So, having truly ingratiated myself with social media this year or so, with full on love affair with Twitter, increased and growing commitment to facebook and more recently a shiny, new Instagram, I have FINALLY opened an Etsy store!
Having rekindled my love of taking part in conventions and arts fairs again in October, I’m getting digital with it, with the grand opening of my new shop! Woot woot!
I plan to sell all number of printed, illustrated things, primarily prints, cards and zines so keep your eyes peeled for fresh new doodles! Also, if you have requests for prints from my website portfolio, don’t hesitate to get in touch and I’ll see what I can do.
In keeping with this exciting news AND the fact that it’s that generous time of year I though it only fair to run a Celebratory SALE! I’m selling my Christmas Cards off for just £1 with first class shipping on all items in store right up until Christmas!
If you, like me, have left things shamefully late, get involved and pick up some neat new bits and pieces!
My Store is BagleyArt, so stop over and say hello!
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.
In 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.
So he took off his armour and said with a grin,
‘I’m coming to help you’ and he waded right in.
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.
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.
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.
And 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.
‘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.
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”.
Welcome back to book Club! And by book club, I mean let’s-all-listen-to-what-I-have-to-say Club!
But seriously, if anyone has any comments on any of these reviews, be it agreements, disagreements, analyses of their own, or criticisms of my thoughts, I’d really, seriously love to hear them. You can leave a comment below, or you’re welcome to contact me via email, twitter or facebook.
Author: Pamela Buchart
Illustrator: Marc Boutavant
So, this time we have the colourful cautionary tale from Pamela Buchart and Marc Boutavant: Never Tickle a Tiger. I’m really not trying to play favourites here, but this is yet another gem brought to you buy Bloomsbury. Hat’s off to those guys who have been really busting out a cracking number of great titles in the past few years that are clearly right up my street! I promise to diversify more in the future, but this one really does need a mention!
A charming and vibrant cautionary tale, Never Tickle a Tiger opens with our introduction to Izzy; a fidgeting, wiggling, jiggling little girl who just CAN’T sit still! Warned and chided by jut about everybody around her, Izzy is that well-meaning but incomprehensibly over excitable little person we are ALL only too familiar with.
Her character is brilliantly identifiable to children and parents alike, brought to life with Buchart’s lyrical and whimsical writing style.
Cascading lists of alliterative, onomatopoeic adverbs capture the bounding lightness of our little protagonist, the text and images dotted around the page in an erratic layout that brings movement and life to the spread.
So what’s a girl to do when she simply can NOT sit still, no matter how many times she’s told? The story explores the angel and devil complex in near-on every kid’s head. The trained desire to be good and do as you’re told, VS the often much stronger curious NEED to explore the scenario in question yourself, learning your own lessons – for better or for worse – first hand. Because would it REALLY be so bad…to tickle a tiger…?
What’s so wrong with fidgeting anyway?
The page design of the pivotal moment is inspired. Short, snappy lines of text and sequential images capture and build Izzy’s sneaky, creeping movement to the forbidden enclosure, only to stop it dead with one full spread on her arrival.
Boutavant’s illustration here is perfect. The drama of discovery is communicated through the uncharacteristically bare enclosure, the focus being on the majestic, sleeping beast within. Izzy is poised mid-movement in a comically ‘rabbit in headlight’ pose as she gazes up, feather in hand at the forbidden tiger.
As in all good cautionary tales, the fallout from Izzy’s failure to heed her warnings is rewarded with a hilarious domino effect of chaos; throwing the entire zoo into utter disarray. The pull out, quadruple spread format here echoes the expansive explosion of madness and offers a great bit of novelty tactility and you open out the full extent of Izzy’s mistake.
The vibrancy of character we’ve come to expect from Boutavant’s work really emphasises the fun of this bright and whimsical tale. Although less neon in palette than previous illustrations we’ve known him for, each animal in the zoo has a real attitude and life that compliments and enhances the madness.
Their reactions to Izzy’s unquenchable curiosity are delightfully humorous and cheeky details such as a little, hidden hedgehog give every scene a little added magic, independent of the main story.
Ultimately, Never Tickle a Tiger is a great bit of fun. I love Buchart’s lyrical text and the life and hart it brings to such simple narrative format and Boutavant’s bright and playful illustrations really capture the sense of quirky madness. A brilliant cautionary tale for all those little Izzys thinking of embarking on some tiger tickling any time soon.
I happened across this little number while meandering through the web on an unrelated mission. I was drawn in to the, seemingly quite small, release by the curious nature of Barrow’s illustrations. He too has joined the ranks of the dirty digital army, utalising thick and organic looking textures and splatters into a digital landscape.
