Six rather delicious new picture books

April 4, 2017

Jack Gabriel gorges on six international picture books from Walker Books and Gecko Press, from France, the UK and the US, finding something to recommend about each and every one. Warning: get your wallet ready.

 

Like any good smorgasbord, this sampling of picture books spans a spectrum of flavour and form. Having all six spread enticingly before me on the dining room table made the task of choosing the first to digest all the more difficult. But like all good multi-course meals, I took my time. I did not rush from entree to main, nor did I mix soufflé into my soup. I ensured a thoroughly cleansed palate before biting open each new cover, and came away full and satisfied.

 

Let's focus on the menu. These six books are served from the kitchens of Walker and Gecko. I'll introduce you to them in the order they were introduced to me.

 

A cool dude from My Pictures After the Storm.

 

My Pictures After the Storm is a bold and beautiful beginning to our feast. On first flick-through, every spread looks like a simple before/after in isolated pictures; a simple lesson for the little ones about cause and effect. But it soon becomes apparent that author/illustrator Eric Veillé is playing with us. 'After the Storm' is one of many spreads, including 'After The Hairdresser' and 'After Too Many Potato Chips'. Every 'After...' object tells a little story of its own, often incorporating the other objects on the page. Children will love figuring out the playful stories behind each set of pictures.

 

 

This is a read-it-again-and-notice-something-new book for parents and kids alike. When reading to your children, you'll no doubt let out a haunted laugh at the 'My Pictures After the Baby' page, and express sage sighs when surveying 'My Pictures After Lunch' and seeing that a plate of boiled spinach has remained untouched.

 

The real stars of this book are the bright illustrations. Though simple, Veillé's characters are imbued with expressions of confusion, horror and mischief at whatever event with which the author has chosen to shake up their lives. A great little book, full of spice.

 

MY PICTURES AFTER THE STORM

By Eric Veille

Published by Gecko Press

RRP $22.99

 

 

 

 

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Our next course is very well presented. Triangle is the third book from Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett, the pair known for the award-winning Extra Yarn. Visually, this book screams Klassen. His simple yet inimitable illustrations suggest something alien yet recognisable about the little world he's created. There is also something performance-like about the simple backgrounds and the way the characters are constantly staring at their audience. These shapes are here to entertain us with a minimalist pantomime, complete with audience interaction.

 

 

The narrative itself is lean, and there is an absolute intertwining of Barnett's words and Klassen's illustration; it's difficult to imagine a replacement for either author or artist. The story is simple enough: Triangle sets out one day to play a trick on Square, and in return has a trick played on him. Between the two worlds is a no-shape's-land of amorphous blobs that don't belong on either side. It's nice to look at. Like a well-plated portion of pizza.

 

The temptation to over-analyse a story like this is terrible. There are smatterings of innocence and difference, sprinklings of bullying and revenge, shades of fear and manipulation... you get the idea. I prefer to think about it as a story of two friends playing tricks on each other. It's how I like my pizza: simple. But I suppose you're left to decide for yourself with the open-ended question that closes the story, aren't you?

 

 

TRIANGLE

By Mac Barnett

Illustrated by Jon Klassen

Published by Walker Books

RRP $27.99

 

Buy now

 

 

I want to live in the village where Hilda and the Runaway Baby is set. People grow sunflowers on their roofs and wave at each other while they hang their washing out on lines strung between their houses in their tightly-packed vine-clung Spanish village. It's the kind of place that would grow excellent tomatoes and have lots of artisan bakeries.

 

The story isn't twisty or witty, but fables like this aren't supposed to be. Hilda, merely content with her life, discovers that being happy with her life suits her better. Warmth emanates from these pages, shining brightly in the expressions of characters, the sense of movement and happiness (even when the baby is seemingly in mortal danger), and the strong message: true happiness can only exist if it is shared with others.

 

 

Hirst's illustrations are that wonderful mix of child-like and detailed that you see in such artists as Quentin Blake, though of course her style is all her own. There is a wonderful mix of simple, sparse pictures that propel the story along, as well as double-page spreads that will have you and your children figuring out what all those extra characters are up to. Maybe they're making bruschetta?

