Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Wild About Shapes

Wild About Shapes

Jerémié Fischer

What we have always admired about Flying Eye Books is their willingness and ability to push the content of their books.  They make beautifully produced, tactile objects, they seek out interesting and diverse illustrators and they constantly surprise us.  Wild About Shapes is their most recent, and to us, most interesting project.

As well as being picture book reviewers we are also printers at heart, screen-printers to be specific, and so Wild About Shapes holds a special place in our hearts.  Created by ‘illustrator and screen-printing’ technician Jérémie Fischer, Wild About Shapes celebrates the beauty and surprises that layering colours and shapes, as you would in a printed artwork, can produce.

What we are presented with is a ring-bound book.  The left-hand pages have an unrecognisable shape printed onto them, and the right-hand pages (made of acetate) also feature equally baffling coloured shapes across their transparent surface.  When you turn the page, the right- hand page lays over the left, and the two shapes combine to create a recognisable animal.  Sometimes this is produced in the overlap the two colours create, and sometimes it appears in white, in the negative space.  The reveals vary from one distinct creature to pages full of different ones. The result is a truly interactive book.  The limited text is cleverly used to provide clues or to interact with the imagery, and we particularly love the images created in pink and green.

This a book which demonstrates how limited colour and shape can be utilised to dazzling effect, how the simplest of forms can communicate information to us, and again proves that the beauty of books is in the magic a page turn creates.  We’re Wild About Shapes, and we know you will be too.

Hungry Roscoe

Hungry Roscoe
David J. Plant

Roscoe the raccoon is hungry.  Tired of eating decaying food scraps from the bin he decides that maybe the zoo is the solution: he hears there’s always fresh food there.  Using an elaborate array of disguises Roscoe breaks into the zoo in search of a more satisfying meal.

Hungry Roscoe is at the slightly older end of the children’s book spectrum.  Feeling somewhere between a picture book and a comic, with a foot in both camps but not quite definitely either, this book has a lot going on.  The plot revolves around Roscoe’s not one, but many attempts to evade the increasingly exasperated zookeeper and find something delicious to eat, which means it feels fuller than some stories.  Our only criticism is that often the text and the imagery feel like they are doing the same job, more fun could have been had if the text was stripped back a little because the pictures really do paint a clear picture.  

David J. Plant’s artwork is appealing; his bold use of shapes gives it a printerly look, whilst the scratchy pencils lines add life and definition.  Full of warm colours and texture, his characters are bursting with energy, and children will revel in Roscoe’s daring schemes, misadventures and the chaos that ensues.  One of the book’s appeals for us is that Roscoe’s shenanigans are reminiscent of old-school cartoons - there’s a very lively comic feel to the mischief and mayhem. 

Playful, silly and full of fun, Hungry Roscoe is sure to provide plenty of laughs and it’s cheeky lead is sure to inspire many a plan for parents to foil.

The Promise

The Promise 
Nicola Davies & Laura Carlin

A promise can be a powerful thing and we see just how powerful when a thief makes one as she steals a bag from an old lady.  In the bleakest of places where no joy remains, our young protagonist     steals to survive, but when she discovers the contents of her latest theft she sets out to keep her promise - sewing the seeds of change for those without hope.

Told in the first person there is a beautiful poetry to Nicola Davies’ words which hooks you in from the offset.  Lengthier than most picture books, the maturity of the text sets the tone wonderfully, and it’s refreshing to see a children’s book that doesn’t shy away from mature content.  

Laura Carlin’s illustrations are as sophisticated in tone as Davies' writing and the pairing of the two is perfect.  Each page appears like a miniature artwork and the undercurrent of sadness from the text seeps through to the illustrations, which are superbly executed in a spectrum of grey washes and graphite detail.  As the story develops and the misery is lifted, so too is the grey, replaced by a glorious array of greens, reds and oranges.  The spreads become happier; the emptiness of the pages begins to disappear as trees sprout up, people interact and birds take over.  There is a sense of hope and new beginnings and you find yourself as uplifted as the people within the book.  The transitioning mood that parallels the changing environment conveys a beautiful message of hope and possibility, reminding us all that we too have the power to make a difference.

The story takes a twist when the young girl finds her role reversed as a young boy attempts to steal her bag, which she lets go of on the condition of a promise.  Though the story ends there the tale continues and we are left to ponder the life of the unnamed girl and the future life of the new night thief.  The Promise is a tale of bleakness and hope, and ultimately how the smallest of actions can grow to have the biggest of impacts.  

