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Mike Curato’s Little Elliot books are fast becoming a favorite of children and parents alike. The author and illustrator has created a little polka-dotted elephant with a big heart. The Little Elliot series — Little Elliot, Big City; Little Elliot, Big Family; and Little Elliot, Big Fun — is heavily influenced by the zeitgeist of the1930s and conveys wonderful messages about family and friendship.
Mike Curato and MerryMakers president Clair Frederick joined StoryMakers host Rocco Staino to talk about the series of Little Elliot books and the huggably soft plush products created by the toy maker. Little Elliot is one of the newest members of the MerryMakers family.
We’re giving away three (3) signed copies of Mike Curato’s Little Elliot, Big City; Little Elliot, Big Family; and a MerryMakers plush toy. Enter now!
Little Elliot, Big City
Written and illustrated by Mike Curato
Published by Henry Holt and Co. Books for Young Readers
Amid the hustle and bustle of the big city, the big crowds and bigger buildings, Little Elliot leads a quiet life. In spite of the challenges he faces, Elliot finds many wonderful things to enjoy like cupcakes And when his problems seem insurmountable, Elliot discovers something even sweeter a friend.
When Mouse heads off to a family reunion, Little Elliot decides go for a walk. As he explores each busy street, he sees families in all shapes and sizes. In a city of millions, Little Elliot feels very much alone-until he finds he has a family of his own.
Little Elliot, Big Fun Written and illustrated by Mike Curato
Published by Henry Holt and Co. Books for Young Readers
Available August 2016
In this third story of Little Elliot and Mouse, the friends head off in search of adventure . . . and lots of fun. Little Elliot, the polka-dotted elephant, and his friend Mouse go to the amusement park to see the sights and ride the rides water chutes, roller coasters, carousels, and more. But Elliot isn’t having much fun the rides are too wet, too fast, too dizzy, and just plain too scary until Mouse figures out a way to help him overcome his fears. Together, Mouse and Little Elliot can do anything.
Worm Loves Worm Written by J. J. Austrian with illustrations by Mike Curato
Published by Balzer + Bray
Perfect for fans of And Tango Makes Three and The Sissy Duckling, this irresistible picture book is a celebration of love in all its splendid forms from debut author J. J. Austrian and the acclaimed author-illustrator of Little Elliot, Big City, Mike Curato. You are cordially invited to celebrate the wedding of a worm . . . and a worm. When a worm meets a special worm and they fall in love, you know what happens next: They get married but their friends want to know who will wear the dress? And who will wear the tux? The answer is: It doesn’t matter. Because Worm loves Worm.
Mike loves drawing and writing almost as much as he loves cupcakes and ice cream (and that’s a LOT!). He is the author and illustrator of everyone’s favorite polka-dotted elephant, Little Elliot. His debut title, Little Elliot, Big City, released in 2014 to critical acclaim, has won several awards, and is being translated into ten languages. The follow up book, Little Elliot, Big Family, was just released in October, 2015, and has received several starred reviews. At least two more Little Elliot books are forthcoming. Meanwhile, Mike had the pleasure of illustrating Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian, which is available January 5, 2016. He is also working on several other projects, including his first graphic novel. Mike lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
Alto, allá arriba en los Andes brilla un bosque bordado de bromelias… High up in the Andes blooms a brilliant forest embroidered with bromeliads . . .
Set to be released this spring, ¡Olinguito, de la A a la Z! / Olinguito, from A to Z! : Descubriendo el bosque nublado / Unveiling the Cloud Foresttakes readers into the magical world of a cloud forest in the Andes of Ecuador. We discover the bounty of plants, animals, and other organisms that live there as we help a zoologist look for the elusive olinguito, the first new mammal species identified in the Americas since 1978. It has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews, which called it “a breath of fresh air in the too-often-contrived world of bilingual books.”
We asked Lulu to take us behind the scenes of her exquisite art process to make the cloud forest come alive:
I spent an average of ten days working from eight to ten hours per day creating each spread.
The first thing I did was to transfer the sketch to the Arches watercolor paper. Then I decided which areas would be collaged printed patterns and which would be painted in flat acrylic colors.
I prepared the patterned backgrounds pressing leaves gathered in the cloud forest dipped in ink and stamped onto rice paper.
With an X-Acto knife I cut out the shapes of texturized paper and pasted them into the background. I used archival glue and micro tweezers to affix the collage elements in their precise positions.
Next I prepared all the shades of acrylics that I would need for the spread and stored them in small clear jars. Each section of a color required several thin coats to achieve the rich look I was looking for.
