Monday, 19 November 2018

Life Lessons from Picture Books by Jane Clarke

Last week, Book Trust tweeted

So, inspired by this thread, and with tongue firmly in cheek, here are some life lessons from  a few of my favourite old picture books. I’ve confined myself to sausages, elephants and poultry - but feel free to add anything in the comments at the end :-)

1. If you strut about with your beak in the air, you’ll miss a lot of exciting stuff.

2. Never underestimate the power of compromise, especially when arbitrated by a duck.

3.  Fake wings may be cool, but they won’t enable you to fly.

4.  Be nice to demanding house guests and treat yourself to sausages, chips and ice cream at a cafe after they leave.

5.  It's wise to keep sausages handy in case you need them to determine which end of an Earth Hound has the fangs, and which end has the waggler.

 Dr Xargle's book of Earth Hounds by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Tony Ross

6. Elephants are happiest when they don’t try to hide their true colours.

7. If there are four elephants in a bath, only three have fun.

Five Minutes Peace by Jill Murphy

8.   If you spend all day going rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta all down the road with an elephant, you will need to lie down at the end of it.

The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs

There are huge philosophical truths to be extrapolated from picture books and I recognise (somewhat guiltily) that the subject deserves a much more serious post than this. In the meantime, though, I hope you’ll leave a comment to let us know more life lessons (from the silly to the profound) you’ve learned from picture books.

Jane's just finished writing the Dr KittyCat series and is currently working on a third picture book to be illustrated by Britta Teckentrup, and the fourth book in the Al's Awesome Science series illustrated by James Brown.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Illustrating the night in children's picture books • Paeony Lewis

In 1914, Kay Neilson illustrated East of the Sun, West of the Moon
As the nights grow longer and darkness arrives too soon, my thoughts have turned to the illustration of night in children’s picture books. Looking through the books on my shelves, I’ve adored seeing how different illustrators have portrayed the night and moonlight.

I've discovered that the night can fill the page with grandeur, or be swallowed up by city lights. The moon may glow at the top of the page, or flickering stars are glimpsed through a window. Illustrator style dictates whether the illustrations are simple or detailed, and these images then reflect the mood of the story, which could be fun, cosy, awesome or scary. There is a colour choice to be made: black, grey, purple or blue, but which blue? Will there be moon shadows? Do artificial lights shine through the gloom? So many decisions and I'd love to find out about other books and hear the thoughts of illustrators, but for now, the moon is rising, here comes the night...

This is the only illustration I've seen where the words are inside a white moon.
The sky is inky black and filled with white stars. The moon's light shines on the swan
and I feel the white house helps hold the composition together.
From The Night Box box by Louise Greig, illustrated by Ashling Lindsay (Egmont, 2017)

I assume this is a linocut, using only black ink?
There's no moon, although the shape of the hillside is reminiscent of the curve of the moon.
If the stars were taken away we'd still know it was night from the dense un-inked lines that shine like moonlight and the glowing windows of the houses.
From Tales from Outer Suburbia, by Shaun Tan (Templar, 2009)

Here we have no sky, moon or stars. Even the background is white. However, by using dark shadows on the sleepers and their meagre belongings we know it is dark, wherever they are sleeping.
From My Name is Not Refugee by Kate Milner (The Bucket List, 2017)

Snow and moonlight seem popular in children's picture books, and I can appreciate why - the whites and blues almost sing together.

My box of crayons no longer feels childish if this is what can be done with a couple of blue crayons and brilliant white paper (and a lot of skill!).
From Shackleton's Journey by William Gill (Flying Eye Books, 2014)
This time it's watercolour. The silent shadows of the forest contrast with the moonlight bouncing off  the snow.
From Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr (Philomet Books, 1987)

A different style of gentle watercolour. The cool colours of the snowy night contrast subtly with the warm colours of the bedroom. The blue of the night sky links with inside of the house through the poster on the wall.
From Crinkle, Crackle, Crack: It's Spring! by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by John Shelley (Holiday House, 2015)
Here, falling snow produces a haze of  night blue and snow white,
broken through by the complementary orange of the indoor light.
From The Night Before Christmas by Clement C Moore,
illustrated by Christian Birmingham (Harper Collins, 2007)

The illustrator must have had fun creating a 'broken' moon. Poor mole!
From Bringing Down the Moon by Jonathan Emmett,
illustrated by Vanessa Cabban (New edition 2017, Walker Books)
A very different style, this time using an intriguing diorama. The night sky is grey, like the mood of poor, patient Goliath.
From Waiting for Goliath by Antje Damm (Gecko Press, 2017 translated from German)

Interesting how the blue totally changes the illustration from day to night.
From This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers (Harper Collins 2012)

The night sky doesn't have to be black or blue; purple works well too and fits the mysterious theme.
From Leon and the Place Between by Angela McAllister and illustrated by Grahame Baker-Smith  (Templar, 2009)
Here's another purple night sky, this time in a simplified graphic style, that's still effective.
From Good Little Wolf by Nadia Shireen (Jonathan Cape 2011)
Many illustrators have fun with artificial light at night, and where there is ambiguity as to whether it's night or day, the white, yellow or orange artificial light confirms the darkness.

