Tag Archives: illustration

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

I fell in love with Brian Selznick’s stories when I first opened The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  Brian’s style of storytelling, alternating between text and illustration, really appeals to me.  His black and white illustrations are stunning and ‘reading’ them is like watching a movie.  I have been eagerly awaiting Brian’s new book, The Marvels, and I was completely captivated by it.

marvels_standingshot

The journey begins on a ship at sea in 1766, with a boy named Billy Marvel. After surviving a shipwreck, he finds work in a London theatre. There, his family flourishes for generations as brilliant actors until 1900, when young Leontes Marvel is banished from the stage. Nearly a century later, Joseph Jervis runs away from school and seeks refuge with an uncle in London. Albert Nightingale’s strange, beautiful house, with its mysterious portraits and ghostly presences, captivates Joseph and leads him on a search for clues about the house, his family, and the past.

The Marvels really is marvellous!  Brian Selznick has given us another incredible, unforgettable story and a beautiful work of art.  It’s difficult to know where to start when talking about The Marvels as there is just so much that I love about this book! I want to carry it around with me wherever I go.

The story is in two parts.  The first part is completely told through illustration and takes up the first 390 pages.  This tells the story of the Marvel family, starting with Billy and Marcus in 1766, who became a famous acting family.  Through Brian’s amazing illustrations we follow the many generations of the Marvel family until the story ends abruptly.  The story then jumps forward to 1990 and follows Joseph, a boy who loves stories, and his quest to find his uncle.  Joseph has run away from his school to find his uncle, Albert Nightingale. However, Uncle Albert isn’t quite who Joseph pictured.  Why is Albert’s house in such disarray, where are those mysterious sounds coming from, and why won’t Albert give Joseph any answers? Joseph knows that Albert is hiding a huge secret and it’s up to him to discover what it is.

Brian had me gripped from the very first page.  The way that Brian tells the story of the Marvel family, through illustration alone, makes the reader piece the story together themselves, rather than telling you with words.  It is almost like watching a silent movie.  Brian gives you different views of the action, from huge, sweeping shots of the Kraken being tossed on the waves, to close-up shots of character’s faces (like the one of Marcus below).  These close-up shots show so much detail and emotion.  It amazes me what Brian can do with a few strokes of a pencil!

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Image from The Marvels by Brian Selznick.

There are lots of twists and turns in the story that keep you guessing.  I certainly didn’t expect the secrets that were revealed, and to me that is a sign of a really good story.  The ending of the story is perfect too and left me smiling.

The Marvels is one of my top reads of the year.  It’s the perfect gift for any book-lover (just look at that lovely hard cover and gold edging!).  This is a must-read book and I guarantee you will fall in love with it.

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Seriously Spooky Month: Guest Post – James Foley

 

Bringing My Dead Bunny to life – James Foley

www.jamesfoley.com.au/books/my-dead-bunny

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I have never owned a rabbit, let alone a zombified one, so when I began working on ‘My Dead Bunny’ I had no idea how to approach the character of Bunny Brad. I knew plenty about zombies, having watched all of the Walking Dead and the original Romero film Night of The Living Dead; but I didn’t know how to draw a decent rabbit (or, as this book required, an indecent one).

In addition, I wasn’t sure what illustration style would suit the book; in the first few pages I needed to show a live rabbit being electrocuted, then coming back as a zombie, and I needed to accomplish this without making the audience want to stop reading, close the book, and burn it immediately. As you would expect, it was a challenge bringing a dead bunny to life.

I always start a book by developing the main character. This inevitably involves experimenting with style at the same time. Once the main character design has settled, it informs the style of the whole book; everything else forms around it.