Once the spread was entirely painted I had fun selecting pressed ferns from the forest to affix to the art. This was a delicate process as some of the pressed leaves and ferns are paper thin.
The last thing was to create the letters for the spread. I wanted a layered look, recreating the natural layers of flora in the forest, so I drew the letters on vellum paper and cut out them out. I taped the letters onto a vellum square and with careful precision affixed the letter in the spot it was intended to be.
Glow: Animals with Their Own Night Lights
by W.H. Beck
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
Children will be instantly attracted to the close-up photographs of unusual creatures contrasted on black backgrounds in Glow, a nonfiction picture book featuring bioluminescent animals such as lanternfish, atolla jellyfish, vampire fish and the glowing sucker octopus. Beck explains on the first
A joyous celebration of a child’s imaginative, intrepid and open-hearted take on the world, Where My Feet Go by Birgitta Sif (@birgittasif) follows one young panda recounting what they’ve been up to that day.
From exploring outside and playing in the sandpit to using their parent as a climbing frame before bedtime, we read and hear that Panda has had a very happy day getting up to all sorts of adventures, traversing jungles and even meeting with dinosaurs. Yet the illustrations show a slightly different story, one apparently much more like a normal day that anybody might experience, involving puddles, sticks and feeding the birds. This funny mismatch between words and images is bound to create conversations and spark listeners’ own re-imaginings of the world around them.
Whimsical, upbeat and wide-eyed, Panda (who could be either a boy or a girl, for the gender is never mentioned, opening out this heartwarming story so really anyone can identify with Panda) reminds me a little of Charlie’s Lola. Sif’s subdued palette and the natural story arc heading for bedtime make this a calm, relaxing and uplifting read about a child’s ability to think big and embrace adventure, reminding us adults to open our eyes to the joy and delights we might otherwise overlook in the everyday world around us.
Inspired by Panda’s adventurous feet we decided we’d try making plaster of paris casts of our footprints. I made a batch of playdough which, when cooled, the kids stepped into:
(If you’ve never made homemade playdough before it’s super easy. For this activity we used 4 cups of flour, 2 cups of salt, 8 tablespoons of Cream of Tarter, 4 tablespoons of oil and 4 cups of boiling water, mixed all together over a low heat on the hob, until the ingredients combined and came away from the edge of the pan without sticking to our fingers when we touched it.)
In an old icecream tub we mixed up some plaster of paris as per the instructions on the packet and then poured the thick gloop into the impressions left by the kids’ feet in the playdough.
After a couple of hours the “feet” were dry enough to be taken out of their moulds. The playdough is perfectly fine to re-use to make more casts – we reused ours 4 times and it was still good for more play.
We left or “feet” to dry out completely for a couple of days before painting and decorating them.
Now (perhaps slightly channelling Hans Solo given all the Star Wars stuff that is in the air at the moment), J’s feet are of on an adventure of their own…
Whilst making our footprints we listened to:
Dirty Feet by Bobs & Lolo
Foot Stomping by The Flares
500 miles by The Proclaimers – it’s all about walking! My very favourite cover of this classic is the crazy accordion fuelled version by Billy McIntyre and his All Star Ceilidh Band (you can hear a sample here)
Other activities which might work well alongside reading Where My Feet Go include:
Updating your dressing-up box with a few new (old) pairs of shoes. There’s nothing like experiencing what it’s like to be someone else when you literally put your feet into their shoes. Charity shops, jumble sales, old relatives, older siblings/cousins are all good sources of shoes for dressing up in.
Maria Had a Little Llama/Maria Tenia Una Llamita and Knit Together author and illustrator Angela Dominguez creates heart-warming tales about family and togetherness. Angela Dominguez is a two-time recipient of the American Library Association’s Pura Belpre Honor (2014 and 2016).
It’s kind of a love letter to my mom.
— Angela Dominguez on “Knit Together”
Angela’s picture books are rooted in the themes of family, tradition, and friendship. Several of her books including Maria Had A Little Llama/Maria Tenia Una Llamita;Let’s Go, Hugo; and Knit Together pull from relationships with family members and artifacts from her childhood. A wind-up toy inspired French bird Hugo. Angela’s memories of wanting to be a skilled knitter like her mother led her to write a book to remind children they can be talented in their own way. An aunt’s interest in indigenous cultures informed the writing of a version of Mary Had a Little Lamb with a Peruvian twist.
Angela’s books aren’t only an option for children growing up bilingual; they are excellent for those who want to expose young readers to the Spanish language and Latino culture.
Aspiring illustrators will enjoy hearing about Angela’s process and seeing what a book looks like from start to finish.
