Curious business

Children’s book illustrators and anyone absorbed in the curious business of children’s book illustration,

Do you find it interesting, as I do that the big commercial for Google’s Nexus 7 features a little girl and her mom reading a Curious George story on the device?

Google, in its elegant way used a simple illustrated page from a classic children’s picture book series to introduce its new tablet to the world.

From the Wikipedia entry:  “The series was written and drawn by the team of Hans Augusto Rey and Margret Rey. The couple fled Paris in June 1940 on self-made bicycles, carrying the Curious George manuscript with them. At first only H. A. Rey was credited for the work in order to distinguish the Reys’ books from the large number of children’s books written by female authors. Later, Hans Rey was credited for the illustrations and Margret Rey for the writing. ”

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A “Nuts and Bolts Saturday” in October

Children’s book illustrators, artistrators, writers — if you live within reach of Texas, open your calendars.

These guys kind of say it all. Animator, online comics creator Erik Kuntz  (who’s also Austin SCBWI chapter’s webmaster) wrote created this animation using XtraNormal.

Briefly, the Second Annual Austin SCBWI Digital Symposium is set for Saturday, October 6 at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. Author/publisher marketing consultant Kirsten Cappy of Curious City is one of several featured faculty guests.  (Definitely a curiosity theme running through today’s post…)  For a schedule and details on the workshop and presenters, go here.

Curious George on the Nexus tablet

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Children’s book author-illustrator Mark Mitchell, penned this post and did a short video on the “best drawing secret” that you can see here.

When kids’ book illustrators go wild…

Children’s book author-illustrator Jeff Crosby says he came up with the idea for his funny new picture book, Wiener Wolf  (Hyperion) while he was in the shower one day.

For a long while after that he asked his wife author-illustrator Shelley Ann Jackson if she would write the story for him so he could paint it.

Shelley suggested that he try his own hand at putting just the right words together in just the right order to tell his story.

Then he’d be that appealing combination (for some children’s book editors) — an author-illustrator.

Jeff’s response was to work up a little pencil sketch dummy that told the story without any words at all. But later his and Shelley’s agent urged him to add at least a few words to his pictures — to appease that segment of the market that believes that picture books are meant to be read.

The result is Wiener Wolf  about a dachshund who hears the call of the wild and decides that he’ll leave Granny’s home  to run with the wolves.

The release party for the book is Saturday, July 2nd at BookPeople, 11:30 a.m.  (Yes, there is a dog costume contest, but check the store for details.)

For anyone in the Central Texas area Jeff will teach a University of Texas informal class on illustrating children’s books starting Tuesday, June 28 at 6 p.m.

The above video is from a 90 minute interview I did with Jeff and Shelley for students of my online course on children’s book illustration Make Your Splashes-Make Your Marks.

You can see a little more from that interview here.   

And  you can see how their four year old daughter Harper responds to her daddy’s picture book below.

Author-illustrators Shelley Ann Jackson and Jeff Crosby

Author-illustrators Shelley Ann Jackson and Jeff Crosby

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Mark Mitchell hosts this blog and conducts the online course Make Your Splashes – Make Your Marks! that teaches how to draw and paint for children’s books and other media.

“Monkey and Me”… and Emily

Reading All About Wolves
Reading All About Wolves

Award winning children’s book author-illustrator Emily Gravett of Brighton, England was in Austin, Texas Friday with her editor (and vice president and editorial director of Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers) David Gale.

She read her wonderful picture book Monkey and Me to a crowd of delighted, bouncing younger children in the backyard of the home of Simon and Schuster sales rep Gillian Redfearn.

The children were bouncing because they were imitating kangaroos, which is what the child in the story and her toy monkey sidekick are also doing.  (They imitate the body motions of each group of animals they’re about to see at the zoo, and so the reader gets a chance to guess what the animals will be before he turns the page.

Monkey and Me is so kinesthetic and so cute and you will recognize every three or four year old child you know in the exuberant little girl character who pretends she is every animal.

The next day Gravett and Gale were scheduled to appear at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference in San Antonio.

Members of the Austin chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) had also been invited to the backyard party. A few of them would also be doing “author duty” at the NCTE conference (Jennifer Zeigler, whose recent work How Not To Be Popular was just named to the Texas Lone Star Reading List by the Texas Library Association, P.J. Hoover and Brian Anderson.)

This was Gravett’s first trip to the United States — and she said she was dealing with a touch of culture shock. She had found it difficult to understand some of the American English that was spoken to her in Miami. Texas was a little easier, she said, but not much.  She had done readings at Austin area schools during the day Friday, and when she wasn’t doing readings at the evening party, she was signing books for children who just kept quietly approaching her throughout the evening craddling their books. She treated all of them as friends.

"Monkey and Me" by Emily Gravett "Wolves"  Emily Gravett's first book, which won the 2007 Kate Greenaway MedalEmily Gravett's acclaimed book was also shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal.