I read the first draft for ‘My Dead Bunny’ and was instantly hooked. Then I was perplexed. How would I draw Bunny Brad? I realised I needed to answer three questions:

  1. How ‘undead’ would he be? (i.e. would Bunny Brad still look relatively alive, or would he look obviously undead?)
  2. How much sentience would he have? (i.e. would Bunny Brad appear to be conscious of his actions and intentionally evil, or would he be acting out of unconscious zombie impulses?)
  3. How real would he look? (i.e. would Bunny Brad have realistic proportions, or would he appear more cartoony?)

I wrote these three questions down in my sketchbook, and tried a few drawings.

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The brain worm was there from the start, as was the idea to have Bunny Brad appear at the narrator’s bedroom door casting a long shadow.  But that’s about all in these sketches that looks familiar.

At this point I realised I needed to look at reference photos of actual rabbits, so that I could clarify what features I needed to include. I soon found another challenge; how could I take a rabbit’s features and zombify them? Rabbits look very alert, anxious and cuddly, whereas zombies need to look slow, dim-witted and creepy. How could I draw a zombified rabbit and still have it seem like a rabbit?

I tried many many options over many many months. Here are some of those designs.

random-sketches

The publishers (god bless them) were very patient and supportive, rejecting options that were too cute and/or not strong enough. After many rejected character designs I was feeling very frustrated, so I sat on my studio floor with a big sheet of paper and a sharpie, and drew some ridiculous zombie rabbits that I thought the publisher would hate. ‘Let’s see what they think of these!’ I thought. I sent the sketches off with a devilish glint in my eye.

20140215-bunny sketches

The publisher emailed me back almost immediately. ‘We love them!’ they said. ‘More of these, please!’

I felt surprised, then relieved. The character had finally clicked, and so had the style. Bunny Brad shifted a bit from that sketch to the final version, but he was basically there, and the rest of the book flowed quite easily once he was in place.

LEFT: a colour test version of the rough sketch in the previous image;  RIGHT: final version from the cover of the book

LEFT: a colour test version of the rough sketch in the previous image;
RIGHT: final version from the cover of the book

It’s always the case that I spend at least half of the creative process experimenting and planning. Quite often there’s a point where it seems like it’s never going to work – that the character is never going to settle and the book won’t go anywhere. I’m so glad Bunny Brad eventually turned up! He’s been a heap of fun to work with (if a bit nibbly).

My Dead Bunny by Sigi Cohen and James Foley is available now from Walker Books Australia.  Grab a copy now from your library or bookshop.

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Filed under books, Guest Post, picture books, Seriously Spooky Month, Seriously Spooky Month 2015, spooky

Creaturepedia by Adrienne Barman

You know sometimes when you see a book and instantly fall in love?  I had one of those moments recently when I laid my eyes on Creaturepedia by Adrienne Barman.  I first saw this book on one of my favourite book websites, Love Reading 4 Kids and the cover really caught my eye.  When I finally got my hands on a copy of the book from my library I fell in love.  Excuse me while I gush over this book.

Creaturepedia is a visually stunning book about creatures from all over the world.  The book’s by-line is ‘Welcome to the Greatest Show on Earth,’ and it’s not wrong.  Adrienne Barman introduces us to creatures great and small, huge and miniscule. Adrienne has split the book up into different sections, with names like ‘The Champion Breath-Holders,’ ‘The Masters of Camoflage,’ and The Show-Offs.’  The beauty of this book though is that it is perfect for dipping in and out of.  You could pick any page at random and it would make you go ‘Wow!’  Curious children could flick to ‘The Lilliputians’ and discover that the Bee Hummingbird is the world’s smallest bird at 5.7cm long or that the Dwarf Gecko is the world’s smallest reptile at 1.6cm long.

The text in the book is sparse, letting the reader focus on the gorgeous illustrations that portray these creatures.  Children will discover creatures that they never knew existed and will want to find out more about them.  Adrienne’s illustrations are vibrant, quirky and fun.  Each of the creatures has its own unique personality.  Take a look at just a couple of the page spreads from the book:

Artwork credit: This is an excerpt from Creaturepedia by Adrienne Barman, published by Wide Eyed Editions.