We’re giving away three (3) sets of books from Angela Dominguez. Each set includes signed copies of Maria Had a Little Llama and Knit Together. Enter now!
All entrants must reside in the United States and be at least 13 years old.
ABOUT THE BOOKS
Written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers
From an award-winning illustrator comes a sweet story of mothers and daughters, drawing and knitting, and learning to embrace your talents just right for Mother’s Day. Drawing is fun, but knitting is better because you can wear it Knitting isn t easy, though, and can be a little frustrating. Maybe the best thing to do is combine talents. A trip to the beach offers plenty of inspiration. Soon mom and daughter are collaborating on a piece of art they can share together: a special drawing made into a knitted beach blanket. For every mom and daughter, this is an arts-and-crafts ode creative passion and working together.
Written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Published by Harry N. Abrams
Dominguez presents a humorous and endearing portrait of a stubborn French bulldog and a determined little boy.
Everyone knows about Mary and her little lamb. But do you know Maria? With gorgeous, Peruvian-inspired illustrations and English and Spanish retellings, Angela Dominguez gives a fresh new twist to the classic rhyme. Maria and her mischievous little llama will steal your heart.
Let’s Go, Hugo! Written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers
Hugo is a dapper little bird who adores the Eiffel Tower — or at least his view of it from down here. Hugo, you see, has never left the ground. So when he meets another bird, the determined Lulu, who invites him to fly with her to the top of the tower, Hugo stalls, persuading Lulu to see, on foot, every inch of the park in which he lives instead. Will a nighttime flying lesson from Bernard the Owl, some sweet and sensible encouragement from Lulu, and some extra pluck from Hugo himself finally give this bird the courage he needs to spread his wings and fly?
Marta! Big & Small (August 23, 2016)
Written by Jennifer Arena, illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Published by Roaring Brook Press
Marta is “una nina,” an ordinary girl . . . with some extraordinary animal friends. As Marta explores the jungle, she knows she’s bigger than a bug, smaller than an elephant, and faster than a turtle. But then she meets the snake, who thinks Marta is “sabrosa” tasty, very tasty But Marta is “ingeniosa,” a very clever girl, and she outsmarts the snake with hilarious results. With simple Spanish and a glossary at the end, this fun read-aloud picture book teaches little ones to identify opposites and animals and learn new words.
Hello “Hola.” Some people speak Spanish. Some people speak English. Although we may not speak the same language, some things, like friendship, are universal. Follow two young giraffes as they meet, celebrate, and become friends. This bilingual tale will have readers eager to meet new friends and “amigos.”
COMING IN 2017 Sing Don’t Cry
Written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez
Published by Henry Holt & Company
Pura Belpre Honor winner, Angela Dominguez, based this musically driven story on her beloved grandfather. Her abuelo always encouraged her to stay positive and carry on.
ABOUT ANGELA DOMINGUEZ
Angela was born in Mexico City, grew up in the great state of Texas, and lived in San Francisco. She’s the author and illustrator of picture books such as Let’s Go, Hugo!, Santiago Stays, Knit Together, and Maria Had A Little Llama, which received the American Library Association Pura Belpré Illustration Honor. When she is not in her studio, Angela teaches at the Academy of Art University, which honored her with their Distinguished Alumni Award in 2013. She also enjoys presenting at different schools and libraries to all sorts of ages. Angela is a proud member of SCBWI, PEN America, and is represented by Wernick and Pratt Literary Agency.
Bear Snores On is the first book in Karma Wilson’s series about Bear; a huggable and loyal friend, connoisseur of popcorn, and avid swimmer. It’s that time of the year and Bear has gone to sleep for a long time. What happens when several of his woodland friends happen upon his warm lair?
Bear Snores On is a great book you can use to teach young readers about seasons, hibernation, friendship, and sharing. There are so many big lessons in one small book!
Karma Wilson’s reading of Bear Snores On was filmed during Angie Karcher’sRhyming Picture Book Revolution Conference (RPBC). The purpose of the RPBC is to educate and support authors who write rhyming picture books.
KidLit TV’s Read Out Loud series is perfect for parents, teachers, and librarians. Use these readings for nap time, story time, bedtime … anytime!
Parents and Educators: Click here to download free Bear Snores On activities! Explore books written by Karma Wilson including more books about Bear!
ABOUT BEAR SNORES ON
Bear Snores On(Illustrated by Jane Chapman) – One by one, a whole host of different animals and birds find their way out of the cold and into Bear’s cave to warm up. But even after the tea has been brewed and the corn has been popped, Bear just snores on! See what happens when he finally wakes up and finds his cave full of uninvited guests — all of them having a party without him.
