quality it this high.

Well I’m suitably warm and fuzzy, who’s for a hug?

 

Book Club Review – A Beginners Guide to Bear Spotting

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Author: Michelle Robinson

Illustrator: David Roberts

Publisher: Bloomsbury

 

Planning on going for a walk in bear country?

Well, Michelle Robinson and David Roberts have it covered. And frankly, if I’ve taken one thing from this entrancing Bloomsbury number, it’s that I probably wouldn’t recommend it!

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With the guidance of the unseen narrator’s reassuringly authoritative instruction, our silent, somewhat gormless, protagonist is led on his safe and correctly passage through the obstacles of bear country.bearspot_inn11

Er…or that is until the bears get in the way.

As the sorry little blighter walks further into increasing peril, Robinson’s narrator enthusiastically observes the scenario unfold alongside the reader, instructing accordingly based on the, ever so helpful bear spotting guide.

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What’s so charming about the tone of this book for me, is that it somehow seems to harbor a really classic British-ness. Not only is it impossible to read the text in ANYTHING but the most polished of Queen’s English (the narrator, for me, was undoubtedly voiced by Stephen Fry. Maybe Attenborough at a push) but the humorous, narrative voice hints towards that mocking depreciation of authority that is somehow unique to British humor. The subsequent disasters our unprepared hero befalls, at the hand of the useless instructions relayed by an, apparently knowledgeable authority, are somehow utterly delightful.

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Let’s face it, us Brits just revel in the shortcomings of others. It’s those cringe-making social failings in Gervais’s The Office; the deepening escalation of Black Adder’s wry truth embellishing, even the incrementally increasing fallout of Mr Bean’s slapstick clumsiness. Bear Spotting’s dry humour is a charming nod to the oh-so-British black comedy. (Or perhaps that’s brown comedy…)

bearspot_inn1But, as ever, in a picture books the legwork is only in part down to the written content. While Robinson’s text is, frankly, inspired, the true, laugh-out-loud effect is only achieved with its application to Roberts’s exquisite illustrations. Pleasingly sparse pages, and a rich, autumnal colour palette allow our character and those bothersome, suitably menacing, bears are left to speak for themselves against the minimalist environment. Earthy tones and tiny, quirky details all come together in the formation of a weird and wonderful world where oven glove mittens are the obvious choice for an excursion.

bearspot_inn5Only the simplest components of a human face are visible under our hero’s inspired, vintage-look balaclava, yet the expressive power in accordance with our narrators exclamations are simply divine. Robert’s facial drawings are spot on, ensuring instantaneous recognition as to the feelings of our silent protagonist. Its a delightful excuse for little-uns to strengthen understandings of empathy and for us bigger ones, it’s really just very funny.

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As much as the absurdity is pleasing, I think there are a lot of reasons that Bear Spotting is actually a pretty intelligent children’s book. Not only does the silent figure demand a level of emotive analysis, but the format of the book as a whole is pleasingly subversive from the picture book status quo.

Once upon a time, books were words. Then pictures joined the party as the supportive side kick, echoing the text to reinforce the imagining in the readers mind. Then practitioners got clever. Imagery started to work together with the text providing additional details, or even showing a different reality to that of the words. Picture books subsequently became rich with narrative.

Bear Spotting is taking the next leap in the evolution of visual storytelling. Today, an all singing, all dancing new breed of pictorial-textual relationship has been emerging. Robinson and Roberts separate voices neither repeat nor subvert each other; instead they are two sides of the same dialogue. A reactionary book, if you like.

 

A short time ago, panicked traditionalists foresaw the death of books in place of the, more adaptive, games, films and apps. But seemingly picture books weren’t willing to give up so easily and new structural shifts have allowed for them to compete on the dynamic and reactionary plane. Our written narrator says jump, and our visual lead responds…rarely asking ‘how high’. Both have their own agenda and this interplay is the crux of the humour of this triumphantly absurd and delightful tale.

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I love the text hidden under the ‘folded page’ of the guide.
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Creative use of capitals, bold and direction of the font throughout really gives the narrator a distinctive voice.

