Friday, 31 July 2015

All hale the amazingly talented Chris Riddell - a big Space on The Bookshelf welcome and celebration to the new Children’s Laureate!

In June, we saw the sad stepping down of Malorie Blackman who had excelled in her role of Children’s Laureate which she held since 2013. But the sadness was soon eclipsed by the excitement and jubilation caused by the announcement that multi-talented illustrator and writer Chris Riddell had been appointed as Children’s Laureate for 2015-2017. So to celebrate the new Children’s Laureate we thought we’d share with you some of our most favourite Chris Riddell books…

We start with Nicki…

From its idiosyncratic cover, vibrant purple edging and those wondrous silver skulls everywhere, ‘Goth Girl’ has been one of the most distinctive books to have been published in the last few years.

The sort of book you just have to pick up and open. And cherish.

Hardly surprising that it is the creative work of one of our foremost writer/illustrators, Chris Riddell, because it takes a very special talent to produce a book as stunning as this.

The first thing you notice about it is that it is full of startling images, featuring a range of unusual characters and inventive creatures (some with the heads of creatures and the heads of humans), which stare out of the pages at the reader in a challenging way.

But its uniqueness does not stop with the images.

We meet Ada Goth, clumping around in big boots so that her father (mad, bad and dangerous to gnomes Lord Goth) can hear her approach and avoid her as she reminds him too much of her mother (Parthenope) and tries to make sense of the bizarre world she inhabits.

The story has a surreal nature, with everything twisted slightly off-kilter. It hails very close to ‘Alice Adventures in Wonderland’ in its style and its narrative – a story of bizarre imagination that doesn’t play safe in the slightest.

It’s a mystery, set in the creepy Ghastly-Gorm Hall, so vast that lonely Ada Goth has not yet been in all the rooms. (The book opens with a map to help and who doesn’t have a bit of a soft spot for books with maps in them?)

The vocabulary is complex, the names subtly full of sly literary allusion. When Ada first encounters a ghostly mouse and asks what he is called, he replies: ‘Call me Ishamel’.

Although it’s a huge bestseller, was it, in fact the obvious book that was going to be such a runaway hit? It really stands out in its inventiveness, vocabulary as well as use of illustration, which is bold in itself and in every way is not at all your usual children’s book.

What it is, is a brilliant example of a bold writer, teamed with a bold publisher, producing something that is so different – and so successful.

It’s been hugely influential on girls’ reading. Schools were inhabited with more than a handful of purple-gowned Ada Goths on World Book Day. Although it hasn’t yet seen many imitators (although the book world hopes there will be many), there has certainly been an accompanying rise in sales of Chris’s previous illustrated series for newly-confident readers, Ottoline.

A couple of inventive librarians have concealed the cover in brown paper (shame!) but have thus added many boys Ada’s fan base, drawn in by the stark, pretty-scary line drawings inside.

Malorie Blackman has done great things in her time as children’s laureate by focusing particularly on recognising some of the great writing for teens.

Chris Riddell is possibly our best-known author of illustrated books for older readers and is stepping into her shoes. Hopefully this might see an increase in the recognition of just how brilliant illustrated books are for children – and how very in short supply they are.

One might note there has been a rise in illustrated books, but most of these have tended to be funny books, often with comic-style illustration. A quick glance at the shelves might give the impression that there is plenty of illustrated fiction around. There are also plenty of illustrated classics around.

But there really is a shortage of books aimed at the same age range as ‘Goth Girl’ that have the same overall excellence in both innovative use of illustration and design.

If Chris Riddell leaves a legacy – please let it be more illustrated modern books for children.

More please!

Then (me) Sally...

Both Nicki and Claire are talking about Chris Riddell’s penned and illustrated books, and coming from an art background, I’m going to celebrate Chris Riddell’s amazing illustration. I’m sure that the decision to elect Chris as Children Laureate took in to account his talents to tell a story with either words or pictures.