As I’ve said in previous posts, purists flying the flag of ‘authenticity’ may scoff at this process, but let’s get real. The results are still beautiful and times have changed. FOR THE BETTER.
The illustrative possibilities are endless with the mouse at your fingertips, and I think Barrow has done a cracking job of proving that the digital pencil case is more than capable of capturing the heart, charm and ‘happy accidents’ (however contrived) of any paintbox.
In it’s entirety, Have you seen Elephant is a story about finding elephant. Job done.
‘Would you like to play hide and seek?’
In the enigmatic manner we expect and embrace from children’s tales, Barrow makes no attempts to establish or formulate the origins of our curious playmate’s visit. And rightly so, the logic and reason behind why or how is joyfully irrelevant. This is about a game, be it real or imaginary…or even somewhere in the middle.
All that matters is that we, alongside our un-named seeker, have been very kindly invited to play in the very first spread. So who are we to decline?
Singing to the same tune as the talented and oh so trendy Klassen et al, Barrow’s approach to narrative is one of ‘less is more’. The short narrative follows a classically simple procedure as our seeker explores room to room of his house, hunting desperately for the cunning elephant, eluded by the creature’s hide-and-seek prowess.
‘Not under here…’
As ever, the richness of humor is what keeps this simplicity fresh, and Barrow keeps the hand-scrawled text sparse, instead building our little character’s personality visually, with the pleasing offset of image against word.
Offering a delightful frustration for readers, the incompetence of our seeking protagonist is developed through his mutterings of clueless asides, establishing his oblivion to the, very clearly positioned, elephant in the room.
The addition of a silent, clued in mutt, the classic device of the underappreciated sidekick, emphasises our protagonist’s inability even more, boosting the funnies through a little sub narrative for the keen eyed reader to decipher. Similarly, the latter introduction of animals, hidden in the minutia of the environment deliver more seeking opportunities for readers.
‘I can’t find elephant’
I would have loved to have seen this quality developed further, with background creatures and interactions turning each page into it’s own game of hide and seek. As it stands, a lot of the spreads push the less is more approach a little too far, with only the base components of our hider and seeker and simple environmental touches.
For me, this dilutes the humor of the search when little more other than the core joke is offered from spread to spread, again and again.
That said, the art IS beautiful. Those textures bring a coarse, accidentally-on-purpose mess to the environments and an inspiring set of sunset colour palettes that don’t fail to delight as every page turn reveals a new one.
While the palettes are vibrant, the simplicity of content in every spread create a quietness that carries through the book. Environmental calmness is not at all a bad thing, although here there’s almost an overarching feeling of darkness within the artwork that seems to lean towards lonesome.
The scenes feel quiet, almost a tad morose and there’s a suggested lack of interest from our seekers family in him or his activities. Heavy lighting in the artwork create dark, almost sinister shadow work which, while beautiful, seem to extract the ‘fun’ from the game.
Even the opening invitation from the elephant, drawn with a very close positioning of elephant’s face as he warns us ‘[he’s] very good’, does have an almost cautionary air to it.
‘I must warn you though, I’m VERY good.’
Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way against a darker quirk in children’s books.
My position is that children are pretty hardy and more than capable of deciphering and enjoying more ‘grown up’ looking art styles, a bracket in which I would place Barrow’s work .My only concern in the context of this book, is that I can’t tell if it’s supposed to feel quite so lonely or if the heavy colours and sombre emptiness are simply a slight misjudgement.
Either way, it is still a joy to look at. And any sense of the macabre are certainly circumvented by the book’s delightful close. Elephant is a gracious playmate and and the tale remains a great example of good, clean fun of children’s games.
Perhaps if you were desperate to attribute a deeper moral to the tale, you could expand on the lonesome family unit. The lack of human companionship that drives you towards animals.
You could spend your time getting caught up in the perception of elephant’s surprising, opening boast that ‘[he] is very good’. You could assert not to judge a book by it’s cover, that even thought he is large, perhaps he IS good at hiding.
You could say a lot of things.
You, know. If you wanted to.
Personally, I wouldn’t trouble yourself with it. For me I can’t find Elephant is most enjoyable when seen as exactly what it should be. A good bit of old fashioned, nonsensical fun.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…)
But, 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.
Only 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.
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.
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.
Welcome everyone, to the very first of a BRAND NEW series to the blog! Woop Woop!
I make no secrets of the fact I am an ENORMOUS picture book nerd. I draw write, read, study and live them and you’re either lucky or lying if you say you’ve ever attempted a conversation with me and I’ve not slipped off into the realms of an illustration related ramble. My bookshelves are booming with all things pictures, so I’ve decided to introduce to the blog a new series of reviews based around the contents of my studio! Welcome to the Bagley Book Club, kick starting this week with The Princess and the Giant.