Artwork credit: This is an excerpt from Creaturepedia by Adrienne Barman, published by Wide Eyed Editions.

Before you even open the book you can tell you’re holding a work of art in your hands.  The publisher of Creaturepedia, Wide Eyed Editions, clearly knows what makes a great book.  The love that went into producing this book is evident, from the hardcover to the binding and the vibrant colours to the high-quality paper.

Get your hands on a copy of Creaturepedia by Adrienne Barman and fall in love with this stunning book!

Creaturepedia is just one of the gorgeous books published by Wide Eyed Editions (distributed in Aus/NZ by Allen and Unwin).  Check out their website now.

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Winners of the 2015 Carnegie and Greenaway Medals

The winners of the 2015 Carnegie and Greenaway Medals were announced on Monday in the UK.  Tanya Landman was awarded the CILIP Carnegie Medal for Buffalo Soldier and William Grill was awarded the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for his debut picture book, Shackleton’s Journey.  They each received a medal and £500 of books to donate to their local library and William Grill also received the Colin Mears Award of £5,000.

xxxxxCharley, a young African-American slave from the Deep South, is freed at the end of the American Civil War. However her freedom is met with tragedy after her adopted mother is raped and lynched at the hands of a mob, and Charley finds herself alone with no protection. In a terrifyingly lawless land, where the colour of a person’s skin can bring violent death, Charley disguises herself as a man and joins the army. Trapped in a world of injustice and inequality, it’s only when Charley is posted to Apache territory to fight “savage Indians” that she begins to learn about who she is and what it is to be truly free.

The judges said: Engrossing from the very beginning, the strong narrative voice engages the reader in the world described; perfectly conveying raw emotions without the overuse of sentimentality. This is a beautiful, powerful piece of writing that will remain with readers long after the last page.

xxxxxIn the last days of the Heroic Age of Exploration, Ernest Shackleton dreamed of crossing the frozen heart of Antarctica, a place of ferocious seas, uncharted mountains and bone-chilling cold. But when his ship, the Endurance, became trapped in the deadly grip of the ice, Shackleton’s dreams of crossing Antarctica were shattered. Stranded in a cold, white world, and thousands of miles from home, the men of the expedition set out on a desperate trek across the ice in search of rescue.

The judges said: This beautiful non-fiction book seems to effortlessly bring a modern and fresh feel to the story of Ernest Shackleton, whilst remaining traditional and classic. This is an exciting, quality book which provides a true experience and reminds us that it is the people, not the journey, that truly matter.

I haven’t read either of these books but they both sound really interesting.  My picks were More Than This by Patrick Ness for the Carnegie and Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell for the Greenaway.  There were certainly some great books on the shortlist and I’m sure it would have been a tough decision.

The Carnegie Medal is awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children. The shortlisted books this year were:

  • When Mr. Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan
  • Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossman
  • Tinder by Sally Gardner
  • Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge
  • The Fastest Boy in the World by Elizabeth Laird
  • Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman
  • The Middle of Nowhere by Geraldine McCaughrean
  • More Than This by Patrick Ness

The Greenaway Medal is awarded annually for an outstanding book in terms of illustration for children and young people. The shortlisted books this year were:

  • The Promise, illustrated by Laura Carlin
  • Jim’s Lion, illustrated by Alexis Deacon
  • Shackleton’s Journey, written and illustrated by William Grill
  • Dark Satanic Mills, illustrated by John Higgins and Marc Olivent
  • Smelly Louie, written and illustrated by Catherine Rayner
  • Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse, written and illustrated by Chris Riddell
  • Tinder, illustrated by David Roberts
  • Rules of Summer, written and illustrated by Shaun Tan

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Win The Bird King: An Artist’s Notebook by Shaun Tan

A new book of sketches, artwork, and personal reflection from the brilliant mind of award-winning, bestselling author and illustrator Shaun Tan.