The simple conversation of the story is executed perfectly, without the book becoming long winded or overdrawn. The design faculty at Bloomsbury have masterfully laid out the pages into a perfectly paced and well balanced number and their exquisite use of typographic play really brings a life and enthusiasm to Robinson’s narrative voice.

 

In a time when picture books are offering as much ingenuity as the current market suggests, it is no mean feat when I say that Bear Spotting has probably been one of my favourite releases this year. I congratulate every single person who had a hand in this delight, and I look forward to seeing where we end up next on this path through the children’s industry.

But be sure to pack your teddy and a stick of gum, and never rely on Stephen Fry as an authority to guide you through Bear Country.

I HAVE seen a hat!

Okay, So what I’m about to tell you may provoke some cringing.

Before Christmas I went to the theater…all alone.

Yes, that is a very sad state of affairs, but it’s true. I went on my little tod, all the way to the bright lights of London, and there I sat, surrounded by families and groups of friends, clutching my ticket in my single seat, listening to the joyful giggles and playful interactions of those around me and sighed…alone.

But there’s more. Not only was I the only solo member of the audience that day, I was also the oldest. By some way. Or at least, the oldest that wasn’t there primarily as some kind of guardian.

Yep. I went on my own to the theater to see a play for children. Little children at that.

And before you sink your head into your hands at, what is very likely, the most socially pathetic tale you’ve read today, let me just clarify this scenario and explain why it is that I refuse to be ashamed by this.

I went to see the stage adaptation of John Klassen’s I want my Hat back.

Oh Yes.

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For those of you who aren’t familiar, the reason this make the sorrowful tale any better, is that I want my Hat Back is probably the greatest children’s book ever written ever and I was absolutely fascinated by the prospect of how those fantastic, simplistic, enigmatic illustrations could POSSIBLY translate into real life people on stage.

Turns out they do. Really bloomin’ well actually.

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With some stonkingly suitable music from Arthur Darvill and Joel Horwood and a number of outstandingly weird performances from the energetic, multitasking cast (I didn’t think it was possible for a human to become generic ambient forest quite so convincingly!) the show was a genuine delight from the start.

On entering to the stage, following behind an absurdly yarn bombed, argyle-socks and waist high shorts donning antlered band, I was immediately in love with the dated, 70’s appeal of the set. The perfectly haphazzard, retro costume choices and array of mismatched, flea market blankets strewn elegantly around, seemed to have the very heart and quirk of that book directly on tap; tipping it out in front of me time and time again throughout the show in a pile of retro quirk and charm.

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From the three eared rabbit and Led Zeppelin tshirt sporting bear to an impossibly perfect use of lounge-lift music, it was by far the most magical and downright absurd hour and a half of my festive period. And to be honest, based on my experience of the book, I wouldn’t have expected or wanted anything less.

If any of you are in the vicinity and have the chance, I wouldn’t hesitate to check out this little gem, with or without little ones. It’s wonderful and enchanting and yet another example of how beautifully and bizarrely children’s entertainment is progressing into something really special.

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I felt like the National Theatre had been transformed into a festive toy town for the ocassion

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I left inspired and energised (and just in time to catch some great winter-sunset light!). Because if there are grow up imaginations making books and stage plays like this now, I cannot wait to see what the kids of the future; brought up on a diet of media as magic as this, will be capable of.

Peace OUT and a happy new year

Bx

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Sunset in the Big City

 

 

New Work and another Favour…

Two things, firstly I have entered another image into the Creative Safari competition! Treat Time!

If you like this or my other entry, please do share it at the following links. The more exposure it gets, the  better right? So do me a solid yeah fellas? (you COULD SHARE BOTH if you’re feeling really nice!)

New entry!

Bear entry!

In payment for this, I’ve done some new things i though I’d share with you before popping them onto the folio. Here are a few new images for you to gander at:

It's Saturday!

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There’s some more coming this week too, so stay tuned and stay cool.

Peace out Friends!

Spread the Love! A Competition of Popularity!

Hey Y’all

I’ve just entered the Creative Safari open competition for Ohh Deer.

Help me out by spreading my birthday entry, linked below!

http://creativesafari.com/competition-entry/no-hugs-for-you/

No Hugs for You!

Ta Friends!

