Thursday, 4 September 2014

Sam And Dave Dig A Hole

Sam And Dave Dig A Hole

By Jon Klassen & Mac Barnett
Published by Walker Books

Do you remember the days of playing outside and digging for the fun of it? Or in my case wanting a swimming pool... well in SAM & DAVE DIG A HOLE (the title says it all), there are two little boys (Sam and Dave) who decide to dig a hole and keep digging until they find something spectacular. 

This is the second book that Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett have worked on together, the first being Extra Yarn, a magical tale about a little girl who cocoons her cold, grey town in joy, warmth and brightly coloured yarn! And this book has just the same magical charm as the first. Jon Klassen’s distinctive style (using a more pencil shaded texture here compared to his previous work) and soft muted colours adds so much more to the story. The humour in this book is achieved by seeing how the boys keep changing direction underground, thus missing the treasures they seek. Oblivious to their missed out treasures, their little dog hints at where they should dig next, but the boys ignore his inklings and carry on digging. The boys dig until they are exhausted and finally decide to rest (after finishing their hot chocolate and animal biscuits of course). But their canine companion has other ideas and carries on digging as he's sniffed out his very own treasure. But what happens if you dig a deep hole and keep digging... where does it end? Before they know it they’re all falling like little Alice in Alice in Wonderland into... well, I wouldn't want to ruin it for you!

This really is a charming little book, which will remind you of your childhood of playing outside in the hot summer days looking for adventures. I adore the little dog and cat within this book; the dog, who has joined the boys on their mission is a perfect companion for any hole digging adventure. While the little cat just looks on at the beginning and at the end of the boys adventure, not at all amused. 

Another classic from Jon & Mac. Perfect for younger readers and any fans of Jon Klassen. And remember boys and girls, if you want to dig for treasure, remember to check with the grown up whose garden it belongs to!

This little treasure will be available from the 2nd October on Walker Books or from all good bookshops.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Steve Antony interview

I had the pleasure of asking author/illustrator, Steve Antony, about tantrums, his favourite banana dishes and how he's finding his new career as a popular children's author, all in the wake of his second picture book, Betty Goes Bananas.

Steve Antony was born in England, but grew up in Alamogordo, New Mexico where he was the kid with the British accent that liked to draw and entered lots of writing contests. Steve was obsessed with character book collections like the Mr Men books and the Munch Bunch. He even wrote to Roger Hargreaves with a suggestion for a new Mr Men character: Mr Green, an environmentally aware Mr Man. 

Steve went on to study art and graduated with an HND in Illustration from Swindon College and an MA in Children's Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin. There he learned a great deal about sequential illustration - and was finally able to find satisfying ways to do the two things he loves to do most - writing and drawing - at the same time. Steve’s pile of loose drawings, tatty sketchbooks, notepad scribbles, and newspaper clippings continues to grow into a small mountain of stories in his little Swindon studio.

BWB: Your new book Betty Goes Bananas is about tantrums, did you ever lose your cool over anything when you were a child?

SA: I lost my cool lots of times when I was a child. I really disliked doing anything that involved being the centre of attention, like trying on new shoes or getting a haircut. If I could find a way out of doing those sorts of things, I would. If I couldn't find a way out, a major strop usually ensued. I was never spoiled as a child, but I do remember losing my cool whenever my mum couldn't buy me a new Mr Man book whenever we walked through our local WH Smiths. Thank goodness for libraries!

BWB: Betty Goes Bananas is your second picture book. Was it like the 'difficult second album' after the success of The Queens Hat?

SA: I finished the book around about the same time I finished 'The Queen's Hat', so I never felt any pressure to create something better or just as good. They are totally different. I often like to pick a subject and just dive in to it without thinking too much about how it will compare to something else I've done. My first book was a 'British' book; my second, 'tantrums'; my third, 'manners' and so on. For me, the most important thing about writing picture books is telling the story in the best way possible, even if that means creating something totally different from anything I've done before. I quite like the challenge, and I'm really happy with 'Betty Goes Bananas'. I hope that others like it too.

BWB: Is there any item of food you find hard to open?

SA: I can't open those ice pop lollies that come in long plastic tubes. Everyone else just seems to be able to rip into them with their teeth, but I have to use scissors, or (if I'm desperate) somebody else's teeth.

BWB: What's your favourite banana related dish?

SA: Banoffee Pie! Just don't ask me to make it though.

BWB: I read that Betty Goes Bananas started as a doodle in a sketchbook. Do all your ideas start this way?

SA: Betty captured my imagination as soon as I drew her. She made me laugh out loud, and that's normally a good sign that I've created something worth developing. Oxford University Press loved 'Betty' and suggested that I explore tantrums as the core theme to her story. But not all my ideas start this way. Sometimes I hear a phrase that inspires me. Sometimes I stumble across funny newspaper articles that spur me on to write. I only ever pursue the ideas that seem to come naturally, and sometimes I go through my sketchbooks to see if I can further explore any of my characters and ideas.

BWB: Like The Queens Hat, Betty Goes Bananas has a limited colour palette. Do you prefer to work this way?

SA: I do. Once I've got an idea that I feel is strong enough to pursue, I start contemplating what colours will best suit the story. It's often the case that my choice of palette influences the entire book and how I render the final illustrations. With Betty, I wanted the character to pop out and I wanted the background colours to reflect Betty's emotions. Once I had settled on red, yellow, black, white and pink, I decided that a Toucan would be the best secondary character for the book, and I decided that background elements weren't necessary to help tell the story. The visuals are actually quite abstract; Betty could be anywhere, and that's what I like about it.

I would never rule out using lots of colours, but I only ever introduce colours that are integral to the telling of the story. At the moment, I'm working on a book that has lots of colours, but that's because it features lots of props that need to stand apart from each other.

