Art and Music in Picture Books

Art and music feature in some recommended picture books and Christmas gifts.

Wonderlands: The Illustration Art of Robert Ingpen published by the National Library of Australia

Robert Ingpen was born in 1936 and is the only Australian illustrator to have won the prestigious international Hans Christian Andersen award. He is a virtuoso of painterly artwork and has illustrated Australian stories such as Storm Boy by Colin Thiele, Mustara by Rosanne Hawke, Ziba Came on a Boat written by Liz Lofthouse, The Poppykettle series and The Afternoon Treehouse and a long list of children’s classics such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (hence the title of this tribute to his work), Peter Pan and Wendy, The Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden. The Nutcracker, The Night Before Christmas and A Christmas Carol will be perfect books for Christmas. Ingpen has also designed Australian postage stamps.

His most recent books include the awarded outback-based Tea and Sugar Christmas and Radio Rescue! (both written by Jane Jolly). Wonderlands gives a generous insight into these books and others. It is a must-have celebration of children’s literature through the lens of our maestro, Robert Ingpen.

The School of Music by Meurig and Rachel Bowen, illustrated by Daniel Frost (Wide Eyed Editions, Allen & Unwin)

Music is important for the pleasure it gives and because it’s good for the brain and can lead to unexpected friendships and opportunities. Enjoyable and useful to use in homes, schools and music schools, The School of Music is a lavish compendium of music, musicians and instruments in picture book form.

Musician characters (such as Diva Venus, a star singer, Ronny ‘Beethoven’ O’Reilly, a composer and Roxy Mojo, a percussion specialist) are introduced at the beginning of the book and feature strategically throughout to explain concepts. Section 1 looks at different types of music and instruments and how music connects with film, maths, architecture and other disciplines. Section 2 offers a musical toolbox, which enables children to write music, beginning with fun graphic scores using pictures and symbols. Section 3 is about children making music themselves. The book suggests diverse ways such as making a kitchen orchestra as well as playing a conventional instrument or singing. It concludes with tips on performing and composing.

There are bonus music samples accessed by the QR code at the end of the book and children could dip in and out of this book or use it as a Christmas holiday music appreciation and education course, ideally even alongside learning a musical instrument. 

Awarded Children’s Information Books

EmuThis year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Eve Pownall Award for Information Books forms an impressive list. Four of the six titles focus on an aspect of Australian history.

Emu (one of the ‘Nature Storybooks’ series from Walker Books) is natural history, however, and upholds the quality of last year’s Crichton and Queensland Literary awarded Big Red Kangaroo. It is written by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Graham Byrne and combines literary and factual texts in an engaging package for young readers.

Coming of Age

The other title that isn’t historical is for the opposite end of the age spectrum – mature secondary, although chapters could be used for younger readers in high school. Coming of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia is edited by Amra Pajalic & Demet Divaroren (Allen & Unwin) and a number of its contributors have appeared on ABC TV’s Q&A. The contributors write about their experiences growing up as a Muslim. An important feature is the diversity within Muslim groups, also based on the country the writers or their parents are from.

Randa Abdel-Fattah (Does My Head Look Big in This?) writes about body image; Hazem El Masri, former rugby league star,  among other things, explains a core difference between Islam and Christianity – Muslims don’t believe Jesus was the son of God, died on the cross or was raised from death; Hazem’s wife changed some of her school’s culture by lobbying for the opportunity for Muslims to pray; and former Miss World Australia, Sabrina Houssami, laments that white Australian girls wouldn’t be her friend.

