‘Peggy’ by Anna Walker (Scholastic) There is something very special about illustrated picture books; accessible artwork and story-telling rolled into one! Inspired by such a windy day that illustrator and story-teller, Walker, wondered if the chooks would be blown away, this book follows the travels of a fabulous chicken named Peggy who finds herself blown from her suburban backyard into the city. We are treated to Walker’s exquisite style and sensitive colour palette. From the cover of the book to the font, end papers and storyline, the illustrations in ink, pencil and photo collage lead us through Peggy’s adventure with subtle humour and her engaging expressions. I have only recently become acquainted with Walker’s work which I am loving. Her use of line and space, combination of techniques and use of full bleed pages and subtle detail is superb. The plotline and message in the story about bravery, opportunities, adventure and friendship is appealing to young and old. This book was short-listed by The Children’s Book Council of Australia in 2013.
Read my interview with Anna Walker here.
Visit Anna Walker’s website here.
‘Lunch’ by Denise Fleming (Henry Holt; Macmillan) About 15 years ago a dear friend of mine invited me to a few evening talks at a not-so-local children’s bookshop. The talks were about great children’s books and I loved every minute. This was one of the books that I was introduced to at these talks and it has become a favourite in my family. The storyline is actually only three sentences long. Fleming uses strong, active words that convey sound to make it a book that you want to read again and again. The colourful, exuberant illustrations are made of handmade paper and lead you along to a variety of foods that the mouse enjoys for lunch. Each page is drenched in strong colours with a black and white checked tablecloth to add punch. Apparently Fleming creates her images by pouring colour paper pulp into hand-cut stencils. The angles and cropping are bold and beautiful. That little mouse was hungry and very, very messy. His crumbs and paw-prints cleverly remind you what he has already eaten in the previous pages and the last page is a glorious re-cap of the whole story. This book was listed as an American Library Association Notable Book in 1992.
Read my interview with Denise Fleming here.
‘Mister Magnolia’ by Quentin Blake (Red Fox; Random House) This book was given to my eldest daughter when she was very little by my darling friend, Suz. I think Blake is a bit of a genius. Often teamed with Roald Dahl, here is Blake in his own right. Blake makes all his illustrations look like quick, arbitrary sketches which are all just off-the-cuff, but his elegance and exuberance of line is so lively and fun. How can he make it look so easy and un-laboured? Blake’s style looks spontaneous, but is a stroke of genius in a combination of waterproof black ink and coloured pens or washes on watercolour paper that create pure joy. His expressions and details are quirky – mice tickling Mister Magnolia’s feet, newts dancing a jig on a lily pad and owls trying to get some sleep on the stove flue. The positioning of the images on the page and Blake’s use of white space is so clever and keeps the images fresh. Mister Magnolia has a long crazy list of things that he DOES have, however he only has one boot. We follow the story in rollicking rhyme until, before you know it, you are at the book’s wonderful ending. This book won the Kate Greenaway Medal in 1980.
Read the interview with Quentin Blake here.
‘The Cockerel and the Fox’ retold and illustrated by Helen Ward (The Five Mile Press) I discovered this book recently at my local library. Why had I never heard of Ward before? This beautiful retelling of a fable where the cockerel outwits the treacherous fox has the most sumptuous illustrations of barnyard animals in painstaking detail and animation. The depth of colour that the animals are depicted in is carefully contrasted with the line drawings of fences and chicken wire. The cropping of the images and the variety of vantage points we see the animals from makes the reader feel engaged as if we are a bird hopping from tree to tree to see what is happening and so keep the reader kinetically involved and keep the active story rolling. At the end of the story we are treated to a history of the fable and then a key which names each animal drawn in the story. This book won The English Association Award in 2002 and was short-listed for the Kate Greenaway Medal in 2002.
‘Anno’s Journey’ by Mitsumasa Anno (Penguin) Wow! This book has no words – each double-page spread is a detailed account of the main character’s walk inspired by Anno’s own journeys through England and his fascination with the architecture, landscape and folk lore. In a muted colour scheme, the book is a detailed masterpiece in pen and ink with watercolour washes of the main character arriving by boat, negotiating to buy a horse, his nonchalant wanderings through the towns and then out the other side until he leaves his horse and wanders over the top of the hill. The pages are completely covered in line drawings of intricately drawn architecture and colour except for the paths which leave space for your eye to wander and journey through the pages. Anno’s attention to detail and wry humour is fantastic. We see integrated homages to well-known paintings and nods to classic books and stories incorporated in the scenes of everyday life of villagers and towns people. There are many clever stories within stories, such as the journey of a letter, a race, a town parade and a courtship and marriage which evolve through the pages. This book was listed as an American Library Association Notable Book in 1979.
