Catch up! Children’s Literature Festival

So, it’s that time of year again when the winter has silently snuck up on us like a seasonal ninja and we’re caught, rabbit in headlights, totally unprepared for the looming new year. Perhaps it’s the hovering threat of ‘resolutions’ in the back of my mind, or perhaps it’s the fact that I swear it was August less than a month ago, but either way it’s around now I need to take a break, breathe and look over where on EARTH the second half of the year has gone.

The next few posts will be a few snapshots of how my 2016 has developed. I can’t promise I’ve learned loads, but I can promise I drew some things.

September – Children’s Literature Festival

Don’t hate me, but I LOVE Autumn. Yes it cold, yes the days stat getting shorter but I am a sadist and love that I get my city to myself again when the kids go back to school.

Haha suckers, I finished AGES ago.

But September and October are especially lovely because it’s when the Bath Children’s Literature Festival rolls around. Which I love.

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Although I didn’t get to see as much as usual (due to, ironically, having too much work to do in the field of Children’s Literature) I did manage to score two wonderful talks by a couple of heroes from the field.

Those of you familiar with Hamish and the World Stoppers by the unapologetically British author Danny Wallace will be familiar with the creative magic of Jamie Littler. His characters are full of subtle details and nuances that are the perfect visual vehicle for Wallace’s tone and the book, in my opinion, is enriched ten fold by his interpretation of its time altering world.

Not that he’d tell you that. I tell you, a more modest talent you will not find.

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littlertriangleBut humbleness aside, Littler did a stonking job of holding the stage, even without his extrovert counterpart. If his flawless live drawing wasn’t magic enough, the interaction with the audience had every kid grinning to ear to ear. Given the rare opportunity to command the hand of a professional illustrator, the creative, imaginative and frankly weird suggestions of the kids were flying as the audience created their own adventurous character for Littler to illustrate.

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Part drawing, part storytelling, part comedy act and part workshop; this talk was inventive and a lot of fun. So really, pretty much everything kid lit should be.

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But if that wasn’t enough, I was also lucky enough to attend an event by the infamous Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell.

I’ll be honest, until fairly recently I didn’t really know what  Laureate was. But I was very excited that Riddell had kindly decided to bring his medal. And it was a very nice medal.

chrisridellticketchrisridellmedalHosted in the festivals most grand venue, it was strange to see the small figure of a single man, his projector and a sketch pad in the middle of such a large stage (even if he does have a medal.) But the second that man’s pen touches paper, he becomes the size of mountains.

It comes as no surprise that the prolific Riddell can live draw like a champ, but his ability to ad lib to questions from the audience, while doing so is a thing to behold. Relaxed, funny and frankly, totally charming, performing apparently comes second nature to this guy. His answers to every question was insightful, elaborating on details of his life and artistic journey and expanding even the most simple of inquiry into an adventure worth drawing about. The added incentive of giving away the drawings he made to the questions he answered had kids jiggling in their seats with anticipation each time he reached for a card. The hall was completely silent, aside from the reactionary giggles. We were in the palm of his hand, and I have no shame in admitting it.

There are reasons some people get famous for what they do.

I think that’s enough said.

 

 

 

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Bagley Book Club- The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight review

nibblesome_02Author: Elli Woollard

Illustrator: Benji Davies

Publisher: Macmillan

It’s a corker this week from wordsmith Elli Woollard and the ever brilliant Benji Davies. I picked this number up at the Power of Pictures panel event at Foyles in London a week or so back, so it only seemed fair to rock it into the spotlight, while I’ve still got Davies’s insight fresh in the old noodle.

A tried and tested formula, The Dragon and the Nibblesome Knight is a tale of  surprising and unlikely friendships. Sent on a fledgling flight to gobble a knight of his very own, we are led by Dram, the utterly fearsome-less and totally huggable wee dragon, into the heart of a storm.

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nibblesome_01In a beautifully drawn and tastefully coloured sequential spread, our little chap is blown off course. Frankly, I defy any human with a beating heart not to express even the tiniest of concerned, cooing syllables here. Davies captures such peril in the wide eyes of the reptilian baby, there just isn’t a homosapien alive whose heartstrings are sturdy enough to withstand a good tug. It’s a perfect Attenborough moment. Yeah sure, the bloodstained and ruthless lion has been out for an afternoon’s killing, but look how FLUFFY the babies are!

Humorously mistaking the beast for a duck, our compassionate (and equally adorable) knight James discovers the disheveled castaway in a pond. The pair grow a bond as James nurses his unknown foe back to health through  Woollard’s charming and lyrical story.

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So he took off his armour and said with a grin,

‘I’m coming to help you’ and he waded right in.

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Known for her witty poetry, it’s no surprise that Woollard’s text is such a delight. Free from any hint of forced rhymes or lyrical-cheese, the text flows from page to page with a real smoothness, wit and charm.

One of my pet peeves in children’s books, is a poorly paced tale. Often confined to strict page counts of 32 or 40 pages, there’s sometimes a feeling of being desperately hurtled by the words through the story to reach the conclusion before the page count cuts it short. If so inclined, illustrator s then have to desperately compensate with enough additional narrative to halt the reader for a bit; a decision I’m not at all adverse to, might I add. As highlighted many times, pictures SHOULD have their own tale to tell, it’s the key magic of a picturebook to contain a duel narrative. But equally, no matter how fine the artist, it won’t ever fully patch up the holes of a lacking author.

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But THIS is where the Nibblesome Knight really shines. Both Woollard and Davies are in full control of the flow of the narrative. Davies’s pictures are a brilliant partner to Wollards’s poetry prowess, with enough characterisation, heart and little environmental joys in every image to give them depth, yet without so many additional details that derail the reader from the pace of the story.

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The poem is so smooth and funny, it’s only right that the illustrations work with it to maintain the swing of the lyric, and Davies has done so masterfully in this example.

nibblesome_13And it’s true, his interpretation of the characters make this tale. Adorable with a capital ‘A’, I demand plushy merchandise of the innocent duo (I am DESPERATE to hug this dragon!) The pair are subject to a good number of emotions as they build and reveal their, unknowingly forbidden, friendship and even with he simplest of facial details, Davies creates the full, emotional spectrum with precision. For a story all about the value and strength of relationships, empathy and compassion, characterisation and humanisation were key and Davies nailed. it.

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‘Come to the woods and I’ll fetch you some honey.

It makes a good medicine, all soothing and runny.’

It’s worth saying too, how strong the artwork in general is. The palette is bright and full of life yet without being nudged into the realms of gaudy. The scratchy ink marks are loose and organic looking, yet clearly drawn with clear precision. The depth of the painterly lines give this tale a much more shadowed darkness than Benjies previous works and it works brilliantly in the Ye Olde world of knights and Dragons.

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The classic narrative ends as it should; happily ever after. Predictable? Yes, but who on earth cares. As far as children’s stories go, this is a solid, classic example. It breaks no boundaries, it holds few surprises but it’s charmingly written, witty and funny and the characters are endearing and beautiful. The world is consistent and the imagery is breathtaking and it’s another brilliant example of the ‘classical reworked in a contemporary world’ kinda deal. It’s definitely worth a look, but don’t be surprised if you explode into a mass of whimpering, gooey “Awwwww”.

It is inevitable.

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