Thursday, 17 April 2014

A match made in picture book heaven

Our very own picture book editor Maria Tunney shares her passion for two of the most unique and influential picture book makers of our generation; Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake.

At Walker Books, we’re always on the lookout for picture book makers that are difficult to categorise. We love to work with illustrators whose work is not so typical, trail blazers, and at the same time we have a desire to publish books that are expressive and original, but are also easily understood by small (and sometimes big) children. 

When you think of some of the most uniquely individual picture book makers of a generation, Russell Hoban certainly falls into that category – he’s a very rare kind of singular genius. And Quentin Blake? Is there an illustrator more revered by his peers? As Daisy Hirst, one of our newest picture book makers says, “Blake has probably had the biggest influence on my work of any illustrator, and I expect that's true for hundreds of us, as there is just no one else so expressive, fluent and endlessly inventive. I can't really say how important his work is to me.”

So, it was ALL kinds of wonderful when six (that’s right, SIX!) Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake books found their way onto the Walker list. No fooling around, we started with a bang in November last year when we published How Tom Beat Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen and the wickedly delightful, spiky-tailed Monsters. This April we’re publishing the paperback edition of How Tom Beat Captain Najork as well as the even-wackier follow-up title A Near Thing for Captain Najork and, of course, the luminous The Rain Door. But fear not – there are even more gems to come with The Twenty-Elephant Restaurant coming this November and Ace Dragon Ltd publishing in June 2015. 

There are SO many things that are marvellous about these books.

Russell Hoban has such an authority with the way that he writes. Just read this description of Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong in How Tom Beat Captain Najork: “She wore an iron hat, and took no nonsense from anyone. Where she walked the flowers drooped, and when she sang the trees all shivered.” She wore an IRON HAT?! Where she walked THE FLOWERS DROOPED?! Man, I wish I could write like that. You simply don’t question it. The tone of Hoban’s writing is always very direct; it actually kind of knocks the wind out of you with its directness…

“I’ve been thinking about it all day,” said the woman. “Before we got that table you were young and handsome. Now you’re old and ugly. What you said was true. That table is wearing you out.” Twenty Elephant Restaurant

Hoban truly lived through his work – his words are life IN art – and he makes you feel, as a reader and as a creative, that there are unlimited imaginative possibilities. He is the master of the absurd, the keeper of the madcap; you simply never know which way his stories will take you – each page turn produces an unexpected surprise, a yelp of glee, and an uproarious bout of laughing. Walker Books founder, Sebastian Walker, always said "All that counts is that a child says at the end of the book, 'Again!'" and these books demand many, many re-readings.

I’ve had to present How Tom Beat Captain Najork and A Near Thing for Captain Najork at a few sales meetings and there is no way easy way to summarise these plots or to talk about them in a neat two or three sentences. No way. You’ve got to shout a bit and read out the great one-liners and giggle and say things like, “Oh this is HILARIOUS!” and “So then, right, he hops on his two-seater jam-powered frog” a lot. Rather – they defy categorisation. They are rare gems gleaming in a mass pile of samey-sameiness. Yes, I just made up that phrase thank you very much.

But I do see a common thread: at the heart of these stories – the two Captain Najork books, The Rain Door, Monsters, Ace Dragon Ltd and even Rosie’s Magic Horse – are young children, mostly boys. They are brave and bold, quick-witted and fast-thinking. When the world tells them there is something wrong with them, they rebuke it, they challenge it – circumstances do not hold them back. They don’t need grownups to get by. 

 John, the monster-obsessed kid of Monsters, is a perfect calm amid a storm of parental anxiety and adult neigh-saying. There is nothing wrong with his fascination with drawing monsters, what is wrong is society who wants to understand everything, to disassemble the abnormal in order to make sense of it. Guess what, some people just are the way they are. John just likes to draw monsters!

Tom in our two Captain Najork is a groovy kid – he’s curious, creative and confident. Through a series of complicated competitive games (WOMBLE, MUCK and SNEEDBALL) he manages to manoeuvre his over-bearing, fun-destroyer Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong into the arms of Captain Najork and frees himself for a much more delightful existence of, well, fooling around. Although, he does need a guardian … so he advertises for one. But, of course! And he finds a much happier life with Aunt Bundlejoy Cosysweet. Tom is completely in control of his own fate.

Harry in The Rain Door is another character who seeks out adventure. When he follows the Rag-and-Bone behind the rain door he finds himself in a bleached landscape full of rusty bolts, old iron, string and throw-away clocks and … a LION. And what does he do? Well, he uses his imagination and creative brain and makes himself a mechanical dinosaur. But that begins to frighten away Lightning… Perhaps you can understand a little more just how unexpected each page turn is in a Russell Hoban/Quentin Blake book!

