Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Bob Goes Pop by Marion Deuchars.

Review: Bob Goes Pop by Marion Deuchars.

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Bob is back and this time there is a rival artist in town. 

Bob’s success has turned his head. He is certain he is the best artist in town, but then everyone’s attention turns to a rather smug-looking blue parrot called Roy. Roy is a sculptor … except he recreates everyday objects in sculpture form. Bob isn’t impressed. He isn’t happy that Roy is getting all the attention. So Bob tries his feathers at sculpture to very poor success. 

Then he decides to copy. The two birds are daggers with each other and it seems nothing can ever be mended. 

A brilliant story about jealousy, rivalry and sharing ideas. 

The modern art in the story is at first viewed with scepticism. The titles are all ridiculous – think BoatyMcBoatFace – and many readers, like Bob, will be certain that a replica of a lollipop or a rubber duck can’t possibly be art. Then Bob tries to create something for himself and finds that it is harder than it looks. 

The themes in this story work on two levels. Cast your mind back to childhood – say between about 6 and 12. Think of the phrases you heard most frequently. She’s copying me comes in at the top of my mind. Every child encounters a moment where someone else’s work looks suspiciously like their own. In the story, Roy reacts with anger, and Bob with hostility, and this leads to disaster. The bird have to question whether there isn’t a better solution and in the end they work together on a joint project. 

The story also looks at jealousy and rivalry. Bob is used to being admired as an artist and he reacts badly when someone else enjoys a moment of fame. It can be frustrating for anyone to feel as if they aren’t measuring up, but Bob’s great quest to better Roy is an example of how not to behave in this situation. Bob’s work is not up to its usual standard because all his energy is going into being the best. He nearly misses the opportunity to befriend Roy because the pair fall out. There are plenty of opportunities for readers to reflect on which outcome they would want in the same situation. 

Bob’s Blue Period was one of my favourite picture books in 2019 for its arty illustrations and lighthearted approach. Bob Goes Pop is equally attractive and relatable. This is a wonderful book which offers children a look at the art world whilst being about their own experiences. Fabulous. 

 

Thanks to Laurence King Publishing LTD for my copy of Bob Goes Pop. Opinions my own.

Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: The Dam by David Almond and Levi Pinfold.

Review: The Dam by David Almond and Levi Pinfold.

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Kathryn and her father set out into the Kielder Valley, a place with a history of music and story. Everything they see – every planet, building and animal – is on borrowed time. A great dam is under construction and the valley will soon be flooded. Only the ghosts remain, and memories of the people who once lived in the valley.

The father breaks entry into a deserted house. Kathryn plays her fiddle, her father dances and sings and the room fills with spirits. It is alive with the stories and music of long ago. Kathryn and her father move from building to building, filling each one with music for the last time.

Based on a true story told by Mike and Kathryn Tickell, this story brings to life a beautiful piece of history from Northumberland. It is a story of loss and hope. The buildings in the valley will go, but the music lives on. Art of any form is how we record our experiences, and the little girl in the story grew into a famous folk musician who has played the songs of Northumberland to international audiences.

As someone who is currently grieving, I found reassurance in the story. Places and people are taken away but we can recall their voices and messages through art.

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Levi Pinfold’s illustrations have a dream-like quality to them. They capture the illusory quality of memories alongside the vast reality of the dam. I especially love the colours in the skies. I could stare at them in the same way as real clouds.

The final pictures, of Kielder Water and the forest in the distance, are filled with life and joy and colour. It is impossible not to want to visit the area, or at the very least to find a wide, outdoor space. To explore and laugh and play.

I was lucky enough to see David Almond perform alongside Kathryn Tickell and accordionist Amy Thatcher in 2017. The performance brought music and words together to celebrate creativity and the beauty of Northern England. I left enthused. Touched. It is an evening I think of often because I felt so in tune with its messages. The Dam, too, is impossible to forget. There is something new in every reread and it offers a beautiful starting point for conversations about the past and memories and loss.

A haunting and beautiful story about the triumph of art over change.

 

Thanks to Walker Books for my gifted copy of The Dam. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction

Review: Edvard Munch Love And Angst. Edited by Giulia Bartrum.

Review: Edvard Munch Love And Angst. Edited by Giulia Bartrum.

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Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ is an iconic image of our era. For the first time ever the British Museum has put together a major exhibition of his work, which is also the largest show of his prints in 45 years. The accompanying book, Edvard Munch Love And Angst, examines the society and times in which his works were produced and how they influenced his work. 

Munch grew up in 19th-Century Europe. Industrial advance and high mortality existed hand in hand. Munch’s own sister and mother both died from tuberculosis, which meant he was familiar as a child with blood-stained handkerchiefs and agonizing decline. Great theories about the world were in their infancy, and a sense of the uncanny was born from the possibilities about the world which were opening up but not yet confirmed.