Tea and SugarTea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen (National Library of Australia) is a sumptuous volume, and is also a notable CBCA picture book this year. Robert Ingpen is the only Australian illustrator to have won the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Medal. All of his books are stunning. This one showcases the train that serviced the settlements along the Nullabor Plains from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie. Aboriginal and Afghan people helped build and maintain the 1050 km of rail. The book starts as an appealing literary narrative about young Kathleen who is waiting for the first Thursday in December when Father Christmas travels with gifts. This story is followed by information in non-fiction form.Mary's Australia

 

Mary Mackillop was a girl when Victoria became a state and she was twelve during the Eureka Stockade. Pamela Freeman juxtaposes Mary’s life and time caring for the poor and educating children with the years when Australia became a nation in Mary’s Australia: How Mary Mackillop Changed Australia (Black Dog Books, Walker Books).

Audacity

 

Audacity: Stories of Heroic Australians in Wartime by Carlie Walker and illustrated by Brett Hatherly, is another excellent publication from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. The title comes from a stained-glass window at the Australian War Memorial. Each chapter features a person, including women, and the war they were involved in and also highlights their outstanding attributes, such as courage or leadership.

 

The A-Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land by Simon Barnard (Text Publishing) is coffee-table size and is set between 1803 and 1853. The research and illustrative processes are intricate and include cut-away pictures of buildings. This book is full of fascinating and gory facts which will intrigue older readers. A-Z

Christmas Countdown – Kids’ reads to keep you calm and collected

If you’re already thinking how to fill the sleigh this Christmas, climb on in and assume the brace position because it’s only 44 more days until Christmas. Yes! As terrifying as that may sound, here are three fantastic new reads to lessen the impact. They are cheerfully Christmassy, are already, or destined to be classics and just perfect to start your countdown to Christmas in earnest with.

The Nights before ChristmasI don’t like to risk cavities on store-bought Advent calendars and don’t always have the time to make my own, so when The Nights Before Christmas: 24 Classic Stories to Share magically appeared, I bubbled with festive gratitude.

Twenty-four excerpts, poems, and yuletide stories even carol lyrics are thoughtfully brought together in a magnificently presented hardback anthology. Readers as young as seven will enjoy immersing themselves into this collection of traditional and contemporary tales but the real joy ignites when you spend each night with your child(ren) sharing the magic and anticipation of Christmas together.

Storytellers including Tolstoy, Hans Christian Anderson, the Grimm Brother, Dickens, Oscar Wilde and Louisa May Alcott all contribute to the festive soirées but perhaps my favourite ‘night’ is Number 22, Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus; reaffirming once again that to simply experience magic one need only believe in it.

Lavishly illustrated in glorious full colour by acclaimed UK illustrator, Tony Ross, The Nights Before Christmas is the penultimate Advent Calendar for bibliophiles and true lovers of Christmas. This is one Christmas keepsake you won’t be throwing out with the Christmas crackers. Highly recommended.

Koala Books imprint of Scholastic October 2014

Mr Darcy and the Christmas PuddingMy November Christmas to-do list often involves provisioning the pantry with more festive goodies than anyone can eat and making the Chrissy Pud, which is why Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding by Alex Field and Peter Carnavas is included on this countdown list.

The ineffable Mr Darcy adores Christmas and having mastered his former social ineptitude with the help of his friends in the previous picture books, Mr Darcy and Mr Darcy and the Dancing Duck, prepares to involve them in a splendid yuletide celebration. He invites his nearest and dearest over on Stir-up Sunday to help bake the Christmas pudding but is somewhat disconcerted by the unexpected presence of Mr Collins.

Plucky ducky, Lizzy appeals to Mr Darcy’s more charitable side until he finally relents so that everyone, including Mr Collins, enjoys Christmas time, pudding and all.

As with all these titles, Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding draws deliciously on Christmas traditions, mode a la Austen and how the expectation of the big event is often sweeter, more satisfying and twice as exciting as the day itself.

Pride and Prejudice fans have another one their collections. Three to six year-olds will be begging to lick the pudding bowl.

New Frontier Publishing November 2014

Tea and Sugar ChristamasAnother picture book that heralds the beginning of the festive season and is a definite keepsake for Christmases to come is Tea and Sugar Christmas by Jane Jolly and Robert Ingpen.