"Meerkat Mail" by Emily Gravett, published in the U.S. by Simon and Schuster Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears"The Odd Egg" by Emily Gravett

Her books are audacious, surprising, hilarious — ballets of expression. One reviewer called them ‘anthems to drawing.” They are that, but they include bits and pieces of computer art collage/ Photoshop tinkering — just enough to keep things feeling modern and a tad homemade at the same time.

Gravett’s works keep snapping up prizes and recognitions in the UK — the Nestle Children’s Book Prize short list for Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears, and the Neslte Children’s Prize Bronze Award for Wolves. If she lived in the United States, she’d be in the running for Caldecott medals and honors, her fans say. She received her first Kate Greenaway Medal for her first book Wolves, which she completed as a school project. The second Kate Greenaway Medal was for Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears in 2008.

The Kate Greenaway Medal is England’s equivalent of the Caldecott Medal, since it is awarded by librarians to the children’s book with the most distinguished illustrations each year.

Wolves also won the Macmillan Prize for Illustration, which is awarded by British publisher Pan Macmillan to books for children up to five years old. Gravett has won it twice — for Wolves in 2005 and Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears in 2008.

Author-Illustrator Emily Gravett Wolves launched her. It’s a book about a little rabbit who checks out a book about wolves at his neighborhood library and begins to read about them with great interest….and I will not tell you what happens.. .

It began in her last year at Brighton University. She was hanging out a lot in the  art school’s Bookbinding department. “I loved it down there. So few people ever came there. But I’d made a little book of 6 or 7 pages. It was like a filligree of paper made to resemble a forest. Each page was flat, with no words, and a wood cutter was cutting it down. When you looked at individual pages, the forest took the form of a wolf,” she said.


“I sketched that forest for different projects and I drew a little rabbit in my sketchbook and I thought could this be combined for a fairy story?

“I thought it would be fun if the rabbit was reading. Then I thought it would be more fun if he was reading this nonfiction book.

“So I did a little thumbnail and a little dummy book, very quick. And that’s how I made it, as a dummy,  with book binding with red cloth.

“I originally thought the rabbit was going to escape somehow. But I got the to the page where it shows the [chewed up book cover] and just said ‘rabbits.’ I couldn’t figure out how to rescue him so I just left it. It was funny.

“Then I panicked and wrote the happy ending. It was funny, too. So I left it in, also.”

"Wolves" by Emily Gravett

Gravett has a sensational command of the picture book form and its possibilities.

Could it be from all of those years of reading to her little daughter (now age 9)  when nothing else seemed to work to keep her (the daughter– well maybe both of them) content and calm?

“I think the more you steep yourself in picture books the better off you are,” she said.

Reviewers repeatedly comment on Gravett’s “skillfull drawings.” Done in simple Faber-Castell Pitt oil-based pencil, they’re typically of cartoonish animal characters in action, against backdrops of minimal or no detail, which gives her pages a choreographed quality.

Even the stuffed toy animals feel anatomically right and that they’re moving correctly, somehow. I asked her if she researched and sketched a lot of animals. “Not particularly, although I have animals, you know.

“But I imagine myself as the animal when I’m drawing. I think about, ‘what would my legs be doing’ if I tried to do …this….and ‘how would my arms be?'”

(“My aim is to combine interesting use of words with quality drawing,” she once told an interviewer with the London Telegraph, citing the “looseness of Quentin Blake’s drawings” as one of her inspirations.)

Her draftsmanship probably owes more to her lifelong practice of keeping sketchbooks than academic training, she told How To Be A Children’s Book Illustrator.

“Brighton [University] has a very good reputation as an art college. I chose it because it’s my home town, I’d have family to help out, and since Brighton is one of the larger cities, my partner would be able to find work. But they didn’t teach drawing except once every two weeks we’d have a class in it. A lot of students couldn’t draw very well; They did photography. There was a lot of photography, a lot of conceptual curriculum. ..I’d wanted something more traditional.”

"Wolves eat mainly meat."

For their class projects (Wolves was one of these), students broke into teams, met regularly and taught each other within their ‘Crit groups.’ These did not always work out because of personalities and temperments in some of the groups. But she did enjoy the bookbinding department, where she spent a lot of time. She also appreciated an eight session-module she was able to get into that focused on  picture book structure.

Gravett thumbnails her books first in her sketchbook. And in these thumbnails the words count as much as the pictures, she said. “I have to do both at the same time or it doesn’t work out so well. So I write a little bit, draw a little bit…

“The finished pictures [in the published books] look very much like my thumbnail sketches,” she said.

Just like her books, her website is a joy that sneaks up on you. It features her drawings of her characters popping in and out of the West Bucks Public Burrowing Library and Emily herself as the librarian behind the counter. If you go in there, though, make sure you don’t check out any books about dangerous carnivores.

"Monkey and Me"
From Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

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Author-illustrator Mark Mitchell hosts this blog and offers an ongoing online course in drawing and painting for  children’s book illustration, “Make Your Splashes; Make Your Marks!”