The scene is set in an opening chapter, then Munch’s career is examined in chronological order.

Munch had a conviction from early on that art should show more than the surface. Inner secrets and turmoil were at the heart of his work, and the trauma of watching his mother and sister die from tuberculosis left him with a terrible fear that he too would succumb to the illness. Today such complex grief would be recognised and aided, but Munch’s obsessions are apparent even in work from his later life. 

Seeing this collection of images gave me a broader context to ‘The Scream’. Even a person with no interest in art can associate the image with inner-turmoil, but seeing it alongside Munch’s images of sick beds and dying children helps relate that famous image to the time in which it was created. Looking at the full-colour pictures in the book, I got the sense of a time when death was so normal it was continually on the mind. 

Another thing the book taught me is the number of mediums Munch worked in. Woodcut, oil, etching and printing are represented among others, and Munch’s experimentation with medium is as fascinating as his subjects and life story. Later chapters are dedicated to his process and I was particularly interested to see different works which had come from the same printing moulds. 

Although this book was produced to accompany a museum exhibition, it is possible to appreciate it without attending (and I am now desperate to see the exhibition which runs until 21st July). 

A fine study which gets behind the popular image to reveal the human story. 

 

Munch Love And Angst runs at The British Museum from 11th April – 21st July 2019.

Thanks to Thames and Hudson in association with The British Museum for my gifted book. Opinions my own.

 

 

blog tour · Young Adult Reviews

Blog Tour: Alice Oseman shares her experience of illustrating a story for the Proud anthology.

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Blog Tour: Alice Oseman shares her experience of illustrating a story for the Proud anthology.

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Alice Oseman on Illustrating ‘Penguins’

While I’ve been drawing my own characters and comics for years, I’d never tried illustrating someone else’s story until Proud. I was so excited to be invited to illustrate one of the many incredible stories in Juno Dawson’s LGBTQ+ anthology and was even more excited to discover I’d be illustrating Simon James Green’s story, ‘Penguins’, having read and loved Simon’s Noah Can’t Even duology.

The first thing I did was read Simon’s story without thinking too much about how I’d illustrate it. I, of course, loved it! After that, I read it again, this time much more carefully, thinking about which parts would make a good illustration and what sorts of images could properly express the feelings of the story. It’s such a sweet, romantic, adorkable story that I quickly decided that I had to draw the two main characters, Cam and Aaron, and I knew that would suit my own strengths too, as my artwork is mostly characters and cartoons.

I spent a couple of days trying out some sketches. I highlighted the parts of the story that revealed little bits about the boys’ physical appearances, but mostly I was left to my imagination, so I tried to capture their personalities – Cam’s awkwardness and Aaron’s shyness!

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After that, I sketched out a couple of composition ideas. I knew I wanted to create a comic page, as that’s what I love drawing above all things, and I had decided that I wanted to draw the kiss at the end of the story, as that was my favourite part, and I suspected would be many readers’ favourite part.

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Once I’d decided on my final composition, I got to work drawing it with my graphics tablet into Photoshop. I spent a few days working on it and I’m so happy with the result. And it’s incredibly exciting to see my illustration in a book!

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A huge thanks to Alice Oseman for your time and for sharing your sketches.

Many thanks to Charlie from Stripes Publishing for arranging this opportunity as part of a promotional blog tour.

craft

Craft: Make A Scrapbook Memory Jar – Collaboration with HelloBexa

Making a scrapbook memory jar – collaboration with HelloBexa. 

I was looking to add a little more craft to my blog, and I needed some inspiration. That’s when I turned to my blogging friend Bexa. HelloBexa is one of my ultimate blog-reads. It’s a little bit of craft, a load of positivity and the cutest photographs on the internet. Not to mention Bexa’s sunny personality. 

If any blog could make me feel creative it was HelloBexa. There’s something special about her approach to craft. She never makes it feel like a chore. The crafts she suggests are all about self-care and spreading positivity and I can’t think of a better approach to crafting. Check out her blog here. 

So what did I decide on for my first craft? 

Autumn is here. The leaves will fall and Christmas will be upon us and once again we’ll be looking to the new year. Whether we care to admit it or not, 2018 is winding to an end.

And oh the memories!

Last week, I was looking for a way to display my memories from the NYA Festival and the spin-off event in August. I have always loved journaling and papercraft but there is something final about a scrapbook. Scrapbook pages can’t be unstuck. There are bookmarks and charms which I might want to use in other ways. 

Then I heard about memory jars. 

A memory jar is essentially a scrapbook page inside a jar. It can be added to and reorganised and this exactly fitted the way I wanted to display my bits and pieces. 