Karma Wilson grew up an only child of a single mother in the wilds of North Idaho. Way back then (just past the stone age and somewhat before the era of computers) there was no cable TV and if there would have been Karma could not have gotten it. TV reception was limited to 3 channels, of which one came in with some clarity. Karma did the only sensible thing a lonely little girl could do…she read or played outdoors.
Playing outdoors was fun, but reading was Karma’s “first love” and, by the age 11 she was devouring about a novel a day. She was even known to try to read while riding her bike down dirt roads, which she does not recommend as it is hazardous to the general well being of the bike, the rider, and more importantly the book. Her reading preference was fantasy (C.S. Lewis, Terry Brooks, etc…) and historical fiction (L.M. Montgomery, Laura Ingalls Wilder, etc…). Those preferences have not changed much.
Karma never considered writing as a profession because her mother was a professional writer which made it seem like boring and mundane work. At the age of 27 she realized that she still loved well written children’s books of all kinds, from picture books to young adult novels. By that time Karma was a wife and the mother of three young children. Trips to the library with her children were a combination of emotions…when they got a good book there was fun to be had by all, but so many of the books weren’t what her children wanted to listen to.
I know, I know, I promised you interviews on Tuesdays and here I come with a book review. This is a book of passion and courage; a book championing, as I often do on my blog, the rights of other … Continue reading →
How to Swallow a Pig: Step-by-Step Advice from the Animal Kingdom
by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
In classic Jenkins/Page style, How to Swallow a Pig captivates readers with colorful, cut paper collage and interesting science facts. This highly engaging and informative nonfiction picture books uses a sequence text structure to
I can’t resist filling your screen (and mine) with this gorgeous front cover:
The Crow’s Tale by Naomi Howarth (@nhillustrator) is a visually spectacular retelling of a Lenni Lenape Native American legend about how the crow came to have black feathers, and about what counts as real beauty: not how you look, but how you behave.
Deep in the middle of a snowy winter, the animals are all cold and hungry. Crow volunteers to bring back some warmth from the sun, but in doing so he is changed forever. Will his friends still love him?
You see, Crow used to have breathtakingly brilliant feathers in ever colour under the sun. But where there’s fire, there’s soot, and Crow despairs at how his outward appearance is transformed, when all he wanted to do was help his friends.
What this dazzling story tells us all, however, is that “your beauty inside” is what really matters and shines through. Selfless, brave and still beautiful, Crow learns that what his friends really value is his kindness, generosity and courage, not whether his feathers are black or shot through with rainbows.
Howarth’s picture book début is a feast for the eyes, and not least in the way the black crow feathers are reproduced (I can’t show them here because the special printing techniques just don’t show up on a computer screen). Her use of colours reminds me at times of a favourite illustrator of mine – Karin Littlewood – and Howarth’s use of varied perspective keeps page turns surprising.
The fluency of the rhyming text doesn’t quite match the sumptuous heights of the illustration, but the sentiment is heart-warming, encouraging and just right for boosting confidence and encouraging consideration of what we value in ourselves and others.
Inspired by the stunning array of Crow’s original feathers we set about making our own rainbow plumage. We decorated lots of white feathers using slightly watered-down acrylic paint (the acrylic paint “sticks” nicely to the feathers – much more easily and/or brightly than watercolour or poster paint does – and by watering it down it is easier to apply):
Once our feathers were dry we turned them into a piece of art, positioning them in a circle (we used a plate to guide us) on a piece of black card.
It’s now one of the first things you see when you enter our front door (along with obligatory piles of books):
Other activities which might work well alongside reading The Crow’s Tale include:
Finding out more about the Lenni Lenape Tribal Nation. You could also see if you can find a copy of When The Shadbush Blooms by Carla Messinger, Susan Katz and David Kanietakeron Fadden, a picture book including lots of detail on the Lenni Lenape culture and language, past and present.
Crow spotting! Eight species breed in the UK and many are easy to spot even in cities (apologies to readers in the very North-West of Scotland where it will be much harder to spot any members of the crow family). Why not go on a walk and see how many different members of the crow family you can spot. Here’s the RSPB page on the crow family.
Painting with nail polish. This sounds crazy, but if you want to get the iridescent sheen on the crow’s black feathers you can use pearly nail polish over black paint. Alternatively try collaging with iridescent cellophane on top of your black paint.
If you liked this post you might like these other posts by me:
Rocket believes reading rocks and kids will too after they hear Tad Hills read R Is for Rocket: An ABC Story. Rocket and his animal pals go on an alliterative journey from A to Z while introducing readers to art and nature. Your early reader will enjoy seeing Bella the squirrel balancing on a ball, Owl offering a cawing crow a cookie and a crayon, and a guest appearance from Tad’s most popular waterfowl friend!