 Personally I first came across his illustration work which accompanied and enhanced the Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Graveyard Book’. I was instantly struck by the quirky characterisation and the skilled monotone workmanship with gothic undertones. The combination of Gaiman’s words and Riddell’s images was ‘right up my street’ and I began to amass and read their other collaborations. To me the pairing of Gaiman and Riddle is one of those rare partnerships where the two become synonymous in my mind, you see one and your mind instantly thinks of the other. This is a rare and beautiful thing of which I can only think of a few other examples; ‘Milne and Shepard’, ‘Dahl and Blake’ and ‘Donaldson and Scheffler’.

Riddell’s characterisation is highly stylised and executed in exquisite ink, but what makes them so special is the that each one seems to have an edge - hinting that the character is multifaceted with hidden depths making them more intriguing. Chris Riddell is also a master at humour, visualising and drawing quirky characters and scenes, like the penguins from Paul Stewart’s Fergus Carne’ or the ghouls from Witchworld by Emma Fischel.

Chris Riddle’s illustrations have adorned many book covers and pages by other talented writers and to me and my children it’s is a sure sign that book will be suit our family’s pallet; that the story will be funny, quirky and a wee bit gothic.


Finishing off with the lovely Claire...

Ottoline and the Yellow Cat is a wonderful book and the first in the charming Ottiline trilogy.

Ottoline Brown is left in the care of her capable nanny, Mr Munroe, while her parents are travelling the world. When pets begin to go missing and there are some mysterious robberies, Ottoline makes a connection between the crimes, enlists the help of Mr Munroe, and an adventure ensues.

It is liberally illustrated in Chris Riddell’s usual fun style, which makes this book massively accessible to reluctant readers and younger readers, and there is something new to notice every time you open it. There’s an endearing whimsy about both the writing and the illustrations, and a madcap heroine who reminds me a little of Pippi Longstocking.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

3D Review - My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish Picture Book - Interview with Author Mo O'Hara

Back in 2013 our very first 3D review was of the very first My Big Zat Zombie Goldfish book (press here to read). Since then Frankie and Co. have gone on to have huge success across the world, so when we heard that there was a Picture Book Spin off coming out, we really wanted to celebrate it with a 3D Review. Mo, was interviewed about books and writing in the first 3D review (press here to read), but has kindly agreed to be interviewed with an entirely new set of questions, all about success, Frankie and writing Picture Books!

My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish has become hugely successful since we last interviewed you, including reaching the New York Bestsellers list. How does this feel?

Thanks for interviewing me again. This is a real treat, and I’m so excited about the first My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish Picture book!!! The day that the first MBFZG reached the NY Times Bestsellers list I found out at 11:30 at night UK time and everyone was asleep so I had a little victory celebration dance with my kittens. They were amused but not very enthusiastic about the email really.

It’s been great to see the words ‘NY Times Bestseller’ on the books in the US but as a boy reminded me when I was touring there this month. ‘Yeah, but that’s nothing special. It’s like on practically every other book isn’t it?’ So it doesn’t mean much to the readers really but it makes me smile.

How many countries is My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish been published in?

It’s out (or will be coming out in the next year or so) in about 9 countries I think. Germany, Hungary, Turkey, Australia, USA, Canada, The Chech Republic, Lithuania, and Brazil. I think.

It is so cool. I’ve heard from kids in Australia and in Germany so far. I’ve seen the German books and they look amazing. It’s great to think my book has travelled much further than me.

How does feel to think you are making children laugh across the planet?

It was really fun to tour to the West Coast of America this month and talk to kids from very different backgrounds and that live very different lives. I also might be going to a school in Germany next year so I’m very excited about that. I would love to travel more and meet readers from far away. Now if I could just get a book smuggled onto the next space station mission.... hmmmm......

This is the first My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish picture book; can you tell us is which is more difficult writing novels or picture book texts?