You can decorate the jar any way you like – and there are heaps of pictures across the internet – but here are some ideas to get you started. 

How to washi-tape a jam jar lid: 

Washi-tape. What doesn’t it improve? Washi-tape has been one of my happy discoveries of 2018 so it only seemed fitting to incorporate it into my jar. 

Here are some tips:

Stick the tape on in straight lines. Fold it carefully over the sides then cut off the overhanging tape. Do not fold it in. 

Start in the middle and work outwards in both directions. The final pieces you fold will be a bit messier. Do not worry. Just stick one strip of washi tape around the edge. This will hide all your trimmed ends. 

My tape was a little see-through. I was happy with this because I wanted blue and white, but you might want to do a test-strip before you start. 

Finding decorations to fill the jam jar: 

It was my wish, as far as possible, to use objects from around the house. I thought I might need some sand or glitter to fill the bottom of the jar. Then I thought of my bath petals. Regular readers might remember that I won a haul of bath goodies back in the Spring. The bath bombs have long since been used but the petals were so pretty I kept them on display. 

In fact, they were so pretty I felt terrible tearing them up. Until I saw them in the jar.

Using bits from around the house is not only eco-friendly, it adds to the memory theme. Those bath petals not only look pretty, they are another happy memory from 2018. 

Write a secret message:

img_7008At the first NYALiterature Festival back in March, author Alwyn Hamilton gave a piece of advice which had changed the way I approach plotting for the better. 

You don’t need to know everything but know your ultimate destination. It is hard to plot a course without knowing how the story ends. 

This piece of advice has seen me finish and edit a 42,000-word manuscript. It will see me plot my next work, and my next one and just knowing other people have found their way through the plotting stages gives me courage. 

I wrote this in my best left-handed-scrawl on a sparkly gift-tag. Nobody looking at the jar would know it was there except me. (And … you guys. Sssh!) 

The Finished Jar:

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Here’s my finished jar. It contains:

  • A photograph of me on the day. I love this picture – I’m wearing the crown knitted by my blogging friend Charlotte and have a unicorn painted on to my cheek.
  • A candle 
  • A secret message
  • A badge
  • Blue – the hall was decorated with blue balloons 
  • A unicorn charm – to represent the unicorn facepaint 
  • Other charms. I made this necklace years ago and sourced charms which related to imagination. See, there’s a crown, a unicorn, and keys to magic kingdoms. 

 

Making my jar was a pleasure and I can’t wait to make something else. Which crafts would you like to see? What would you put in your memory jar? Let me know in the comments below. 

Thanks to Bexa from HelloBexa for joining me. This was such a lovely collaboration and I can’t wait to see your jar. Make sure you check out Bexa’s blog and find her memory jar post. 

 

Non-Fiction

Review: Books Do Furnish A Painting by Jamie Camplin and Maria Ranauro

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Review: Books Do Furnish A Painting by Jamie Camplin and Maria Ranauro

Books have survived as a form of communication for over 2000 years. They have been revered as the word of God and regarded as constant companions. Excepting hate literature, books are a symbol of what makes us civilized. The footprint is everywhere in the world of fine art.

Books do furnish a Painting is a comprehensive look at books as the subject matter of paintings. It looks at work from the last 500 years, exploring what books tell us about ourselves and how they end up in paintings.

This title would be a treat for both bookworms and lovers of art. With over 165 full-colour illustrations, it would make a lovely coffee table book as equally as it could be enjoyed as a study of art.

Short sections pose different questions and explore what books have meant in different civilizations and eras. I was particularly interested in the chapter about the 1700s, when people began to challenge church authority and writing became established as a profession. The social commentary gained from depictions of books in art is fascinating. For example, in paintings from this era, women are shown to have a less scholarly relationship with books than men.

My Favourite Paintings

 

Left: (detail) Interior With The Artist’s Daughter by Vanessa Bell – Books go beyond a physical object. I always feel better when I am surrounded by shelves of books. The subject here seems to share my same bookish nesting instinct.

Right: The Blue Pool by Augustus John – Although the subject is in a beautiful landscape, her mind is clearly elsewhere. The way she touches the book suggests her attention is on her reading material. One of the greatest ironies of reading is how it takes our attention away from our surroundings and companions so we can gain a stronger and broader connection to the world. It is as if we remove ourselves from the world to gain a deeper understanding of it.

A beautiful book

Although I am a lay-person to fine art, the historical and literary commentary made this relevant to my interests. Anybody who is interested in literary culture or what it means to be a book-lover should read this to gain a wider perspective.

A beautiful book which acknowledges how art and literature both define us and make commentary on us as civilized beings.

 

Thanks to Thames And Hudson for my copy of Books Do Furnish A Painting. Opinions my own.