Just as his characters make up their own rules in life, so does Russell make up his own rules for picture book making. He writes like no other children’s author – it’s direct, it’s unusual, he creates new language with words like ‘rehorsed’ and ‘unvanned’, phrases like “Rainy numbers up!” and new food like cabbage-and-potato-sog, swede-and-mutton slump and greasy bloaters (erm, I’ll pass on that, thanks very much). He doesn’t patronise children or undermine them in anyway: Captain Najork has a wandering eye for the robust headmistress at a nearby boarding school, Rosie’s parents in Rosie’s Magic Horse have financial problems, John’s parents in Monsters have serious discussions about their son’s mental stability (they send him to a child psychiatrist!), The Twenty-Elephant Restaurant is all about a couple who have a very long argument about a table…

It could only be an artist like Quentin Blake who could meet and match the unusual and wild worlds (and words) in Russell’s stories. They are the perfect partnership and together they make the absurd seem … completely normal. As one our own authors, Timothy Knapman, says, “Picture books are about the ideal pairing of word and image.  I love the way the comic exuberance of Quentin Blake’s illustrations so perfectly matches the unfettered invention of Russell Hoban’s stories.  There is a joy to their stuff that practically gives the reader wings.  Each time I look at it, I can feel the possibilities of the picture book – and the world outside it – expand.”  

Maria Tunney, Picture Book Editor.

Easter Eggstravaganza

Easter is upon us, and the team at Walker Books HQ have been hard at work coming up with some egg-citing Easter activities for you! From egg hunts to egg decorating, we have plenty of ways for you and your kids to get creative in the sunshine.

Why not kick of your Easter weekend with some egg decorating. Here at Walker we've been busy turning our favourite Walker characters into eggs.

The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and the Walker team, armed with glitter and colourful pens, were ready to get cracking (pun intended!)

How many of our characters can you recognise?

Special thanks to Petr Horáček  who also took part, painting two beautiful eggs and even designing a character background to put them in!

Decorate your own eggs for your chance to WIN our Easter top picks!

We've got a set of our top three picks for Easter to give away, including A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies and Mark Hearld, Guess How Much I Love You: Here There And Everywhere by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram, and Maisy's Hide-and-Seek sticker book by Lucy Cousins; the perfect picture books to read with your little ones over the Easter hols. For your chance to win, just send us a picture of an egg that your child has decorated to and our favourite will win!
What you'll need:
A pin
A bowl
Felt tip pens, paint, glitter or anything you'd like to decorate your eggs with!

How to do it:
Start by blowing the egg until it's hollow (learn how to do this here).

Next, dig out your children's favourite Walker picture books and pick your favorite characters to draw. Use felt tip pens, paint, glitter or anything you like to bring the characters to life!

Easter fun with Tilly and Friends

If you're still stuck for activities, check out these lovely Tilly and Friends Easter activity sheets, perfect for keeping little fingers busy!Try Tilly's Easter Egg Hunt, make some delicious Easter chocolate nests, or colour in your own Easter eggs!

Happy Easter from everyone at Walker Books!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Story Space

"The picture book is a place we can share, a place to be together as humans, no matter what age we are." Nicola Davies, author of A First Book of Nature tells Picture Book Party about the importance of 'story space', and how the power of a simple story can inspire great things in children and adults alike...

Narrative is a wonderful device! It’s the psychological bag we humans have used since we sat around the first fires, to carry information and to pass it to others. It is an incredibly flexible container, that can adopt all sorts of shapes and sizes, a sonnet, a song, a picture book, a novel. It is robust too - it can hold information about the deepest tides and currents in our nature, the instructions for making a soup or the life history of a polar bear. Narrative creates ‘story space’, that liminal region between the exterior world and the interior world of emotion and reflection. In it, boundaries are dissolved, the real and the imagined are combined in unique cocktails of experience, allowing us new insights into the world and our place within it. Story space allows us to to see things differently; it facilitates fresh thinking and helps both artists and scientists to formulate new questions, theories, new ways to describe the world.

Story space does its best work when it is combining things we never thought about putting together in the real world, so it’s no coincidence that the narrative media that create the story space with the greatest capacity to hold layered meaning and huge emotion, are songs and picture books, media that are themselves combinations of two art forms. We’re familiar with the idea that our lives can have a soundtrack of songs but the picture book still remains the most under estimated of art forms. Words and pictures, like words and music, have an unrivaled ability to create the most vivid story space, where the biggest and boldest, the strangest and the tiniest of human experiences can be portrayed, examined, recorded. This immense power to hold ideas and information of all kinds, and at all scales, makes picture books an incredibly valuable engine for learning; the story space they create is a learning environment far too valuable to abandon at six or seven.