I found it more difficult to write the picture book because it was my first one. I always write more and edit the text down. For a picture book, every word matters so there was a lot of chopping out stuff and keeping the lines and the action very direct. I always want to go off on a long funny aside from one of the characters. Writing a book where 2 of my three main characters can’t talk did wonders for cutting my overuse of dialogue.

Marek did such an amazing job on this book too. It really is much more of a collaboration with the illustrator. I mean, Marek comes up with some spectacular stuff for the fiction series illustrations but this was full colour, full spreads and the whole world is created in the pictures. It felt real though when I first saw the colour spreads a few months ago. I looked at Sami standing in her living room and thought, ‘Yeah, that’s where Sami lives. Of course it is.’ Fang is also one of my favourite characters so I love giving her centre stage with Frankie for the book.

Lastly, can you tell us what’s next for Frankie, and the characters of My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish?

Who knows if there will be another MBFZG picture book. We are just putting the finishing touches on the last MBFZG fiction book too. ( The title is perhaps my favourite so far... Jurassic Carp!!! I love it! ) So, this might be the last we see of Frankie for a while. I’m really happy with the way the last book turned out too. I think the stories have stayed true to the original book and I still love writing about these boys’ friendship. They will stay with me a long time.

It was great to write the picture book with Sami as the protagonist though. She is a great little character with a lot more to see so I hope she gets the chance.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

3D review - My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish Picture Book - Interview with Illustrator Marek Jagucki

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

I think it was probably the Mr. Men books by Roger Hargreaves, in particular Mr Bump and Mr Tickle. I think it was Mr Tickle who could reach downstairs for biscuits without getting out of bed. That ability appealed to me greatly!

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

At the moment it’s ‘I Want My Hat Back’ by Jon Klassen. The illustration and design is really lovely and the ending, which I won’t give away, is darkly comic and took me a bit by surprise. Otherwise, for sheer audacity I like ‘The Story of the Little Mole who knew it was None of his Business’ by Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch. It’s a book about poo basically.

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

The great thing about children’s books is that you get to enjoy them as a child and then later, as an adult, you remember your favourites and read them to your own children. You get to enjoy them all over again but on a whole new level. I hope the books I illustrate have that generational appeal.

Did you always want to be a children’s book illustrator?

Not specifically, in fact I kind of drifted into it. From childhood I always wanted to be an artist of some sort. I grew up reading comic books and as a youngster I fantasised that one day I’d work for 2000AD, drawing the likes of Judge Dredd. As a teenager, though, I abandoned that idea and decided I was going to be a cartoonist instead. I’d always imagined, however, that it would be for an adult market and it wasn’t until my late twenties that I started illustrating specifically for children. Initially it was mainly marketing and packaging work but then I had a long stint producing jigsaws and board games, which was great fun. I was then commissioned to work on various educational courses for primary schools which surprisingly involved me illustrating stories and even comic strips. Finally, I became a dad and the house started filling up with picture books. At this point I decided I really wanted to be a children’s book illustrator and longed to work on a fiction title. Macmillan gave me my big break with the Zombie Goldfish series.

How did you become an illustrator?

I took art at A-Level and then, after a year’s art foundation course, did an HND in Illustration at Falmouth School of Art & Design. However, post graduation it proved very hard to find freelance illustration work, so I ended up working full-time as a graphic designer instead. This taught me a lot about design but importantly gave me the opportunity to produce a lot of illustration work and after a few years I had a strong commercial portfolio with which to try freelancing again. In recent years I’ve managed to focus almost entirely on illustration but the graphic design skills come in handy on occasion.

What is the biggest challenge in illustrating a book for young children?

I think it’s trying to appeal to the children on one level and on another producing something that the parents will enjoy too, as it’s often us who end up reading it. It’s also knowing when to rein it in a bit. In the Zombie Goldfish picture book I originally drew Fang’s idea of a fun game as making Frankie tight-rope walk over a lit barbecue.

Can you please explain a bit about your process of illustration?