The Promise is a stunning allegory that warms the heart and makes you see the world through a different lens.  It is a book that causes you to stop and think and any book that can inspire change is a book well worth having.


Katie Scott & Jenny Broom

‘Welcome to the Museum’ invites the shiny ticket on the cover, ‘Admit All.’  This is the real beauty of Animalium, and of books themselves, all are welcome; welcome to read, to observe and to learn. Animalium is the perfect host, a literary museum designed to enthral and educate at the reader’s own pace.  Like a museum you can choose what exhibits to linger on or leave behind for later; you can attend them in any order and for any length of time.  The advantage of a literary museum however is that you can visit from the comfort of your own home, (in your pyjamas or sat lazily under a tree should the sun shine), you can return as many times as you wish with the utmost ease and should you become completely absorbed, there is no security guard to shuffle you out; you can stay as long as you like.

Perfectly designed to sit side by side with Big Picture Press’ other tome Maps, Animalium is now part of a growing library that is both wondrous and educational.  The cleverness of these books is that they are so large and so appealing that you can’t help but immerse yourself in them: their size makes them feel special and easy to share.  We can imagine hoards of children squeezing together to hunch over these books, and we wish they’d made them years ago because they certainly would've helped us with our homework.

Chronicling the animal kingdom from the sponges on the sea bed to the largest mammals on earth, Animalium features over 160 animals to look at and learn about.  Divided into six galleries, along with the Entrance and the Library, Animalium is a reading experience like no other; it is like a virtual tour.  Cleverly laid out to reflect museum exhibits and information cards, it is reminiscent of science journals and textbooks but with none of the coldness; from the warm matte pages to the commanding yet friendly font, Animalium is company you want to keep.  The text by Jenny Broom is informative and easy to understand without ever patronising us.  This a book that will not only quench your thirst for knowledge but leave you gasping for more; children will bask in the details and adults will make revelatory ‘Huh..’ sounds as they learn something new.  

The illustrations by Katie Scott have an old fashioned feel about them which only adds to their charm.  The rich yet muted colour palette is obscenely beautiful as is the artwork itself.  From the stunning Tree of Life diagram to the crocodile skeleton, to the stylish endpapers and gallery headings the imagery is varied enough to keep us on our toes but comfortingly repetitive at times because this is not a book that needs to fight for our attention; from the moment you open it you will be enthralled because the most amazing thing about this book is the knowledge contained within it.  What the makers of this book have done is to package it in such a way as to make it utterly irresistible.  Like the text, the imagery reflects Big Picture Press’ belief that quality will out, good text and illustration do not have to be jeopardised or compromised to make a great children’s book.  From the illustrations that look as if they’re preserved in glass cases to the ‘curators,’ every detail has been thought of to make this a cohesive, unique experience.

We cannot emphasise how much content there is.  Animailium is a fascinating book and a joy to read.  It is not a race;  we like to wander leisurely through its halls and peer, hands behind back, in proper museum stance at the curiosities and wonders within.  We guarantee you will too.

The Memory of an Elephant

The Memory of an Elephant: An unforgettable Journey
Sophie Strady & Jean-François Martin

They say an elephant never forgets and in the case of Marcel this certainly seems true.  A picture book not quite like any we’ve seen before, The Memory of an Elephant is half story, half fact-guide, and wholly entertaining.  A book about an elephant would naturally suit being on the larger side, and that’s certainly the case here.  This giant offering provides a wealth of information cleverly woven between a slightly surreal tale that is both bizarre and utterly charming.  

Marcel is an elephant on a mission to compile an encyclopaedia of all his memories, and over the years he’s collected quite a few.  As you journey through the book you’ll discover facts about fashion, furniture and food (not to mention elephants), and every page has something new to discover and take delight in.  We advise that you set aside a bit of time for this one because with so much contained inside, you’ll want to spend a long while poring over it all.

It goes without saying that this book is cool, but we’re saying it anyway.  With its speckle-muted tones and fuzzy edges there’s an overriding sense of vintage stylishness, which is both familiar and unique.  Full of little details, such as Marcel’s tattoo from his sailor days - this is a book that captures the imagination and puts a smile on your face.  With its large-size format there is a grandness that comes with opening the book’s pages, which combined with the opulent illustrations gives added weight to the idea that in your hands you are holding something very special.