BWB: What's the most challenging task you've faced since becoming an author/illustrator?

SA: Events were daunting to begin with. I took a dive in the deep in with the Hay Festival. It was my second event, and the tent was at full capacity. I had a moment of terror that lasted a few minutes before I stepped onto the stage - maybe that was my inner child that hated being the centre of attention. I'm much better now. Recently I drew in the window at Foyles Grand Opening Festival, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

BWB: Who is your biggest illustrator crush?

SA: Norman Rockwell.

BWB: Would you ever consider illustrating someone else's text?

SA: Sure! But to be honest, I prefer the idea of writing a story for somebody else to illustrate. I think I'm more of a storyteller than an illustrator. I've written several stories, including poems, that I haven't even started to illustrate.

BWB: Can you reveal any details about your new book, Please Mr Panda?

SA: It's about a panda, doughnuts and good manners, and it's due for publication by Hodder Children's Books in January. I can't wait! It'll be a good excuse to eat lots of doughnuts.

Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to answer my questions. Steve's second book, Betty Goes Bananas is now available to buy in all good bookshops!

Betty Goes Bananas

Betty goes bananas

By Steve Antony
Published by Oxford University Press

Meet Betty, the star of Steve Antony's second picture book about a baby Gorilla. We've all heard of the 'terrible twos', well just like a toddler, Betty is quite the handful when things are not going her way. When Betty comes across a banana and finds she can't peel it, her rumbling tummy gets the better of her and she throws an almighty tantrum. Luckily for Betty (and for us) a helpful Toucan arrives to show her how its done. But will this solve Betty's problem?

Like The Queens Hat, Steve has gone for a very limited colour palette - but there is a very clever reason behind the limited choice of colours. As well as being the same colour as a banana skin, the yellow in the backgrounds represent a calming atmosphere when Betty is content. And when that tantrum erupts, we find the yellow is replaced by a strong alarming red, which helps us realise how upset Betty is.

In this book there is a bigger focus on the characters and emotions compared to Steve's debut. There is no background art, just solid flat colour of yellow or red (on top of a banana paper texture). This helps the reader recognise when Betty jumps from a calm, loveable gorilla to one that's loud and unpredictable. The illustrations themselves, stand out on the page and the pastel effect they're drawn with give them a childlike quality. Betty is hard to forget and children will undeniably relate to her expressions and poses.

I'd recommend this book for younger readers and their first time parents. It helps children and their parents understand tantrums and how things as simple as peeling a banana (and a parent 'thinking' they've understood what's wrong) can upset a child that can't communicate how they're feeling without expressing it through a tantrum. Steve has tackled tantrums in a successful manner, and created a memorable character in Betty. He's definitely a new talent to keep an eye on. To find out more about Steve, keep an eye out for my interview with him coming up next.

And if like Betty, you're finding it a little hard to open a banana too, take a look and this helpful technique on Youtube.

Betty Goes Bananas is to buy in all good bookshops and on the Oxford University Press website.

Monday, 1 September 2014

The New Small Person

The New Small Person

Written & illustrated by Lauren Child
Published by Puffin

Lauren Child is back! With a much anticipated new picture book featuring a new character, Elmore Green. Isn’t life great when you’re an only child? You have your own room, your own toys and your parents all to yourself! But then everything changes with the new arrival of a sibling!

Elmore is happy with the way things are; he can watch his favourite cartoons, line his toys up his way and eat his favourite jelly beans in any order he likes. And his parents think he’s the funniest and the most adorable person they have ever seen until one day, everything changes when a small little person arrives. 

Elmore is not impressed, people seem to like this little person more than him. This new person doesn’t like his cartoons and knocks over his toys and even licks his jelly beans! When he goes to his parents and asks for it to go back to wherever it came from, he’s told its not possible. What will Elmore do? It’s a lovely story about how Elmore comes around to liking this small little person and why it can sometimes be good to have another person to play with, watch telly with and share sweets - though not his favourite orange jelly beans.    

Lauren has over 35 books, though I believe she is most known for Charlie and Lola or Clarice Bean, That’s Me, her first ever book. The New Small Person is illustrated in Lauren’s classic style of collage, it’s witty and a throughly enjoyable read, it’s definitely a great book for any child who has a new small person in their life. This will hopefully help them learn the benefits of having a sibling, though it may not always seem like that at the time! 

The New Small Person will be available from Puffin on 4th September.



By Jerome Keane & Susana De Dios
Published by Hachette

When I first laid eyes on MINE! I was drawn in by the bright colours. Aoife is now 3 months old and is starting to notice different colours and shapes. Her eyes were instantly attracted to the bright yellow cover and the unusually coloured blue fox and pink horse - which in contrast work brilliantly with the yellow backdrop. 

MINE! tells the story about a bored Fox and Horse who come across a mysterious object which they both want. There’s two of them and only one ‘thing’, can they learn to share it? But what is this object they want so much and does it belong to someone else?

This is the second book from the collaborating husband & wife team Jerome Keane & Susana De Dios, who also brought us Ellie’s Bad Hair Day. Susana has used a very different style in MINE! With more bolder colours and a screen print technique which gives the book a graphic design feel. The character design and colours are very modern and I like how horse is a larger, taller character than Fox as it allows the characters to be compared to how a younger and older sibling may act in this situation. The text is also laid out in an easy to read format, which is ideal for younger readers.

I’d recommend this book to any new family - especially those with two small children. It has an important moral encouraging to share, but done in a humorous way - especially when the horse and fox are still reluctant to share at the end, even if it is for their own good!  

MINE! is available to buy in all good bookshops and online.