This is less of a picture book and more of a beguiling glimpse into the yesteryear life of Kathleen, a young resident of a settlement town along the Nullarbor Plain rail link back in the days when the Tea and Sugar Train travelled from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie once a week.

Jolly’s substantial prose ably transports us into Kathleen’s world past the ‘drooping peppercorn, bent acacias and scraggy salt bush’ as she eagerly awaits the provisions train in a heat so torrid her feet sear ‘like scones on a griddle’. Chocolate could only be brought in winter when it was less likely to melt.

Ingpen’s glorious line pencil drawings belie a world of colour as each page unfolds into a spectacular double panoramic spread emphasising the breathtaking enormity of the outback and the complexity of the Mixed Goods Train No 5205 aka The Tea and Sugar Train itself.

Tea and Sugar SantaBut what is so special about this week’s train, the one that every child on the Plains waits for on the first Thursday of December every year? Take the trip and find out for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

Tea and Sugar Christmas truly epitomises a child’s anticipation and expectations of Christmas no matter where or how they live. And as with all NLA publications, the fascinating factual inclusions ensure this is one of those special unexpected Christmas surprises you are sure to treasure.

National Library of Australia November 2014

Make room in the sleigh for more after you check out these fantastic gift ideas for kids from the Kids’ Reading Guide 2014. And stayed tuned for more fantastic pre-Chrissy posts guaranteed to keep you and your little ones inspired and excited and above all, well read!

 

Doodles and Drafts – An Interview with Lucia Masciullo

At a time of year when there are more new children’s book releases than autumn leaves drifting about, it’s nice to grab a cuppa, sit back and remember that what makes a book brilliant is the genius behind its creation.

Lucia Masciullo Today we meet one of those geniuses, the quietly charismatic illustrator, Lucia Masciullo. Her story is fascinating. Her style is utterly beguiling. And thanks to her clever connection with my addiction to marshmallows, her name is no longer impossible for me to pronounce!

So grab that cuppa and prepare to be absolutely delighted…

Q Who is Lucia Masciullo? Describe the illustrator in you and what sets your work apart from other Aussie illustrators.

First of all I’m Italian and this is why you probably can’t pronounce my surname (by the way it’s quite similar to marshmallow but with no sugar: ma-shu-llo). I am born and bred in Livorno (Leghorn on English maps) on the coast of Tuscany and I moved to Brisbane in 2006 with my partner Vincenzo.

More than an illustrator I like to think I’m a visual explorer: I love to experiment always new styles and new techniques. Maybe because I started to work as illustrator only 7 years ago, but the more I learn about illustration and visual art, the more I want to know.

I’m also a Biologist and maybe that’s the reason why I like to study things I’m passionate about. I keep the same enthusiasm I had at the Uni, but instead of learning about cells, animals and plants, now I want to learn things like what the best color to represent an emotion is or how to balance words and images in a composition.

Family forest LuciaQ What is your favourite colour, why and how does it influence or restrict what you illustrate?

I have several favourite colors. It depends on my mood, I guess. I like Amber in the morning, Cool Grey when I’m wistful, and Apple Green when I’m hungry and so on.

I think your personal perception always influences your art, especially while working with colors. It’s inevitable. So I try to feel the same mood that I want to depict. The colors choice is easier this way and listen to music with the same mood I want to represent helps me a lot. It’s probably like being an actor: an actor can pretend to be sad or happy, but it’s way more believable if he can really feel the emotion he wants to convey.

Q What, whom persuaded you to illustrate?

When I was a child I was pretty good at drawing, but I was also good at swimming, math and amongst other things, sprinkling water from my mouth. So I wasn’t encouraged particularly to pursue art.

Maybe I felt that my dad wouldn’t easily accept me doing art as a job. Furthermore drawing was something so important for me, that I couldn’t accept failure or critiques: I didn’t want to show my drawing to anyone. So whatever the reason I ended up studying Biology.