Kidding Around: Work for Picturebooks

I want this post to do two things.

A) share some things I’ve made recently

B) Muse a little bit about things. I just feel like we never talk anymore. The blogosphere can be a lonely place.

So first up, here are some pieces I’ve been working on this past week. They’re not projects as such, simply drawings and characters I’ve had kicking about in my head for a while. Glorified doodles.

A Koala is Not a Bear

Bears aren't good petsWashing  Day

Night Shift

If anyone is familiar with the work I’ve been making over the past few years, you may have noticed a shift in the nature of some of the more recent bits. (If you have, seriously big old kudos heading your way! I owe you a cookie.)

Firstly, I think the art is beginning to be a little more consistent. That battle I’d been having before and right the way through university to develop a “style” is finally being won. And, while I thought that would feel stifling or limiting when I did eventually settle into it, it’s actually feeling pretty happy. I feel a bit safer almost. Comfortable. Yet I’m also confident with it, because I know that other styles and ways of working to me are possible should a given brief call for it.

Secondly I think my characterisation has been coming together into a different direction recently. The work I make is usually figurative in some manner, but I’ve definitely been inspired in recent months to approach this a little differently when it comes to transcribing the characters I’ve seen/ invented onto the page.

The reason for these changes, I think, it simply that life has changed. As it does.

Making pictures is, like any form of creativity or visual media. It’s a snapshot of your life; a representation of the way you see the world, the things you know and the lessons you’ve learned at any given point in your existence. Mine has changed dramatically over the past nine months and is, now, once again on the verge of changing again.

Firstly, university and the life and structure I had while I was there, ended. My friends moved away, the rigorous and consistent marking system ceased and regular access to tutors, mentors and facilities went with it. Since then, I moved back in with my partner and invested in one of those full time job deals, working as a designer in children’s publishing.

I can’t put into words how much I have learned. Nine months in the exact field I had wanted to be in (albeit a slightly left of field job) taught me more about myself, my work and (dare I say it)  the market that governs it all, than three years of formal university education even touched on. And now, as my contract with the publishers finally winds up to a conclusion and I prepare to push on into that expansive gulf of possibility, instability and fear that everyone else met with some time ago, I have never felt more confident.

Somehow, it turns out, working a full time job and having the time to devote to your work torn out form under your feet, made me even more determined to find the time to devote time to my work. I draw more now than I think I ever have and every image feels like it has a real purpose or audience. I’m no longer jumping through hoops and making work for marks, but making work for me and it feels easier than it every has.

That’s not to say I begrudge uni anything. I loved being at school, but it’s only now that I realise how much of it I wasted worrying about making the right work instead of just making the work that works!

The job I’ve had has been doing all the background research for me, and is one of the reasons I’ve loved it so much. I love the world of picture book publishing and, actually, I really loved being a designer. But as the contract nears its end and the job winds up, I feel like it’s time to get it together and start approaching the industry from a different direction. The right direction. I am an illustrator at heart, I always was. Now I’ve had the good fortune to be afforded an insight into how to be the best illustrator I can be. I’ve seen behind the scenes, I’ve got to grips with the structure of it all and I know for sure it’s publishing I want to work in.

So, nerve wracking as it is, let’s give it a go. Let’s make pictures. After all, the worst case scenario is that it doesn’t work out. To me, that is a thousand times better than wondering “what if.”

Exhibition in The Boston Tea Party!

Okay, so we all like Tea. But some of us also like coffee. And some of us REALLY like GOOD coffee.

I am one of said humans, and for this very reason I LOVE the Boston Tea Party chain. For those of you not in the West, you’ll just have to trust me. They do what they do and they do it good.

And look how pretty it is.

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So I was pretty delighted when I was doodling away in it’s Bath branch some time ago, and was approached and asked if I’d like to exhibit work for a bit. Pretty neat eh?

So for the month of May, I have adorned the walls of Bath’s bit of Boston with silkscreen prints, etchings, risographs, digital works and any other number of bits and pieces I like to make.

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So tell all your friends, go grab a coffee (because it really is good) and surround yourself with oddities and nice things for a bit.

And then buy them too.  That would be great. Thanks.