Kate De Goldi and Kim Hill discuss three ‘animal’ picturebooks on Radio New Zealand.

Blue Moon Bird by Sabrina Malcolm

This picturebook is really charming. Sabrina Malcolm is principally an illustrator, possibly best known to New Zealanders via her collaboration with Melanie Drury on Koro’s Medicine.

De Goldi was drawn to it but at first couldn’t work out why. Then she realised it was probably the slightly retro feel. The illustrations have a palette and design influenced by the 70s. That’s deliberate of course. Even the toys are retro. The pictures are intricate. The MC has red hair of course, like all good heroes and heroines!

This is a very simple, modest, unassuming story with a very alluring opening, echoing people as various as Roald Dahl, but other authors right through storyland history. The story is incredibly compacted.

The text is very beautifully designed throughout, incorporated into the visuals.

The middle page spread is particularly beautiful.

The story is about loneliness and friendship. Shaun Tan explored those same ideas with The Lost Thing (in an entirely different way, of course).

The writing is very economical. The pictures star, but the writing is also very good. There’s a lot of momentum.

This is an adventure a boy has all by himself. The adult caregivers are mentioned but never actually there, so the young readers know the boy has safe harbour.

Blue Moon Bird would be a lovely story to read to an under 5.

 

Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham

Mal Peet is an English author and illustrator best known for young-adult fiction:

Elspeth Graham is Mal Peet’s wife. They have collaborated on two beautiful picturebooks which have been illustrated by some wonderful artists. Elspeth does a lot of work on books for young/learner readers, and does a lot of research for those books. She comes up with an idea that entrances her for one reason or another. For Cloud Tea Monkeys she got very interested in merchants who took long, dangerous journeys to find foodstuffs. She and Mal go for walks. She talks passionately, then he picks up the ball and then writes the story. They didn’t meet the artists at all. These days it’s much more likely that you’ll have had discussion with your artist.

These stories are beautifully written.

The sentences are of varying lengths. The word choice is excellent, and unusually for a picturebook, the colon and semi-colon is used beautifully as well. (It’s a triumph!)

In terms of a story to grip, first of all it paints a place, a child, a culture and then the line, ‘Inside the house, the mother coughed.’ Twice, because this is going to be really important to the story.

The illustrations are by Juan Wijngaard, who is Dutch, born in Argentina, and studied art in Britain but now lives in California. He has also illustrated the work of some brilliant authors such as Jan Mark and William Mayne.

Cloud Tea Monkeys is enchantingly old fashioned (which is by no means a criticism). This is old-fashioned in quite a different way from Sabrina Malcolm’s work — the illustrations in this book are reminiscent of Arabian Nights. There are little line drawings throughout, but they are framed on the opposing side of the text, which is very much like books from the 50s and 60s.

Mysterious Traveller by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham

The artwork in Mysterious Traveller is equally beautiful. P.J. Lynch is an Irish artist.

Again, the story is alluring in the Arabian Nights kind of way. A baby is left by travellers who get caught in a sandstorm, found and raised by a man. She eventually becomes his eyes.

Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham wanted to write picturebooks that were longer than usual because they grew sick of having to read nine picturebooks every night before bed. Kim Hill hesitates before calling these picturebooks because the text is so thrilling. [This includes some assumptions about picturebooks!] These fall somewhere between chapterbooks and picturebooks. It probably would take a couple of nights to read a single story.

The words on the tongue are a genuinely sensuous experience.

These are gift books — books that will be read over and over again.

Well done Walker Books for bringing us back to that kind of book, and well done to Mal and Elspeth for insisting on it.