Do you have the book at home? Open up the dust jacket to find a poster of thewondrous, mighty, gorgeous alphabet! Feel free to read along too.
KidLit TV’s Read Out Loud series is perfect for parents, teachers, and librarians. Use these readings for nap time, story time, bedtime … anytime!
From Random House Kids R Is for Rocket: An ABC Book– Learn the ABCs with Rocket, the dog who inspires kids to read and write! This irresistible alphabet book from the creator of the New York Times bestsellers How Rocket Learned to Read and Rocket Writes a Story is sure to appeal to kids, parents, teachers, and librarians. From finding acorns, to balancing on a ball, to offering a cookie and a crayon to a crow, readers will love exploring the wonderful world of Rocket and his friends. The whole cast is featured, among them the little yellow bird, the owl, Bella the squirrel, and more. Even Goose from the beloved and bestselling Duck & Goose books makes a cameo appearance! With charming and delightful scenes for every letter, here’s an ode to the wondrous, mighty, gorgeous alphabet.
Since I began championing children’s book on this website I’ve had a lovely game I indulgently play in my head: Who would I interview if I could interview anyone?
Over the years one name repeatedly popped up, but I didn’t dare act on my daydreams until very recently. It all started earlier this year when Dick King Smith’s The Rats of Meadowsweet Farm arrived on my desk. Published in a fantastic new edition by Barrington Stoke as part of their covetable Little Gems series, it featured illustrations by none other than the subject of my aforementioned daydreams: Victor Ambrus. Victor turned 80 this year, and I hadn’t realised that he was still working and so the flame on my candle of hope burned a little brighter, but my bravery still stumbled.
Then last month another Barrington Stoke book made its way into my hands. The Seal’s Fate by Eoin Colfer is also illustrated by Victor Ambrus, and I was so moved by the visual and verbal storytelling, it gave me the courage I needed. It’s a powerful book I’d really like to tell everyone about and it provided me with the final spur on to make an interview request.
Victor Ambrus has won the Kate Greenaway medal twice (for ‘The Three Poor Tailors’  and ‘Horses in Battle') and has illustrated more than 300 books. His historical illustrations showing archaeological interpretations were featured on Channel 4’s Time Team for 20 years. Indeed, his passion for illustrating history has been central to his career, both in children’s book illustration and also in adult non-fiction. Ambrus’ animal illustrations are also especially highly regarded and have formed another constant strand in his work, from his illustrations for K.M. Peyton’s Flambards series right up to his two newest books with the grimy humour of the rats and the soft, sweet eyes of the seal.
And thus the time came for me to interview Victor over the phone. Victor was born in Hungary in 1935 and I started by asking what sort of reading life he had had as a child, what books he had loved. I was all ready to look up lots of Hungarian authors (and quite keen to do so, as I studied Hungarian literature at University) but “no, there were numerous books, but they were all English books – in translation of course. I was bought up on things like Winnie the Pooh!” Many were given to him as presents and one of his favourite books was Ursula Moray Williams’ ‘Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse’. It was, however, the books of Arthur Rackham that in many ways changed his life forever. “He was a huge influence on me… and he meant that I’ve been drawing ever since I could hold a pencil!”
Victor’s immediately family weren’t especially artistic (though he grew up with tales of a particularly talented uncle who had died young during the influenza epidemic following the First World War), but they were immensely supportive of Victor’s growing interest in drawing. Victor’s father, an industrial chemist, was especially encouraging: “He was convinced I was going to be an artist when I grew up.”
Victor’s passion for historical illustration was laid down as a child: “I just drew and drew and drew and enjoyed it. I illustrated anything that I read – books on history, poems… in fact I did a vast number of drawings of the fights we Hungarians had with the Turks in the 17th century.”
“But then there came a point where I had to enter grammar school. But I still kept drawing and drawing and eventually I got to a point where I could apply for the Academy of Fine Art, a very fine, traditional school offering a classical training in drawing, including anatomy and all sorts of things you don’t often get these days. But illustration per se didn’t come into my training actually. It was all terribly straight-laced. Illustration was just something I did for myself.”
Victor’s education and training at the Academy of Fine Art was cut short in awful circumstances. In 1956 the Soviet Union invaded Hungary and life in Budapest became very hard. There came a point where Victor had to make what he himself describes as “a kind of life or death decision”; to leave Hungary and seek refuge abroad.