I mentioned in my last post, that I recently attended a very lovely book event in London, hosted by the indie publishers, Nosy Crow. Here I purchased a (signed, natch) copy of the next installment of the Princess and the.. Series. And yeah okay, I am cheating a little here, as the talk did allow insight into the creation of the book, but it’s my first review so I trust you all to forgive me.
Author: Caryl Hart
Illustrator: Sarah Warburton
Publisher: Nosy Crow
So, let’s get to it! Following two already successful titles in the series, The Princess and the Giant sings to the same, whimsical tune. Our feisty, heroine princess – suitably cute, of course- is ever strong, albeit less comically obnoxious than that of the Princess and the Presents title, yet still brimming with life and charm. Her stoic determination to quell the furiously, grumbling giant above them using the home comforts of her own night time routine is bloomin’ adorable, offset with a hefty dose of humor and feist for a pleasingly full-bodied tale.
The fearsome, yet not really so monstrous, giant’s ferocious, tired tantrums are no doubt a familiar tale to countless parents and can only to be conquered by pragmatic Princess Sophie’s application of all the proper elements of bedtime. Empathetic and stubborn, her repeated efforts to comfort the frustrated beast are depicted through rich spreads that all conceal extra layers of visual delight.
In conjunction with endearing, curious characters, Hart’s poetry is frankly, a delight. It seems to me that rhymes in kids’ books fell out of fashion for a while, I would guess due to the eye-roll inducing forced couplets that had become oh-too familiar. But this looks set to change as Hart, and an increasing number of writers like her, have proved that they’re more than capable of restoring rhyme back into the limelight. The poetic trick is particularly relevant to the fairy tale setting, drawing on conventions and speaking in the language of all that lovely, sweet and wholesome tradition!
Who am I kidding? Modern readers are more demanding than that! Kids books got smart and one dimensional, conventional tales just won’t cut it. Been there, done that, worn the somewhat tatty t-shirt.
Instead, Hart and Warburton expertly exploit the classic, folklore elements to subvert all the expectations into a fresh and funny result. Hart’s assertion that princesses should all ride bikes, and kings and queens would, naturally, perform the simple daily tasks of making porridge and chopping wood, ensures that any preconceived ideas of grandia are well and truly usurped by a more down to earth, accessible breed of royalty.
Hats (and crowns!) off too to Warburton, whose ability to take Hart’s quickest of throw away lines and develop them into full blown sub-narratives breathes fresh, secondary stories into every spread. From humorous costume choices of the fluffy, cable knit clad ‘villain’ of the tale to the casual, checked-shirt donning Queen, Warburton takes the written cues and creates full, delightfully quirky characters that add depth and even more personality to the tale. The growth of the mouse butler from one line into an expressive and visually essential sidekick seems an ingenious touch that adds further narrative to every page for children, parents and enthusiast (AKA-nerds like me) to get lost in. The days of illustration’s role being limited to repeating the hard work of the text are well and truly over. Contemporary practitioners speak in their own voice that operates alongside that of the author, and the results seem to only be getting richer.
Let’s face it, the quality of kids books in recent years has been leaping into entirely new realms. From insane print quality values (may the designers among us take a moment to drool over the delicate cover foil here) to cunning split narratives that speak to the big-uns just as much as the little-uns, Warburton and Hart are far from sole talents in pioneering this comically subversive, contemporary and reactionary tone. But what they’ve done, they’ve done pretty darn well. No doubt with careful guidance from Nosy Crow, the Princess and the… series has been a delight and the empathetic Princess Sophie and her devotion to bedtime is another champion of this popular breed of contemporary fairy tale.
I know it’s a bit of a funny one for those of us not particularly into the whole ‘religion thing’, but I can’t help but have a lot of love for Easter. Not only does it come armed with TWO bank holiday weekends, but it’s at that lovely time of year when, in Britain at least, life finally decides to stop looking quite so darn depressing.
I genuinely felt the joy of spring this morning, on my errand to replenish milk, wandering through the gently warming sunshine, surrounded but the hints of greenery breaking through the wintry drabness of everything. The air was cool, but it felt like Life was really beginning to drag itself out of the winter slump.
Of course, the magic was somewhat broken when I got to the store and remembered it was a bank holiday so everything was shut, but still, for a moment it was all rather lovely.
Anyway, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to do a big, Easter thing, but here are some rabbits out of my sketchbook I’ve quickly coloured to celebrate the Easter weekend. Whatever religion you do or don’t subscribe to and regardless of what you’re up to, I wish you all a lovely weekend.
I probably would have had more time if I didn’t decide to spend all of the weekend baking copious amounts of hot cross buns, but such is life.
Sometimes life just has to have a back seat for yeast you know?