There's very little colour here, but we know it's night from bright yellow windows. We notice the lion because he is surrounded by white. This lion is also yellow, but it's a different yellow so we know he's not a strange looking lamp!
From How to Hide a Lion by Helen Stephens (Alison Green Books, 2012)
The lamp light glows and is accentuated by the yellow of the child's clothes. There are pronounced shadows too, and the Northern Lights shimmer around Black Rock, and there's a multitude of stars.
From The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd Stanton (Flying Eye 2017)
The bike lamp accentuates the darkness and is the same blue as the daytime sky on the opposite page.
From The Journey by Franseca Sanna (Flying Eye Books, 2016)
The yellow of the inside light transforms the illustration into the night.
From The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer (Phaidon Press, 2009)

The night is emphasised by the transluscent artificial yellow light from a house, boats, train and lighthouse. And there's natural yellow light too, from a firefly!
From Firefly Home by Jane Clarke and illustrated by Brita Teckentrup (Nosy Crow 2018)

The bright artificial lights bring out the gaiety of the ship at night.
Two illustrations from The Real Boat by Marina Aromshtam and illustrated by Victoria Semykina (Templar 2017)

Two night illustrations from the same book. Both use window light, but when thee mood changes the blue of the dark night also changes. In the first the cat is having fun, but not in the second where the darkness has turned grey.
From Mr Pusskins by Sam Lloyd (Orchard Books, 2007)

Another two illustrations. At the top are layers of blue with the blobs of light of the town similar to stars (or are they like holes, representing the mining beneath?). In the second illustration from the book the men are in the mines and the movement of the paint adds to the feeling of the heavy ground pressing down on them.
From Town is by the Sea by Joanne Schwartz and illustrated by Sydney Smith (Walker Books 2017)

Another symphony of blue layers (watercolour?). The shade of blue is cool, like the night.
From There is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith (Two Hoots, 2016)

This time the moonlight is grey because of the fog. I've included the words on the left because the author likened the foggy moonlight to everything appearing dusted with flour.
From Fog Island by Tomi Ungerer (Phaidon Press reprint, 2013)

For a grey night, you don't get much greyer than this book. Even the sunset is muted, but so are the subdued lives of the creatures and it adds to the atmosphere of fun boredom.
From We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen (Walker Books, 2016)

From a muted desert to New York City at night in shades of blue. It's not a neon explosion because our eyes are meant to focus on the people watching the screen ahead that's framed by an unusually starry night . Even the cabs don't have light from their headlamps as that would detract from the focus.
From Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover by Markus Motum (Walker Studio, 2017)

Here's another example of a deliberate downplay of light. The room and lamp are muted to allow the moon outside the window to shine brighter than everything else.
From Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd (1947)

This time the moon literally shines inside this school and the colour scheme has a quiet feel of night.
From Mouse's First Night at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock, illustrated by Ali Pye (Nosy Crow 2014)

Here the room is dark and blue, with all the focus on the children lit by the lamp.
From a collection, Dreams of Freedom (Amnesty International), with this illustration by Birgitta Sif (Frances Lincoln, 2015)
Time for a bit of diorama drama. Lightning looks good at night, especially above a tower!
From The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child and Polly Borland (Puffin, 2006)
Here, Moon, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup (Little Tiger Kids, 2017), displays the cut-out shapes of the phases of the moon as you progress through the book.

To finish, here is the deceptively simple final illustration from A River by Marc Martin  (Templar, 2015)
There are many, many more picture books that include the night, but I suspect I've already included too many! Anyway, I hope the night illustrations haven't made you too sleepy. I adore looking at the differences in method and style and wonder if Prussian Blue is the best cool blue for the night? All thoughts appreciated, thank you!

Paeony Lewis, children's author
List of my blog posts at the Picture Book Den.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Looking into the eyes of picture book characters.

Garry Parsons takes a closer look at how illustrators render the eyes of their characters.

 Julia Sarda from The Liszts written by Kyo Maclear.

Recent conversations about characters' eyes have left me in a spin. 
It’s clear that some people have a preference for how characters' eyes are rendered - and why wouldn’t they? You may have a preference yourself. You may prefer just dots, or you might prefer ovals with dots. 