“I’m often wary of using the word ‘inspiration’ to introduce my work — it sounds too much like a sun shower from the heavens, absorbed by a passive individual enjoying an especially receptive moment. While that may be the case on rare occasions, the reality is usually far more prosaic. Staring at a blank piece of paper, I can’t think of anything original. I feel utterly uninspired and unreceptive. It’s the familiar malaise of ‘artist’s block’ and in such circumstances there is only one thing to do: just start drawing.” — Shaun Tan.

And when Shaun Tan starts drawing, the results are stunning. In THE BIRD KING: AN ARTIST’S NOTEBOOK, we find a window into the creative process: the stops and starts, the ideas that never took off, and the ones that grew into something much bigger. Fans of THE ARRIVAL will recognize the quirky, surreal sensibility that is so distinctly Shaun Tan in this stunning collection, and gain insight into how his many gorgeous books were made.

Due to my own mistake (I thought this was a new book, but it just has a slightly different title and cover from the one I got a while ago) I have a copy of this wonderful book to give away.  All you have to do to get in the draw is leave a comment telling me which Shaun Tan book is your favourite (mine is Tales from Outer Suburbia).  Competition closes Thursday 14 February (NZ only).

 

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Meet the wonderful Oliver Jeffers

I thought Oliver Jeffers was awesome before I saw this video, but now he’s just reached an all new level of awesomeness!  I’ve been a huge fan of Oliver since his first book was published and I’ve loved everything he’s created so far, from his own picture books to illustrations for other authors, such as John Boyne and David Almond.  His books are wonderful and it’s great to get this entertaining insight into his creative process.

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Books to Treasure: Herman and Rosie by Gus Gordon

‘This is a tale about a big city.
It’s a tale of hotdogs and music and the summertime subway breeze.
It’s a tale of singing on rooftops and toffees that stick to your teeth.
But most of all, it’s the tale of Herman and Rosie.’

This wonderful little blurb captures the essence of Gus Gordon’s magnificent new picture book, Herman and Rosie.

From the moment I set eyes on the stunning cover of Herman and Rosie, I fell in love with this book.  Every time I see it I want to read it again. You know that this is a story that Gus loved bringing to life because you can see all the love that has gone into the creation of the book.  Each page is so detailed and filled with different characters.  One of things I love to do in Gus’ books is find all the different characters on each page.  For example, on one page, there’s a bear on a scooter, a fox and a mole in suits, and a mother hippo taking her baby for a walk.   One of the things I especially love about the illustrations in Herman and Rosie is the different media that Gus has used on each page. You can see he has used pencil, crayon, water colour paints, photos of objects, coffee cup stains, bits of newspaper and advertisements, and postcards (among various other bits and pieces).  He’s used all of these different types of media in interesting and imaginative ways to achieve different effects on the page.

The story is all about the two characters of the title and Gus really brings them to life.  I think the reason I love the story so much is because both Herman and Rosie are interesting and quirky characters.  I really like the way that Gus describes them and their likes.  Herman likes ‘pot plants, playing the oboe, wild boysenberry yoghurt, the smell of hotdogs in the winter and watching films about the ocean,’ and Rosie likes ‘pancakes, listening to old jazz records, the summertime subway breeze, toffees that stuck to her teeth, singing on the fire escape…and watching films about the ocean.’  By telling us their likes, we figure out that they’ve got something in common.  It’s a story filled with hope and it and leaves you feeling incredibly happy.  It’s guaranteed to cheer anyone up and put a spring in their step.

Teachers or school librarians who are looking for great picture books for older readers should add Herman and Rosie to their collection.  Older readers will enjoy the story and they’ll love the intricate illustrations.

Herman and Rosie truly is a book to treasure and to read over and over again. It will make your toes tingle and make you feel like you have ‘eaten honey straight from the jar.’

5 out of 5 stars

 

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