 

Stationery

Stationery: Ten objects which fill me with stationery envy.

 

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Rainbows of pens and little pots filled with erasers. Cloth bound journals. If you are drooling at the thought of these things, chances are you too are a stationery addict. You know what they say about addiction. Feeding it only makes it worse. 

Well. Stationery isn’t the worst addiction to have. 

Being a blogger, I spend a lot of time looking at pictures of other people’s stuff. Shiny, pretty stuff. Yes, I know it is all curated but I can’t help making a mental wish list. One of my biggest weaknesses is posts about pens and notebooks. Forget the make-up and theatre-trips and far flung holidays. All it would take to please me is a pretty journal and a collection of pens.

Here are some of the things which fill me with stationery envy. And a little envy is good, right? It means what you have is worthy of admiration. birdDot paper

Blogging and networking on social media has brought me into contact with bullet-journals. You can hardly avoid the photographs of mood trackers and months-at-a-glance and birthday lists. Why would you want to? It’s the best thing since photographs of cheesecake. I could happily binge on pictures of people’s bullet-journal creations.

Recently I have been made aware that the secret to a good bullet-journal is dot paper. It is like the structure which underpins the art. I would love to mess around with dot-paper, although the first time I became aware of my astigmatism was when I used isometric dot paper in maths lessons. I find it very difficult to focus on dot paper.

 

Fine-liners

I have invested in a small number of fine-liners. Occasionally I draw, and outline my work with fine-liners. I have accepted that I will never be a cartoonist, but I haven’t gotten over my love of fine-liners. It starts before I’ve taken the lid off. Look how you can line them up by nib size. Look at those numbers on the lid. My inner-geek is already excited.

 

 Post-it wallets

00567903_2I have a healthy collection of post-its and sticky tabs. I use tabs to mark out plot points in books and I have recently experimented with post-it notes during the plotting of my own stories. (Verdict? Great idea but don’t get hung up on it. Sometimes you need to write first.) Anyways, I’m still envious of people whose post-it notes are held in one beautiful wallet. Just look at those things!

 

Pencil Rolls

Especially if it is filled with expensive art pencils. Oh, I can’t colour, not to save my life, but I want that pencil roll. I went to school with a talented artist who used to spread her pencil collection out across the school desk. So much easier than fishing around in a pencil case. Just add the beret and the cappuccino and my perfect cliché is complete.

 

Massive sketchbooks

You know those sketchbooks you see in art shops and small-chain bookshops? The ones which you could lie down on? Yep, you know the ones. They cost a fortune but the paper is glorious.

This is not about the desire to be an artist. This is about the desire to make huge mind-maps and write non-stop notes. This is about drawing diagrams of plot (because, as those of you who’ve kept up with my writing know, I like a good plot diagram. Too much. These days I limit my diagram time to weekends and holidays, but I still love them.)

 

Brush pens

Another throw-back to childhood and my friend who had a stash of art equipment. Those anime pens? The ones where you can buy 46 shades of the same colour? When I was 15 I nearly spent my life-savings on them. It wouldn’t have done any good. There is a knack to using them and my attempts looked like toddler-scribble. These days I am better sticking to my own hobbies, although I could happily devote a draw to these pens.

 

 Ex-Libris Stamps

Oh deepest wishes and ridiculous fantasies. Up there with the oak bookshelves and the ladder on wheels, except this one would be easier to sneak into the house. I have researched ex-libris stamps but have never found the perfect one. It would probably be bespoke.

 

Fountain Pens

I own fountain pens and ink pens and roller-balls. It is no good. I am chronically left-handed and angle my pen from the top of the paper in something known as a crab-claw.

Given that my parents and 6/7 of my primary teachers were right-handed it is little wonder I didn’t learn to handwrite with much success.) Think smudged paper. Think ink down the side of my hand. And on my face. And anywhere my hand happened to touch.

 

Blogging planner

My mid-year diary system is put to shame by the dedicated blogging planners available online. The ones which encourage you to think out the premise of each piece before you type. The ones with little boxes to plan out images and links. The ones with a tick-box for when the post is published. Oh, the satisfaction of a tick-box.

My current system involves a week-view diary. I highlight the post with green highlighter when it is scheduled.

 

                                       Mini-erasers      

00567657_1The most whimsical item on my list. Mini-erasers have come a long way in recent years. Guys, you can buy unicorn-shaped erasers. Collections themed around mermaids. Itty-bitty pots filled with eraser goodness. Paperchase even did an eraser advent calendar. I would never in a century use such things to rub my work out, but why wouldn’t you? It’s like fairy-dust for pencil cases.  

 

What would you like to add to your stationery hoard? Let me know in the comments below.

Louise Nettleton.