“It was very demanding physical conditions. There was heavy snow you had to walk through all night to get across the border. It was a kind of life or death decision. I had to leave family behind. I actually had no choice. They had a list of people who were attempting to hold the Academy building against the Russian tanks. I was one of these people… but I did a very bad job at it. It was terribly frightening. Eventually they cornered us in the basement of the building and they executed eight of us on the spot – four students and four regular [Hungarian] army soldiers. I was lucky to survive it.”
Victor eventually made his way to the Austrian border and from there he chose to make England his new home, with the much-loved books and illustrations from his childhood very much in mind. He ended up in Farnham and from there applied to the Royal College of Art. Education there was quite different to that Victor had experienced in Budapest’s Academy of Fine Art: “The Royal College was very much more liberal. It was a kind of a loosening up process.”
Victor’s early work included a lot of lithographs and etchings. “Etchings have played a big influence in my life because they produce fine quality lines and nice deep tones which appeal to me, even though I haven’t made any for quite some time because of you need quite sophisticated machinery, making it hard to do at home. Still, I was almost addicted to using very fine lines and my early illustrations are very like etchings except that they were not actually printed etched into glass plates – rather, I just used a very fine nib.”
I’m very curious about this passion for etching and how that tallies with Victor’s style now which to me seems much more fluid, looser and more vibrant than is typically achieved with the precise lines in etching. Was this something Victor himself recognised? “Yes, I turned away from this approach, probably because of the subjects I was getting – I was getting a lot of free flowing, fast action historical illustrations, where people might be riding a horse or fighting, and to start using very fine etching lines was not practical. It took a long time and gave the wrong effect. It became very laboured.”
“And then at this time when I was getting going, colour illustration came in in a big way and so I got into colour and my approach changed somewhat. I’d draw things up very quickly in pencil making sure everything moved the way I wanted it to and then I’d apply colour and more sweeping lines. But thinking about colour… funnily enough I think black is a very important thing in my drawings. I like to have the impact of black in an illustration – once I have heavy black lines I can use more intense colours. In a way the black boosts the colours I use, it makes the colour really work.”
Victor uses ink and also water soluble pencils for his black lines and part of the secret to the way he uses them is that “the most intensive black goes down when the illustration is done – then I can see exactly where it is needed, where it needs a punch.”
But taking a step back, to explore a little further this change in approach, this development in Victor’s illustrative style. It was whilst at the Royal College that Victor had a stroke of luck which led to his breakthrough as a book illustrator. He was commissioned by Blackie and Sons to illustrate a book with a lot of horses – a love of Victor’s since his youth spent working on the great Hungarian plains where he would often witness large groups of semi-wild horses in their natural habitat. That books was White Horses and Black Bulls by Alan C Jenkins and on the back of a review in the Times Literary Supplement which included two of Victor’s illustrations (“It caused quite a stir!”) suddenly a stream of horse-related illustration commissions started flowing Victor’s way.
“Luckily I love drawing horses… why? because they are so complicated… so impressive!”
At that point, Victor couldn’t himself ride but as he received more and more historical illustration commissions he realised this would have to change if he wanted his pictures to be authentic; it was very important to him to accurately capture how people sit when they are riding.
This commitment to detail, this concern for accuracy is another mainstay in all of Victor’s work: “I really enjoy the research. It’s important as otherwise the illustrations don’t feel convincing. It’s got to be right!”
On occasion, however, this drive for authenticity has led him into a spot of bother: “Well I didn’t know how they used a sword on horseback. Now I happened to have a sword and so I took it out and practised with it. I rode in the local forest where there were a lot of pine trees and I would take aim at a branch, swipe at it and see what was the best way of cutting it. Oh I enjoyed it! But then I had to stop because one day a swipe revealed a white-faced mushroom picker who was scared out of his skin. I hadn’t realised he was there and at that point I thought I’d better not do this any more and so I put the sword away.”
Another area of great interest for Victor when it comes to illustration, especially historical illustration, is costume and clothing. Whilst he studied at the Royal College he spent many hours just down the road in the Victoria and Albert Museum. “I’d sooner illustrate any period but the modern because the clothes are boring – there’s no colour – whereas the 17th, 18th century… ah, they are fabulous!” I’m very sorry when later in our conversation I find out that Victor’s own wardrobe at home isn’t full of the colourful and rich outfits he loves to draw.
An interior illustration from The Seal’s Fate
As well as historical illustrations, Victor has always enjoyed drawing animals. And not just horses. “I’ve spent a lot of time in zoos. One of my favourite drawings I did in London Zoo, of a fantastic male gorilla. He sat there and stared at me for a long time and when I finished the drawing and walked away he came up to the fence, right up to the edge. And other people nearby said, ‘Show him, show him your picture of him,’ and so I turned around and showed the picture to him and it was quite amazing. He took it all in, with his eyes wide open. I don’t know what he thought of it but he was definitely puzzled.”
