So here are my favourite 5 PICTUREBOOK BEASTIES. Classic beasts like Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, Antony Browne’s Gorilla and Munro Leaf’s Ferdinand are givens, (5 is an impossibly small number!) so I’ve tried for some really small beasties, one imaginary one and one jungle beast. You probably have plenty more favourites to add. No vampires or dinosaurs allowed!
1. THE FROGS AND THE CAT (see top of blog) by Kazanari Hino illustrated by Tokao Siato published by Fukuinkan Shoten won the IBBY Honours Book in 2004 for Japanese Illustration.
These wonderfully delicate and distinctive illustrations are so full of detail and incredible humour that you don’t have to understand Japanese to enjoy the story. The young frogs of Genji Pond gather on lily pads while an elder tells them an ancient tale. There’s a strange attack one night. A frog receives a bad slash on her back and claims it’s a monster with glistening eyes… a cat belonging to a rival clan. The young frogs decide to avenge, riding out on fierce-looking crickets, brandishing bamboo-shoot lances, wearing flower helmets and brave expressions with an almost calligraphic grace. Each time you look there’s more to discover. A picturebook at its VERY best. I love it! Please won't some UK publisher bring it out in English.
2. THE SEA-THING CHILD by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Patrick Benson, published by Walker Books won the V&A Illustration Award in 2000.
Benson’s faultless drawings with their infinite variety of tone and texture created by hatching and cross-hatching using a variety of pens and nibs are a perfect match to Hoban’s richly textured words. A bedraggled heap of fright, washed ashore in a storm, makes two friends… a crab filled with self-doubt and a wise albatross. Gradually the little puffin gathers enough confidence to return to the sea where he belongs. The poetry of the text is perfectly reflected in the depth of feeling and humour in the illustrations. Benson spent time sketching for this book on the south coast of Scotland and even built little stone igloos. Each reading brings fresh delights…. the hissing waves and the pebbles clicking in the wash of the tide. Yet powerful as the text is, for me it’s the illustrations that linger. It deserved more than just to be short-listed for the 1999 Kate Greenaway.
3. STELLALUNA by Janell Canon published by Harcourt in the USA in 1993 and David Bennett Books in the UK in 1995.A baby fruit bat attacked by an owl is separated from her mother. She’s taken in by a mama bird and her nestlings and learns to fit in with bird rules… eating insects and sleeping right side up at night. When her mother finds her, Stellaluna’s new bird friends ponder,
‘How can we be so different and feel so much alike?’
‘And how can we feel so different and be so much alike?’
Cannon’s luminous acrylics and colour pencil illustrations are exquisite. The almost too brilliant sky and spare brown and green woodland background intensify the subtlety of the drawings. Stellaluna is drawn with scientific precision but also with real character that makes her endearingly batlike, but not blood-sucking shudder-inducing. She's a fruit bat after all!
4. DEXTER BEXTER AND THE BIG BLUE BEASTIE by Joel Stewart published by Double Day and Corgi in 2007 and 2008.The story of a small boy who scoots right into a Big Blue Beast and spends the entire story trying ingeniously to distract the Beast from eating him. There's something comforting about Joel Stewart's illustrations. The pen and ink drawings have a traditional feel but a quick freshness. The Beastie (an orthodontist's delight) is not too scary and might be someone’s warty grandpa except he’s blue and has rather long claws. Stewart somehow manages to imbue Dexter with that feeling of wariness I had when I contemplated my own remote and seemingly grumpy grandfathers… but who proved to be extraordinarily patient and kind when we did things together. Words and pictures weave perfectly and speech bubbles make it child friendly. The follow-up, Dexter Bexley and the Big Blue Beastie on the Road where Dexter and the Beast start hooting and are thrown out of town, is probably even more engaging with its concept of child and older person being naughty together across the age-gap.
5. AUGUSTUS AND HIS SMILE by Catherine Rayner published by Little Tiger Press 2006. Winner of the Best New Illustrator Award in the Booktrust Early Years Awards 2006 and shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway in 2007.
Augustus the tiger is sad. He has lost his smile. So he gives a tigery stretch, and sets off to find it, taking the reader through forests, deserts and even under the sea. A simple story of self-discovery but on a deeper level the story explores the concept of the ‘inner who’ and what we reflect to the outside world.
Rayner’s work is breathtaking in its simplicity and use of subtle colour, tone and wide open space. Augustus is brought to life using quick spontaneous and vigorous line that explores personality and a restless energy. Augustus manages to look curious and at the same time appears as if he has simply strayed onto the page and with a twitch of his tail might as easily leave. Rayner apparently spent hours and hours watching and sketching tigers at Edinburgh Zoo.
Her spare backdrops (almost Japaneselike in their simplicity but different to the Frog book) are an invitation to the imaginative reader to fill in what lies within and beyond the frame. Suspended leaves, a blade of grass, a line of footprints, an elongated shadow, all trick the eye into making more. Brilliant! Augustus and his Smile was Rayner’s debut work but what a debut!
And just for interest sake - the Booksellers Assoc held a very interesting Seminar on Monday in London on Picturebook Apps. Anthony Browne, amongst other on the panel, urged that digital books retain the quirkiness of conventional books and encourage 'slow' looking.