In the early days I used to draw everything in pencil and then ink it in. This would then be scanned in, tidied up and coloured up in Photoshop. However, making changes was awkward and time consuming so I began to work entirely digitally using Adobe Illustrator instead. This creates vector (as opposed to pixel) artwork which can be resized and endlessly and quickly edited with no loss of quality. I build images up using overlapping shapes so my artwork is more constructed than drawn, if that makes sense. I also use a mouse rather than a graphics tablet. One downside to vector art is that it can look a bit flat and computery so recently, when appropriate, I’ve started incorporating scanned textures into my work to add a bit more depth. I’ll start a picture by roughly plotting the main features and rejigging it until I’m happy with the composition. Then I’ll add a basic level of detail and shading. Once the client is happy with the way it looks I’ll add any additional detail and shading effects and, in the case of the picture book, incorporate the textures too.

What is more difficult/rewarding about illustrating a picture book vs a novel?

It was a challenge to transfer the characters from the bold graphic style of the novels into a softer stye for the picture book but I had some really helpful art direction from Emily at Macmillan. It was an evolutionary process which let me try out a few combinations of things before settling on the final style. I was quite satisfied with the end result but I’m looking forward to building on it next time. I do love creating the black and white pictures for the novels though. Sometimes it feels as though I’m illustrating a comic book. Perhaps Mo could write a Zombie Goldfish graphic novel next. That would be awesome!

Friday, 3 July 2015

3D Review - My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish – The Fintastic Fish-Sitter - Mo O’Hara & Marek Jagucki - Reviews

Adult Review

Our very first 3D review was the brilliantly barmy laugh-out-loud ‘My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish’ novel (press here to read). Since then Frankie the zombie goldfish has enrapt the imaginations of young readers across the world, even making the prestigious New York Bestsellers list. Now he and his friends are back in their first ever bite sized adventure, with the picture book ‘My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish, The Fintastic Fish-Sitter.’

Mo and Marek have produced an amazing picture book, which both stands up independently as a quality picture book as well as retaining all the elements and magic of the Zombie Goldfish series creating a great companion to the novels.

My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish – The Fintastic Fish-Sitter, has kept the anarchic-humour from the novel. This time, supporting character Sami is in the centre of the action, as Tom and Predeep entrust the care of their resurrected fierce zombie goldfish, Frankie to her. Leaving Sami with strict instructions; don’t look into his eyes or he’ll hypnotise you, feed him only green food, but most importantly keep him away from Tom’s big brother’s vampire kitten, Fang!

Enter the exceeding cute but crafty Fang. No matter how hard Sami tries she can’t keep the pet arch-enemies away from each other, as they fight like cat and dog, no, as they fight like vampire cat and zombie fish.

But Sami proves she is not a girl to be trifled with and the feuding feline and fish end up having their comeuppance.

It is much rarer for a successful novel series to spin off into picture book format than the other way around, but Mo O’Hara and Marek Jagucki have made the transition swimmingly. The story is pacey and funny, keeping true to the feel and humour of the novels, yet simple enough to neatly fit into the more frugal word count. Marek’s illustrations, which are delightful in the novels as greyscale images, are even better realised into full colour, making the story burst with energy.

If you are already a Big Fat Zombie Fan, you’ll love this book, and if you like action and funny stories but have yet to discover the hypnotic power of Frankie and his friends, then I believe The Fintastic Fish-sitter will have you hooked.

Child Review by Spike aged 9

My Big Fat Zombie - The Fintastic Goldfish-Sitter, by Mo O’Hara & Marek Jagucki, is a very good book. It is fun and amazing, I am a fan of the novels, and I really love this picture book. My favourite character is Frankie, and I enjoyed the funny battles he had in the Fintastic Fish-sitter with Fang, the naughty vampire kitten. The illustrations are great, they are bright and colourful and funny. I think children who are fans of My Big Zombie Goldfish and children who like funny animal stories, will love this book.