Animals have not always been so appreciative of being drawn by Victor though. “Once I was drawing a lovely big parrot who was on the end of a long post, at the far end, and I was drawing him and enjoying myself until he started to move up the post step by step. He came right up close to me and then it was absolutely amazing – he looked at me and reached forward and took the pencil from my hand, snapped it into two and chucked it behind him and walked off! I thought it was a devastating piece of criticism of my efforts! I was utterly speechless!”
Being observed whilst drawing is something which has played an important role throughout Victor’s career. For many people, he will be most famous as the illustrator for Channel 4’s Time Team (one of my own favourite programmes as a child), where archaeologists had three days to excavate a site, and Victor would draw interpretations of the site and archaeological finds, being watched whilst he did so not only by members of the public visiting the excavations but also by millions on TV.
And it’s actually all thanks to The Reader’s Digest that Victor became part of the brilliant Time Team crew. One day in a Bristol library, the director of Time Team came across Victor’s illustrations in a history of Britain published by The Reader’s Digest. A phone call later and the two of them met. “‘Can you draw quickly?’ ‘Ah.. yes, I can try’ ‘Well, draw a portrait of me then,’ and so I drew a quick-as-lightning pencil drawing of him and he was suitably impressed and the following week I was invited to go to Oxfordshire…” and the rest, as they say, is history, with the programme running for 20 years.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to see places you’d never get to … all sorts of weird places and drawing all different things. Of course it was sometimes a bit of an ordeal because your hands get so cold drawing outside, but the hand-drawn illustrations brought something special – by being hand-drawn, the image is more alive, it is saying this how it could have been, whereas a computer printout will say this is how it was and there is no argument.”
Did Victor ever get to have a go at digging? “It appealed to me – oh yes – but they never let me near the ground. I used to try to persuade Phil Harding [one of the Time Team Archaeologists] to let me have a dig but he would snarl at me and tell me to keep my hands out of the ground and keep on with my drawing!”
A sample of Victor Ambrus’s illustrations at Athlone Castle. Copyright: Emilia Krysztofiak Rua Photography 2012
And keeping on with his drawing is what Victor has been doing and continues to do, even as he enters his ninth decade. Recent commissions include creating illustrations for the museum at Athlone Castle in the Republic of Ireland, an opportunity to return to his beloved 17th century, horses and interesting clothes, but also a chance to steep himself in the landscape and people of Ireland – a boon when it came to illustrating his most recently published book for children, The Seal’s Fate. And right now he is steeped in the history of Somerset whilst he finishes off a big project for the Taunton Castle Museum, covering Somerset from its prehistory “up to Butlins!”
But being busy drawing makes Victor happy. “I couldn’t imagine it otherwise. I’d miss it if I wasn’t drawing. I’m just obsessed with drawing. Even when I’m not drawing I might be thinking about drawing.” And with 300 books and a lifetime of illustrating under his belt, what advice would he have for children who were interested in illustrating?
“Draw and draw and draw. And it’s important not just to do the drawing you have to do, but to draw for yourself, just to please yourself.”
I’m indebted to Victor for being so generous with his time and stories from his life. When I asked him to check over my interview notes and make any changes he wished to see, the only thing he wanted to add was that he has “a lovely wife and two big sons.” This, to me, speaks volumes of Victor’s understated modesty, charm and warmth which I hope has come across in this dream-come-true disguised as an interview.
It features illustrations which look so incredibly lifelike that you think they must be photos. They are in fact hand drawn with charcoal – and lots of patience. It’s a counting book and is of course about numbers, but not only the first ten digits we learn. Rather it makes readers reflect on when numbers mean the difference between life and not just death, but extinction. It’s a remarkable book.
It’s a book to make you look, and think, and wonder in awe. Ten animals are introduced, each with a double page spread featuring Walton’s breathtaking and moving illustrations and a short poetic text giving the animals a context, introducing a few judiciously chosen facts about their lives. A tiger is described as “a flash of fire and night“. The elephants don’t just migrate, they “travel the dust paths of memory.”
Counting Lionscan be read as a learn-to-count book – one lion, two gorillas, three giraffes and so on. Young children will love the scale of the illustrations (this is an out-sized book), and I’m sure many a small hand will end up stroking the pictures, reaching out and feeling an emotional connection with the animals depicted. But don’t be fooled. This book will also capture the imagination of a ten year old who’s long past the 1,2,3 stage. The quiet, powerful language, the addition of fact files on each animal(including its status on the list of endangered animals) in an addendum, as well as links to further reading make this a springboard for anyone curious about and appreciative of the natural world.