But few years later I realized that if I wanted to do something useful with my life, if I really wanted to make the difference in this world, I had to do something that I really cared about. So I bet on my passion for art.

I would say that learning how to illustrate professionally has been a wonderful experience, but the truth is that the main reason I’m an illustrator today is because of my partner Vincenzo. He encouraged me and supported from the very beginning, giving me the strength to keep going the times when I wanted to give up.

Q Are you a natural or have you had to study your craft? If so where?

I have always been quite good at figuring out simple forms and basic lines out of complex images. Some people may look at a picture and imagine a story or (piece of) music. Others may look at a tree and figure how to climb it. When I look at utility pole, a building or a face of an old woman, I can easily imagine how to reproduce that image using simple lines and shapes. This is my natural talent and that’s probably why I’m good at drawing.

But of course this is only the beginning of the story. You need to perfect your skills: in other words you need to practice. A lot. I attended a three years course in Illustration in Florence and I started drawing and painting 24/7 since. I was caught by the art bug. And I still am.

Q Was it a work opportunity that prompted your move to Australia?

Yes and no. It was a work opportunity for my partner: he won a European Endeavor Award in 2006 that allowed him to work at the University of Queensland for one year. I came in Australia as his partner, so you could say it’s love that brought me to Australia.

The initial plan was just to stay one year, but (lucky us!) things have gone differently.

The Boy and the Toy illoQ How do you develop your illustrations? Do digital computer programs feature significantly in what you produce?

For each illustration I start by drawing a rough sketch of the scene I have in mind with pencil and paper. Just to get the feeling of it and to evaluate if it’s a good idea or not. Then I draw the final scene, defining the characters and the background. Always with pencil and paper. I draw the same scene few times, until I’m happy with the composition.

At this stage I scan the drawing and refine it digitally using a tablet. It saves me a lot of time. I can change rapidly the scale of the elements, correct mistakes and balance the composition (when I’m not sure if an image is well balanced, I flip it right/left and make adjustments until the original and the flipped image look both nice).

Then, when everyone is happy with the drawing (myself, the publisher and the author sometimes) I make a few digital colored sketches and use those as a guide to paint the final artwork.

Different media may give different effects and moods to the same illustration. For picture books I like to use acrylics or watercolors to which I add details with pencil or ink.

I like the transparency of watercolors and the joyful effects water creates when mixed with pigments. I also love acrylics because they work on every surface and they are great if you want to add a textural element to the illustration.

Q Where has your work appeared?

I’ve illustrated six picture books, three young adults’ novels and I also did little black and white illustrations for the popular series Our Australian Girl.

I’m also the co-founder of Blue Quoll, a digital children’s book publisher company and I’ve illustrated the first two titles.

I have exhibited my works in Brisbane in a number of occasions and I’m very proud that two of my illustrations have been selected for a National exhibition titled ‘Look! The art of Australian picture books today’ that showcases the best of children book illustrations in Australia: my works have been presented among those of some of the most important names in the Illustration industry.

The Exhibition was set at the State Library in Melbourne in 2010, and has been moved subsequently to Brisbane, Canberra and to several Regional Galleries since. Now it’s going to be held for the last time at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery until April 2013.

Q What children’s books have you illustrated? Do you have a favourite?

These are the children’s books I’ve illustrated:

Queen Alice’s Palaces by Juliette McIver ABC 2013

Come down, Cat! by Sonya Hartnett Penguin 2011

Family Forest by Kim Kane HGE 2010

The Boy and the Toy by Sonya Hartnett Penguin 2010

When No-one is Looking – On the Farm by Zana Fraillon HGE 2009

When No-one is Looking – At the Zoo by Zana Fraillon HGE 2009

No, I don’t have a favourite. I always try to do my best when I illustrate picture books, so I really like them all: they are my little creatures.

