Friday, 8 January 2016

2015 Picture Book Challenge: Her Idea

I had hoped to post at least a couple more updates before year's end, but unfortunately I ran out of time. This will be the last post in the 2015 Picture Book Challenge, apart from a summary and recommendations from among the books I have read which is to follow soon. I have three more book reviews in this last update, and will finish with a list of other books I read but won't comment on.

Her Idea by Rilla Alexander

Published by Flying Eye Books. Her Idea is an extraordinary, conceptual picture book rendered graphically in four colours, about a girl called Sozi, the path of her ideas and the creative process. Rilla creatively characterises each of the abstract notions in the tale, mostly to great effect, like the literary mentor, a book with eyes, and self-obstruction in the form of a wolf made of crumpled balls of waste paper who, in one great moment, is blown away as leaves in autumn.

Other characters work by being distinctive rather than apropos, such as the sharp-nosed anthropomorphic ideas and the bandit-mask-wearing, pupil-less Sozi. Once you know what they represent, they are incredibly useful to the narrative, but their designs aren't inherently redolent of the meaning to which they're put.

The vein of arbitrariness doesn't significantly hamper the lucid visual storytelling and inspired design abundant throughout. With the text written in verse, the limited colour palette and the anthropomorphisation of the abstract, I couldn't help thinking of Dr. Seuss while reading Her Idea.
The tone is dissimilar of course, but the primary difference has to be conception; Seuss' designs are always worlds and characters from which his narrative springs, while Rilla is designing a concept from beginning to end (and doing it with great beauty) and the world and characters are secondary.

In terms of what it does and how it does it, this is a rare, provocative and thorough piece of work. I encourage you to discover its pleasures for yourself.

Is There a Dog in this Book? by Viviane Schwarz (Walker Books)

Is there a Dog in this Book? exists to play with the possibilities of its format, the flap book. Three cats are incredibly anxious that they might be sharing a book with a cat - this leads to involving the reader, as an acknowledged part of the story, in opening each "door" as first cats then dog go into hiding. The story ends in reconciliation and, in its very slight way, is about overcoming fear through discovery. The real pleasure is how the medium facilitates this; flaps change not only space but time and develop the action in meaningful ways. My favourite spread for this is the following:

The additional details of the environment and the dog's language written as childlike just increases the charm of the beguilingly interactive book.

Beautiful Birds by Jean Roussen and Emmanuelle Walker (Flying Eye Books)

This themed alphabet book lives on the strength of its graphic presentation, which is, on the whole, excellent. Overall there's a strong understanding of composition and some intelligent illustration of ideas and allusions. Colour is well used, not always well-balanced between pages, but generally consistent with good strategic use of a specialist neon pink ink.

The verse in which the text is written begins fluently and in good measure, but trips over several times before it gets to the end. Similarly, the images don't always flow into one another and the inclusion of humans really stands out because their stylisation seems at odds with that of the birds.

A visually stimulating book, but not a coherent experience, beautifully produced, as you would expect from Flying Eye Books.

Roll of Other Books


Diary of a Time Traveller by Nicholas Stevenson and David Long (Wide Eyed Editions)
Hare by Zoƫ Greaves and Leslie Sadleir (Old Barn Books)
Mad About Monkeys by Owen Davey (Flying Eye Books)
The Story of Life: a first book about evolution by Catherine Barr, Steve Williams and Amy Husband (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)


Chu's Day at the Beach by Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex (Bloomsbury Publishing)
The Misadventures of Sweetie Pie by Chris Van Allsburg (Andersen Press)
The World-Famous Cheese Shop Break-In by Sean Taylor and Hannah Shaw (Frances Lincoln Children's Books)

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