It’s unusual to encounter a picture book where narrative and factual information run in tandem, but if this is anything to go by, it should be done more often.  A book that can both entertain and educate is a powerful thing indeed, and The Memory of an Elephant is certainly that.  We’re off to make the delicious sounding La Crēpe Marcelette, (the recipe to which is provided at the back of the book) because all our newly acquired fact-learning has built up quite an appetite. 

Mangoes & Bananas

Mangoes & Bananas
Nathan Kumar Scott & T. Balaji

Tara Books have come to have a bit of a reputation: they are known to be the makers of some of the finest picture books today and so it’s of little surprise that Mangoes & Bananas is a thing of beauty.  An Indonesian trickster folktale full of wit and delight, this book offers an insight into another culture and shows us how stories from afar can offer as much reward as those we already know and love.

Kanchil the mouse deer and Monyet the monkey are best friends who love to eat.  Tired of always having to find their food first, Kanchil has the clever idea of planting their favourite fruit trees.  When the time comes for the fruit to be picked only Monyet is able to climb the trees and Kanchil is forced to look on as his favourite, mangoes, begin to be devoured.  But Kanchil is a smart mouse deer and is certain to think up a plan in order to win back his fruit…

Created through the traditional Indian art form Kalamkari, where cotton is hand painted with intricate designs, the level of time, effort and skill involved in making this book must be celebrated.  The dedicated workmanship is apparent across every page and though the process may be an ancient one, placed in this new context it appears entirely original.  It’s so lovely to see the fabric’s texture throughout the book, with its mottled effect in an array of earthy yet vibrant colours.  This rawness teamed with the intricate pattern work of flora and fauna offers a wonderful balance, making this a book that not only celebrates tradition, but brings its message to a wider audience.  This unique approach to picture book making is delightful to witness, fusing as it does the story’s history with a befitting art process. 

Mangoes & Bananas is a folktale with a wonderfully funny ending, which just goes to show how universally understood such stories are. It's a book that once read will feel like you’ve known it for years and once seen will be difficult to forget.  As a book it radiates all the warmth and splendour you associate with Asia, making it another magical addition to any book collection.

Mangoes & Bananas forms part of a three book series, along with The Great Race and The Sacred Banana Leaf.  Each tale has been retold by Nathan Kumar Scott and features Kanchil the mouse deer.  Every book has been illustrated by a different Indian artist and together they form the most beautiful collection.

Henri’s Walk To Paris

Henri’s Walk To Paris 
Leonore Klein & Saul Bass

Henri lives in Reboul, a little city near Paris.  Reboul has everything Henri needs: it has his three good friends, a small park with five trees, one squirrel and a little gray church; Reboul is home, but Paris - oh the things Henri has heard about Paris.  Paris is full of trees and cars, parks and people; how Henri longs to go there.  One day, when his excitement and inquisitiveness can no longer be contained, Henri sets off for the city…

Originally published in 1962, Henri’s Walk To Paris is the only children’s book illustrated by design legend Saul Bass.  Using his signature simplicity and smarts, Bass uses his skills to create a charming, innovative picture book that is arguably unequalled today.  Bass is perhaps best known for his distinctive poster art and title sequences for films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, where his sharp imagery slices the screen as his text energetically races across.  The text by Leonore Klein is charming in its simplicity, and the plot as cheeky as the design prowess on show. 

Bass’ approach to book illustration is equally breathtaking; his colour palette is wonderfully rich and warm, and has a completely contemporary feel.  This is a book where shape and form are kings ensuring that each spread is as vibrant and inventive as the last; each is a work of art.  The text is incorporated not only to provide story but to provide pace and action: watch as the words rise above Henri’s house like smoke from the chimney, or fall to the earth as Henri’s pencil does so too.  The wittiest and most elegant of all these typographical uses is the way Bass captures the townspeople; with only a hat and a pair of shoes he uses the words describing the people themselves to create bodies and vehicles.  Perhaps his most unusual touch is that we never see Henri.  We glimpse an arm here, a leg there, but never do we see him in full or get a glimpse of his face.  Personally we think this adds great tension and humour, and instead of denying us the means to identify with our lead, it ensures that we can all identify with him as he could look like any one of us.  It also ensures that Paris (or the promise of it) and Reboul become characters in themselves, as important to the book as Henri.

Perfectly capturing the bustle of a city compared to the quiet of a small town, Henri’s Walk To Paris is a visual delight, a lesson in flawless, audacious design, and a reminder that home is where the heart is, and that there’s no place like it.