Q How long, on average does it take you to complete illustrations for a picture book?

From the first sketches to the final artworks it takes four to six months.

Q Do you draw every day? What is the most enjoyable part of your working day?

I draw almost every day, but I also have a part of my day dedicated to the routine: emails, online activity, parcels to send, events and meetings to attend … even though I’m usually quite good at procrastinating all the things that do not concern drawing.

I think the best part of my working day is when I find solutions to my problems. It may be the right color palette for a scene, an original point of view, the right expression for a certain character. Sometimes problems seem complicated, they absorb all my thoughts and sometimes even my dreams. But the bigger the problem, the bigger the satisfaction when I find the right solution.

Oh and of course I like to receive positive feedback from publishers: I can’t stop smiling in front of an enthusiastic email!

The accidental Princess LuciaQ It’s accepted that writers often scribble ideas on the back of takeaway menus, napkins, bus tickets, whatever they can when ideas strike – is this the same for illustrators? When you get a shot of inspiration and desire to draw, what do you do?

Oh yes, it’s absolutely the same for illustrators. I always bring with me an A6 notebook where I can scribble and sketch freely. My favourite subjects at the moment are utility poles, people and cups. Leafs and trees, sometimes. I also take note of all the sensational ideas I have for my future best seller picture books.

Q I can barely master a stick drawing. Do you like to dabble in the written word and if so, have you consider writing your own (children’s) book?

To illustrate my own story is something I really would like to do. As I said I like to collect ideas for future books, but when I go to Libraries and Bookshops and I see all the amount of beautiful books already done, I just wonder why should I write another children’s book? I guess I’m waiting for the right story, the story I really would like to tell.

Besides I’m not very confident in my writing skills. Probably I’d use more pictures and no much text.

Q Which Aussie children’s book illustrator do you admire most and why?

There are many Australian illustrators I like: Gus Gordon, Freya Blackwood, Robert Ingpen, Kerry Argent only to name a few, but the one I admire most is Shaun Tan, even though his books are technically picture books and not children’s books.

When I first arrived in Australia I found everything was different from my Italian life: food, buildings, trees and my English was quite poor and it wasn’t easy to make new friends. I felt a bit lost. So when I read The Arrival, it hit me personally: not only the pictures were astonishing and sensational, like the kind of pictures I’d like to create, but the story was my own story. I had the feeling that he had written this book for me!

Then I met Shaun in 2010 at the Bologna children’s book Fair and I really liked him as a person: he is a very nice guy, friendly and generous (he helped me in obtaining my Australian permanent visa). A truly inspirational illustrator.

Lucia Aurealia AwardQ Name one ‘I’ll never forget that’ moment in your illustrating career so far.

Well, of course I’ll never forget the moment I received the first ‘yes’ by two Australian Publishers. The first one was by Hilary Rogers at Hardie Grant Egmont; the second one was by Jane Godwin at Penguin.

In both cases they sent me a manuscript, asking me some preparatory sketches: characters design and a couple of background scenes. I did my best and I sent them back my sketches. Amazingly for me, they liked them and they asked me if I was interested in working with them, illustrating the entire picture book.

After years of frustration and hardworking, trying to refine my artistic skills, finally someone was giving me a chance. This was the only thing that I was waiting for, the possibility to show what I could do. I remember I began jumping all over the house because I couldn’t contain the enthusiasm. And I’m happy now Hilary and Jane couldn’t see my lack of professionalism.

Queen Alice's PalacesQ What is on the storyboard for Lucia?

In December (2012) I finished to illustrate a lovely picture book that will be published in April, titled Queen Alice’s Palaces, based on a hilarious rhymed story by Juliette McIver.

These days I’m working on a breathtaking manuscript by Sonya Hartnett, a challenging one. I love her stories, but I hate them at the same time, because they are so intense I can’t stop thinking about them until I’ve illustrated them.

I for one can’t wait to see them.