One of the things that I’m most delighted about the picture books that I’ve created with Laura Carlin and Mark Hearld, is their ability to speak to people of all ages. A First Book of Nature has reminded adult readers of their own experiences of first contacts with the natural world, and renewed their commitment to seeking those experiences for the children in their care.  The story of The Promise has inspired children to plant seeds and moved adults to consider the ever present possibility of personal change and evolution.

In a society increasingly compartmentalised into age bands, fragmented by loss of community and isolated by the use of technology, the picture book is a place we can share, a place to be together as humans, no matter what age we are: Story Space, perhaps the most important, powerful and unique invention of human culture.

By Nicola Davies.

A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies and Mark Hearld is now available in paperback. Find it at your local bookshop.

Discover the world on your doorstep with your free, downloadable A First Book of Nature activity sheet.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Top three picks for Mother's Day

Stuck for a last minute Mother's Day gift? Here are our top three picture book picks:

1. Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Anita Jeram

"I love you right up to the moon – and back." The story of Little and Big Nutbrown Hares’ efforts to express their love for each other has become a bestselling classic, and is a firm favourite with children aged 0-5 years. 

 2. Say Hello Like This by Mary Murphy

Different kinds of animals say hello in their own way. Some say it LOUD – Bow-wow! Some say it PROUD – Meow! And some say it SILLY – Hee-haw! Say Hello Like This is an ideal read-aloud for the very youngest of listeners. Have fun making all the different animal sounds that are sure to have babies and toddlers gurgling, giggling, clapping hands and making plenty more of their own noises, too!

3. My Mum is Beautiful by Jessica Spanyol

In this gorgeous picture book, Jessica Spanyol captures the wonderful bond between a mother and a child. Told from the perspective of a small bear, this book encapsulates how love is measured in a child's mind: a gesture so simple can mean so very much. Perfect for children 0-5 years.

Find all of these book at your local bookshop.

A Walk in Paris by Salvatore Rubbino

From buzzing markets to beautiful patisseries, illustrator Salvatore Rubbino takes us on a journey through the making of his new book, A Walk in Paris, in an exclusive guest blog post for Picture Book Party...

I love to look.

And drawing helps me to notice things that I may otherwise have overlooked.

A Walk in Paris is the third ‘city book’ (A Walk in NewYork followed by A Walk in London are the other two). The book is the story of a day in Paris but is also a guide through the city. In fact, one of the first tasks was to plan a walking route of no more that 4 miles so that a family could cover this distance in a day if they were lucking enough to visit Paris. It was a case of finding a way to join up all the places I liked. Some places and landmarks I could include whilst others proved too far away (although I managed to include them in the view from Notre Dame instead).

In the book, a girl and her granddad walk the journey I plotted. I identified with the granddad because like me he enjoys a good market and is tempted by delicious cakes.

Paris is a visual feast, it delights the eyes and lifts the soul. There is a beautiful view everywhere you look! Even so, I tried hard to find different ways to describe familiar landmarks and Paris motifs. The things that interest me are the moments that remind me about life – like when the characters from the story get lost in the district called the Marais (that happened to me) or when the girl in the book looks at the cakes through a patisserie window (I did that a lot too). These moments and others attempt to describe how it feels like to experience Paris and it’s daily rhythms.

I like to play with the pacing of pictures through the book and have included a fold out page to create a very different effect towards the end. I joked that the fold out could reveal a very long baguette for a while but it was clear early on that there was only one choice – the Eiffel Tower. At night the Eiffel Tower fizzes with lights and is the most wonderful spectacle. And my son also made a picture of it for the last page but was shrewd enough to ask me for a fee – now there’s someone who’s going places!

Hear more about the book in this interview with Salvatore Rubbino for French Radio London. 

Get your hands on a copy of A Walk in Paris by Salvatore Rubbino at your local bookshop. Join in the fun and download this free A Walk in Paris maze activity sheet.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Make your own birdy activity

Hello Birdy!

To celebrate the publication of Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton, we invite you all to try your hand at designing and making a bird of your own – using this brilliant activity sheet that Chris made!

This is great fun to do either at home over the holidays or at school. 

What you'll need:
  • A blank piece of A4 paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue

1. With the help of an adult – carefully cut out the bird shapes. 

2. Rearrange the shapes in any way you like to create your own new bird!   
3. Use glue to stick your bird to a blank piece of paper. 

You don’t need to use every item on the worksheet - you could pick your favourite shapes
The wackier the bird the better   
Why not give your bird a name or make up a story about it?

Here are some that the children of Orchard Primary School in Hackney, London made:

We love this one!

We would love to see what you come up with!
Tweet us a picture at @BIGPictureBooks using #HelloBirdy