Thursday, 27 September 2012

all things Oliver Jeffers

Living in London may have its challenges but it also has many perks, and famed artist/author Oliver Jeffers signing books at a local bookstore was a high point in my week.

The master plan was to get a copy of Stuck signed for E along with two copies of Jeffers' new book, This Moose Belongs to Me, for a friend and a cousin. A very rambunctious E was accompanied by his friend Olivia. I settled down on the floor to read 'Stuck' to them while we waited, and we were soon joined by a slightly older and much cooler Jeffers admirer who plopped down beside them to patiently listen to the story with the little ones.  This little dude was so excited to meet Jeffers that I almost felt like an imposter. He had a stack of his favorite titles and proceeded to talk about why he liked them and which bits were best. He really liked Stuck but preferred his copy with an orangutan on the back to our new paperback. I neglected to get his name but his recommendations included: The Incredible Book Eating Boy, Hueys - The New Jumper, and Up and Down. I'd take this kid's word for it. He definitely knew his stuff.

E was oddly still and quiet when Jeffers signed his copy of Stuck.  I tried to explain that this was the person who wrote it but that fell on deaf ears. Jeffers was quick to remind me that he illustrated it too and then proceeded to draw lovely creatures next to the names in each book. I think E understood that this was something special ... not least because I wasn't scolding the guy for drawing all over the book!

If you're new to Jeffers' work then Stuck and How to Catch a Star are great titles to get started with.  This Moose Belongs to Me is probably for a slightly older audience but worth getting your hands on a copy just to swoon at the illustrations. I also hear that there's a great app based on his book titled The Heart and the Bottle. And if that's not enough, Jeffers is  currently releasing and promoting a new fine art book about his work, Neither Here Nor There.  Read about all this and more at Oliver Jeffers.

Happy reading and a big thank you to Oliver Jeffers and Watersones!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino

I wish Dan Yaccarino would write a book for every day of the week. I came across this title on our summer trip to the US and the 'Friday book' is still a nightly request on E's reading list.

This is a book about a Dad and his son and their weekly ritual of breakfast at the diner. The story is focused and the illustrations are fun, interesting and cool.  1960's design and characters meet minimalist line drawings and urban references. It works brilliantly in this context and manages to give the story an enviable vintage look and feel.

E and his Pop read this book a lot together. He points to the boy on the cover and says it's him.  We have yet to identify the Beatnik on page twenty but I'll come back you. 

A boy and his Dad take a walk from their apartment to the diner.  It's gloriously simple and also significant as their walk is the same every Friday.  They make their way past the shop keepers and street vendors as the city is waking up to the day. They both know where they're going and there's never a need for deviation.  Just a boy and his Dad and a little extra time together on a Friday morning. They make their way to the diner, order their usual from their favorite waitress and sit down to chat and chew until it's time for them to get on with their day.

Was this book written in the 1960's or the 21st century? Sometimes it's hard to tell ... and this is a good thing.  There's a telling contrast as the boy notices all the other people rushing while he and his Dad take their time. After all, it's Friday and this is their day together.

Yaccarino includes a lovely author's note about his own diner breakfast tradition with his son. The sincerity of his experience rings true in this loving little story.

Every Friday is a 2007 New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book of the Year and a 2008 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year. You can learn lots more from the publisher's website:  Macmillan (US). Dan Yaccarino has a great website as well where you can learn about his other books, characters and countless creative projects:Yaccarino Studio.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

London ABC by Ben Hawkes

London's magical landmarks and layered cityscapes are in safe hands with illustrator Ben Hawkes.  London ABC uses familiar scenes to teach the alphabet and even includes a slightly mischievous penguin as a tour guide.  There is no narrative text and instead the penguin provides the link as he pops up on each page. Sometimes he's central to the scene like when he's wearing an I Love London t-shirt while eating an ice cream cone.  And in other pictures he's part of the background like when he's riding the London Eye and is a tiny figure inside one of the many capsules.  One of my favorite scenes is the Jubilee party he crashes.  He's sitting very still next to a granny and waving his Union Jack as if he owned the place. Each picture is loaded with detail and E and I've been talking about the buses, boats, fire engine, horses, trains, underground signage and of course the zoo where the penguin finally returns after his adventures in the Big Smoke.

The illustrations are impressive in their own right but look closely and you'll see just how clever they really are in terms of the ABC's.  One letter is featured across each spread along with a text phrase such as 'O is for Oxford Circus'.  However, in the background you'll also spot other objects beginning with the same letter. The Oxford Circus page includes an Octopus, Onion and an Ostrich. There's a handy list of illustrations in the back just in case you miss something along the way.  I especially like the 'Pear' store on the 'P' page and anyone familiar with an Apple (Mac) store will quickly recognize the reference.

For my two year old this compact title (it's approx 13 x 10 cm) is more about looking at pictures and name recognition than learning the alphabet.  However, I feel there's room to grow and even more of a story to be told as he gets older and the letters take on more meaning.  It's also a great way to commemorate the big summer of London 2012 and I hope it will become a keepsake. And it's not just for Londoners -- I think it will appeal to any kid charmed by lovely pictures and a slightly naughty penguin. You can have a closer look via the Random House website: RandomHouse.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Dear Zoo & It's Mine by Rod Campbell

E and I had were fortunate to attend a special birthday party recently to celebrate 30 years of Rod Campbell's classic children's book, Dear Zoo. E's favorite things from the afternoon were the special edition Dear Zoo m&m's and the generous goody bag from Macmillan Publishers (thanks again!).  I was thrilled to meet the man of the hour and hear him speak a bit about his experiences as an author/illustrator. 

Rod Campbell Q & A
My burning question for him was about the importance of repetition in his books. His sound response was that it was vital for building confidence. He sees repetition as an important learning tool and I took that to mean not just individual words but repeated concepts and phrases.  In Dear Zoo the narrator asks the zoo to send them a pet - a series of unsuitable pets arrive and each is in turn sent back to the zoo until finally a puppy arrives and is deemed 'perfect.' There is a pattern to the action repeated throughout the book and many children learn to recite the words within a few reads. If there is a young child in your life then Dear Zoo is a must - the app is great for slightly older kids too.  

Dear Zoo is a faultless title though E is equally fond of another board book by Rod Campbell, It's Mine. It's Mine introduces the reader to a series of jungle animals and comes with a roaring surprise at the end. In each picture there's a clue to the animal hiding on the next page: a green bit of tail is actually a large crocodile lounging in the river, a big furry paw poking out from behind the tree reveals a bear on the next page. It's great for encouraging children to notice the detail, it begs you to ask them questions and it allows them to build up suspense before the fantastic pop-up surprise at the end. This one is still going strong in our house and our copy is a much loved rag tag version of the original ... and it now has a special signature on the inside page from a very special author.  

Happy Birthday Dear Zoo and many thanks to Rod Campbell!