 

 

HILDA AND THE RUNAWAY BABY

By Daisy Hirst

Published by Walker Books

RRP $27.99

 

 

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Counting with Tiny Cat begins as a simple counting book, but is quickly hijacked by its main character. As anybody who has ever tried to keep anything neat around a kitten will know, order tends to give way to chaos fairly rapidly.

 

Vivienne Schwartz is clearly a cat person, and if you are too, the personality of Tiny Cat will have you considering kitten adoption in the very near future. Tiny Cat's increasingly manic expressions tell an almost Shakespearean tale of obsession, greed and madness, but instead of ending with murder, this story ends with a nap.

The things being counted resemble little balls of yarn, and it almost helps with the humour that we don't even know what they are. The obsession of Tiny Cat is in the counting of the things, not what the things are. This is not a book to help your children learn to count (well, at least past the number four). At about twenty words total, it is a great, short bedtime story. Or a story for any time. It's a delicious, satisfying book. Schwartz clearly has some secret recipe.

 

 

Counting with Tiny Cat

By Viviane Schwarz

Published by Walker Books

RRP $22.99

 

 

 

 

Buy now

 

 

 

 

 

The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling is perhaps the most traditional fare on this menu. It is a solid, innocent story without the sparse post-modernism and fancy presentation of some of these other books. Apart from the delightfully ridiculous title, what stands out immediately are the dynamic illustrations. Somehow, Timothy Basil Ering's paintings manage to convey colour and action and joy in a story containing dark storms, scary swamps and blinding fog.

 

 

The story opens with Captain Alfred, talented fiddle player and duck farmer, on a boat with several ducks and a dog. If that isn't thrilling enough, a storm quickly ruins what looks to be a fun boat party. Enter the eponymous Alfred Fiddleduckling – named so for hatching inside his namesake's fiddle case – who finds himself alone at sea with nothing but a damp instrument for company. What lightens up these grim few pages are the way sound is painted when the fiddle is played: bursts of fluid confetti. The love of Alfred Fiddleduckling is indeed unexpected – the love brought from clinging to what makes you happy and thus finding love and happiness.

 

 

The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling

By Timothy Basil Ering

Published by Walker Books

RRP $27.99

 

 

 

 

 

Buy now

 

 

What better way to end a meal than a tasting plate of tiny desserts? Soaked in whimsy as viscous as custard, Bruno is a collection of deceptively simple semi-connected stories revolving around a little cat in a blue hat. Bruno's interesting days range from child-like and surreal (a fish finding herself suddenly able to swim through the air), to more adult and mundane situations (taking refuge from the rain in a friend's house). Catharina Valckx, an accomplished and prolific children's book author and illustrator, expertly plates up these tastes of dreamlike innocence, and her wry humour survives the translation from the original French.

 

The interplay of words and pictures varies in each story, lending a bit of fresh zest to each adventure. Parisian Nicolas Hubesch's background in comic illustration, coupled with the influence of his home town, combine to create a fun little city that's intricately detailed yet almost child-like with its squiggly lined buildings and characters' exaggerated expressions.

These six mini stories are seasoned with a charming optimism that will have parents and children wanting to call in on Bruno at his cute little apartment for a breakfast of hot milk and jams. Bruno teaches us that we need to make the most of any situation; that every day has the potential to be interesting if we allow ourselves to take those little detours. In the kind of world our kids are growing up to shape, I think that's an important message.

 

 

BRUNO

By Catharina Valckx

Illustrated by Nicolas Hubesch

Published by Gecko Press

RRP $24.99

 

 

 

 

 

Buy now

 

 

So ends my meal, and while I can't choose a favourite dish from my buffet of books, I can assure you that each is well worth a taste. Besides, there's no need for me to recommend just one, is there? All six books are warm and fresh, and anything you don't feel like right now can be saved for later, or wrapped up and taken home to give to a hungry little friend you might know.

JACK GABRIEL

Jack Gabriel is a teacher and freelance writer who lives in Auckland with his wife, two cats, and far too many books. He divides his free time between writing, procrastination, and drinking too much coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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