‘Good Night, Me’ written by Andrew Daddo and illustrated by Emma Quay (Hachette) I have loved being involved in the annual book stalls at my children’s schools over the years. This book was one that I found and fell in love with at one of the stalls. A simple story about bedtime and the reflection of the day just spent, the language is comforting, soft and in gentle patterns which are just perfect for getting ready for bed. Inviting to act out or acknowledge each part of the body whilst reading the book, it creates a sense of safety and the promise of the next day. Quay’s illustrations in pencil, acrylic paints and watercolour on thick watercolour paper are completely mesmerising. The sleepy expressions of the little orang-utan, the use of the image on the page and the technique are heart-achingly beautiful. Using a minimal colour palette of a generous amount of white paint on the subtly coloured background and juxtaposing this with the lively colour and texture of the orang-utan’s fur is a master-stroke in keeping our attention focused on expressions and words. This book was awarded as a Notable Book by The Children’s Book Council of Australia in 2006.
‘Possum Magic’ written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Julie Vivas (Omnibus; Scholastic) This book is deservingly well known. Not only is it a beautiful story celebrating Australian icons (possums, koalas, wombats, kookaburras, dingoes, emus, kangaroos, the bush, ANZAC biscuits, Adelaide, Minties, Melbourne, Sydney, The Sydney Harbour Bridge, pumpkin scones, Brisbane, Darwin, Perth, pavlova, echidnas, Tasmania, lamingtons and Vegemite!), but Fox and Vivas do it in a way that is respectful , fun and really very beautiful. We follow Hush, the possum, and her grandmother, Grandma Poss, who makes Hush invisible to protect her. When Hush decides that she wants to see what she looks like, Grandma Poss has to remember the recipe to make Hush visible again. We travel around Australia seeing the sights and tasting delicacies in order for Grandma Poss to remember the ingredients for her magic. Vivas’ watercolour illustrations are so beautiful and graphic; possum tails wind gracefully around tree trunks, bush branches bow under the weight of Hush, koalas balance on tree limbs, sails of boats billow in the breeze and echidnas curl up into balls. Most fabulous to me is how Vivas interprets the ‘invisible’ Hush with grace and life. This book was awarded Highly Commended by The Children’s Book Council of Australia in 1984.
‘The Dancing Class’ by Helen Oxenbury (Walker Books) I have been a huge Oxenbury fan for a long time. I must have become aware of her beautiful work when I was in about Year 9 (14 years old) at school. My wonderful art teacher enthused the class to enter in a competition our local bookstore was holding for a children’s illustrated book. As part of the project, I looked at illustrators and developed a love and appreciation for their work. I adored this project and was lucky enough to be one of the 4 winners. Interestingly enough the other 3 winners have also followed creative paths; Mel is an artist, Fiona is an interior designer and Christina a florist. Oxenbury’s combination of delicacy, expression and humour is astounding. This is one of my favourite books of hers because I have three daughters who have all danced at various times. The expressions and personalities of the children and teacher are priceless. The too-big tights, bobby pins, piles of ballet shoes and doing hair into buns are wonderful memories and reminders. Oxenbury’s economy of line and also of text is perfect. Her subtle colour palette is so refined and, once again, she makes it all look so easy when I know for sure it isn’t!
‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle (Penguin) I remember the first time I ever held a copy of this book. My mum was helping in the library book stall at my Infants School; I must have been in Kindergarten or Year 1 (5 – 6 years old) and she showed me the book. I remember thinking ‘They’ve punched holes in the book AND they’ve cut the pages short!’. I was fascinated and really hoped that someone would buy that book so I could borrow it from the school library. This book is, of course, very famous now. It’s a book about life cycles, night and day, nature, days of the week and healthy eating habits all in one! What’s not to like? Carle’s fabulous style of vivid, colourful collage made from cut and torn guache-painted paper and crayon is intriguing and a huge colour-punch. Combining this collage technique with the die-cut hole punches as if the caterpillar has eaten holes in the page and the range of short-cut pages this was, at the time, a breakthrough format which continues now to fascinate readers and keep them engaged.
Read the interview with Eric Carle here.
‘Amy & Louis’ written by Libby Gleeson and illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Scholastic) This was another fabulous find at a school book stall. The story of two friends and one moving away was particularly poignant as my sister’s family moved interstate at that time. Blackwood intersperses her stunning coloured illustrations with monotone double page spreads alluding to the loss of colour in life without the friend. Using sublime watercolours on watercolour paper and contrasting them with charcoal, this book is a tale of friendship and of building and rebuilding special bonds. I love Blackwood’s layout of her illustrations: full pages with full colour bleed, illustrations integrated with text and others in linear bands. I was fascinated to read that Blackwood studied at the same university design faculty that I attended and loved. This book was awarded Book of the Year by The Children’s Book Council of Australia in 2007.