We explored smudging, drawing fine lines, shading, removing charcoal with a rubber, “painting” with charcoal and a wet paint brush and more. Pretty soon we were quite dirty!
Charcoal is a very expressive medium to draw with – it makes such a satisfying mark even when pressing lightly. I’d definitely encourage you to use the largest possible sheets of paper if you try this out yourself as the ease with which such a juicy black line appears made us all want to make large movements whilst drawing.
We tried drawing in the dark, with just one light beaming on a “still life” (hence the lamp on the table in the picture above); this idea came from the rich darkness of the charcoal, and the sensory experience of drawing in the gloom was quite exciting! Here’s our final gallery:
Whilst we explored making art with charcoal we listened to:
The Lion by Benjamin Scheuer (do check out the video – it’s very lovely)
A Chicken Followed Me Home!: Questions and Answers About a Familiar Fowl
by Robin Page
Beach Lane Books, 2015
The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.
Robin Page is known for collaborating with Steven Jenkins on nonfiction picture books such as What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?, My First Day, Time to Eat and How to Clean a
Cuddle Bunny Series: Tiny Tales Written by Charles Ghigna, aka “Father Goose” Illustrated by Jacqueline East Picture Window Books 8/01/2015 9780-1-4795-6532-0 64 pages Ages 4—7 “What kind of name is Cuddle? Well, it’s the perfect name for a kind, caring, and adorable little bunny! Cuddle Bunny enjoys all of life’s adventures. From …
November's theme is FAMILY, so here's my illustrated spread showing the cat family. This is for Over on the Farm which will feature ten animal families living on the farm. It comes out spring 2016, is written by Marianne Berkes, illustrated by me and published by Dawn Publications.
Welcome to Aww...Monday's. The only rule of Aww...Monday's is to post a picture that makes you say Aww...and smile. Created by Sandee of Comedy Plus who has the Mister Linky's link to join in the fun. Here's the link to Comedy Plus where you can read her post, add the link to your post, and meet other bloggers.
Aww..is indeed a great way to start the week.
Drive Carefully, because you never know who is sharing the highway.
This post is dedicated to Sandee of Comedy Plus, her "hubby," whose heartful post inspired me, and to their little dog "Little Bit," who they lost recently. Please stop by Comedy Plus, if you haven't already, and read Sandee's husbands post.
The Other Side Of Heaven
We often think of going to heaven, but we seldom consider the fact that heaven comes to us. I think it’s because we’re not paying attention to the gifts we see around us every day.
For example, people say “money doesn’t grow on trees,” when, in fact, we have oranges, apples, and the other kind of foods that grow from a seed, produce a tree, and bear fruits that literally fall from the tree, not the grocery store.
Obviously, I do know what people mean when they use that expression, it’s because man discovered long ago to charge for their hard work at harvesting their crops, plants, etc… But, you get my point, money does grow on trees, and, in fact, it’s a gift from heaven and a gift that will keep on giving.
And I believe your animals or the people we love will show themselves in a different form to let us know they’re just on the other side of heaven and will see us soon.
People also say that nothing is free, it’s another expression that simply isn’t true, for example, love is free. I believe we were born to live, love, and teach each other many things, the most of which is love, but the noise we experience in our daily routines gets in the way.
However, animals do not hear the noise, so they allow their spirits to love freely, unbounded by the restrictions us humans require of one another.
I believe domesticated animals are heaven sent perhaps to teach us how to live a life of joy, love, compassion, understanding, and loyalty to the ones with love, without judgment.
So, go hug your animal today, and if you do not have a pet, hug a person you love.
And for those of you, who, like my friend Sandee and her husband have just lost a dear friend, hug someone you know you may also be grieving a pet, and help them remember the things their pets came here to teach them.
Because, as I mentioned they are sent to remind us how to live a life of joy, love, compassion, and understanding, the most of which is love.
Show them that they taught you well, and you will gain strength from the treasures they gave you and remember you will see them again. -'Cause we are just on one side of heaven.-
Late in the afternoon the donkeys wait to be let into the barn. I sit up on the fence, because otherwise Jezebel will put her head in my lap to get attention.
At 43 years old, Jezebel is the oldest jenny. She has her own stall in the barn because she is on a special diet.
Donkeys' proportions are different from those of horses: large head and ears, small hindquarters, big long belly, and small hooves. They also have a black marking called a "cross" running perpendicular to the back and down along the withers.