This Is the Way to the Moon by M.Sasek

There are dots, then dots within circles, then circles with dashes, then ovals with dots, and ovals with dashes, then almonds with lids and lids with lashes and lashes with dots and a lot more variations too tricky to describe. But the closer I looked the more compelling it became. 

 But it is not only individuals who have preferences. 

Gentleman Jim by Raymond Briggs

Apparently, book markets across the world have differing collective preferences on how eyes should be rendered, some favouring dots, others preferring dots within circles, for example, which may leave you with a conundrum if you aim to sell your books in more than one country.  

The Journey by Francesca Sanna

We all know that the co-edition market is important for book sales and book longevity. And what a joy it is to receive copies of your work translated into Chinese, Estonian or Swedish! But does the shape of the eyes have an impact on what sells abroad? 

Emma Chichester Clark from Have You Ever Ever Ever? written by Colin McNaughton

Supposing we were to jot down a list of criteria for a picture book to generate enough interest to secure those vital sales abroad, how far down the list would the shape of the character’s eyes be?  
And if individual countries, or even continents, do have a preference, then couldn’t the sales team just tot up the figures and request that the illustrator give the character the eyes appropriate for the market they want to sell to?  
“Is that a half circle and a dash or would that be a dot with a lash for Scandinavia?” 
“No, wait - it’s dots for Japan and circles for South America, please!” 

 Angela Barrett from Anne Frank written by Josephine Poole

It seems that it’s not quite that simple to appeal to everyone, sell to the whole world and cover all the bases, but the conversations I was having seemed to imply that there might just be a happy medium to accommodate  a healthy majority (if not everyone) somewhere in between a half circle and a dash perhaps, something that could satisfy almost every cultural requirement. Can you supply the holy grail of character eyes that appeals to pretty much everyone, please, Illustrator? 

Garry Parsons from Hey! What's That Nasty Whiff? written by Julia Jarmen

So exactly what shaped eyes should you do? And does it really matter anyway? Surely the story and the overall feel of the book is way more important than such a small detail. After all, we are talking about something as simple as a dot or a dash.  

I’m back in a spin.

 The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss

Reaching for the bookshelves, I browse through the variety of eye shapes to look at techniques illustrators have employed at different times to convey the eyes of their characters. 
From the 1960s to the present day, the spectrum goes from the realistic to the wildly bizarre, but mostly, in essence, they are all variations on dots or dots within circles to some degree. 

David Roberts from Tyrannosaurus Drip written by Julia Donaldson

There are now lots of picture books spread all over the desk and floor. 
Within this pile of books I noted that some illustrators alternate between dots and circles from one book to another, not sticking to one method throughout their career, but moving back and forth and chopping and changing technique. In one book a character has dots, in the next the eyes have circles, and then in another book by the same hand we are back to dots again. I even surprised myself, when I noticed how my own characters have switched and swapped between dots, circles and half circles over time, too. 

Other Goose by J.Otto Seibold 

There are illustrators who use the same eye shape throughout a whole book for multiple characters, and some who vary this. In some books animal characters are adorned with the same eyes as the people they converse with, and in others they are not. Sometimes animals and make-believe characters are given distinctly different eyes to their human counterparts, and then in some, human characters have dots and their human companions have circles on the same page. Some characters appear to flick between the two (in the blink of an eye) with the eyes changing from dots to full round circles to express, shock, horror or delight and then returning to the mildness of dots again.

Bruce Ingman from The Runaway Dinner written by Allan Ahlberg

I hoped I might identify fashions or trends for eye shapes within this pile of books in front of me, but there were always contradictions and alternatives. Obviously my quick study has been confined to just one collection of books. I’ve not explored the archives of the British Library or studied the bookshelves of other countries, but one thing that is clear is that these eyes are not just dots, circles and dashes, seen in isolation. They have to be viewed as a whole. The rendering of the eyes is embedded in the nature of the character and within the style of the illustrator. To separate the eyes out from the rest of the whole now seems like a ludicrous notion. Would we then have to have a similar conversation about noses? A tick or a curve, a blob or a point...?

 Ingrid Godon from Hello, Sailor written by Andre Sollie

So, where to leave this ramble about eyes, be they dots or be they circles? Back in the place where picture books belong, I think. On a shelf where there are no rules and where the impossible can become possible through words and pictures combined. And where no one, it seems (even though we may try) can predict the ingredients of a worldwide bestseller.

 Sara Ogilvie from Detective Dog written by Julia Donaldson

So, if you find yourself feeling conflicted over a detail like dots or circles, maybe it’s best to forget whom you are trying to please and just let your characters decide for themselves.

     We're going to end on a quiz!  
     Can you identify who the illustrator is by the eyes alone?
     Answers will appear in the comments section on Tuesday evening. So there's no peeking!

Garry Parsons is a children's book illustrator.

See more of Garry's illustration here.
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