Stephen Michael King’s Triumphant Trio

29cde5eWhat is it about Stephen Michael King‘s illustrations that make his picture books so sublime? How can his drawings make us want to delve into those stories over and over again? Well, that’s just it! It’s the artwork that adds another dimension to those already meaningful stories, allowing us to dive right in with those characters; feeling what they feel – emotionally and sensorially. With a multitude of divine books under his wing, the extremely talented Stephen Michael King has three that are currently soaring to the top with their prize winning prowess, being shortlisted in the CBCA’s 2015 Early Childhood and Picture Book of the Year Awards and nominated in the 2015 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.  

snail-and-turtle-are-friends-293x300Snail and Turtle are Friends, Scholastic, 2014.
CBCA Early Childhood Shortlisted Book.

Stephen Michael King’s distinctive style of sweet faces, with a combination of little dot eyes and large round ones, always seem to perfectly suit the mood of the story and personalities of the characters. In the case of ‘Snail and Turtle are Friends’, these two gentle animals emanate a feeling of peace and calm about them, but not forgetting a wonderfully whimsical touch of cheekiness. Even at their craziest moments, when Turtle sings in the rain and dives in the water, or Snail boldly chomps leaves and paints swirls, the vibrant colours, eclectic patterns and varying shapes fit together beautifully harmoniously.  
Just like Snail and Turtle, the illustrations display an eye-catching array of techniques to reflect aspects in common and those that are unique from one another. I love ‘Snail and Turtle are Friends’ for its ability to capture a sense of adventure, playfulness and its underlying message in friendship and accepting differences.  

9781921504631Scary Night, Working Title Press, 2014.
CBCA Early Childhood Shortlisted Book.

On a more dramatic note, but no less animated, is ‘Scary Night’, written by Lesley Gibbes. With his usual, striking use of pen, ink, brush and digital compilations, Stephen Michael King manages to tick all the boxes once again when it comes to creating just the right mood. The story, set in darkness as the characters journey through treacherous fields with only the glow of the pale moonlight to guide them on their way, is far from gloomy. Its upbeat rhythm, rollicking text and leading suspense are perfectly captured in King’s drawings. When the characters sneakily tip-toe through dark woods and crocodile-infested terrain, it is their wide, terrified eyes and the scenes’ cool, moody hues that keep the thrill-seekers in us entertained. When we turn the page to be blasted with a shock of bright orange and large ‘roaring’ font, it is not just the characters getting the most wonderfully horrifying fright of their lives.
The playfulness, facial expressions, effective use of colours and gorgeous Suess-like sketches are a real treat that will ensure young children want to journey on this most mysterious, spooktacular experience again and again.  

Duck and DarklingsThe Duck and the Darklings, Allen & Unwin, 2014.
CBCA Picture Book of the Year Shortlisted Book.
NSW Premier’s Literary Award Nominated Book.

In similarity to ‘Scary Night’, ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ is disposed to the darkness, with just a glint of a glimmer that so significantly paves the way to a brighter future. With more of a complex storyline than the previous two books, ‘The Duck and the Darklings’, is written creatively and almost poetically by Glenda Millard. Its message is strong with the metaphor of dark versus light to represent ‘disremembered’ yesterdays versus the glow of forbidden fondness (happy memories). With this theme, Stephen Michael King’s illustrations are spellbinding. He has created depth, texture and warmth amongst the darkness. His characteristically adorable characters are hand-drawn as outlines and set against the silhouettes of black and white; shadow and light, past, present and future, that hit Millard’s intention so brillliantly.
‘The Duck and the Darklings’ is a heartwarming story of family, friendship and optimism that is beautifully captured in its words and pictures. Primary school children will definately hold a candle to this shining star. Stunning.  

More information about Stephen Michael King and his books can be found at:
http://www.stephenmichaelking.com

Teaching notes for ‘Scary Night’ and ‘The Duck and the Darklings’ can be found at:
http://www.romisharp.wordpress.com/teaching-notes

It’s No Mystery That Lesley Gibbes Loves All Things Scary: Review and Interview

With Halloween fast approaching, what book would be more fitting than the sensationally mysterious, Scary Night by Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King?!

9781921504631Review: Scary Night
Ready to be horrified? It’s time to hide! Let out a scream, it’s Scary Night!
Lesley Gibbes and Stephen Michael King bring us a spooktacular tale of three brave friends that set upon a journey in the dead of night. Join them for a mysterious adventure!  

Hare with a hat, Cat with a cake, Pig with a parcel. Any guesses as to where they are tip-toeing to under the pale moonlight?  

The animal friends wander far over dark, rolling hills, traipse through the whispering woods and even dare to cross a snapping crocodile-infested creek. Shivering and squeezing each other tight, they continue on their way. Frightening grizzly bears, ghouls in the cemetery and a black bat cave. Is this enough to forfeit this treacherous expedition? No way! They may be scared out of their wits, but nothing will avert these determined characters.  

Despite their absolutely terrifying experience, the friends finally make it to their destination completely unscathed.  

1407287658567.jpg-620x349But where did they end up? Read the book and you will get a BIG surprise!  

Scary Night is beautifully written in poetic prose. Lesley Gibbes so effectively draws the reader in with her interactive, humorous question and answer play and repetitive phrases. She has also provided plenty of opportunity for teachable moments, including phonic awareness, prepositional language and rhyming words. And Stephen Michael King’s expressive, Suess-like illustrations are bold and engaging, with his use of cool, moody colours and white accents of the bright full moon and the characters large, white terrified eyes. Just perfect to create the thrill of the night-time scene.  

Scary Night, a story of courage and friendship, contains all the goodness of fun, adventure, suspense, and just a little bit of bite to keep its young readers entertained many times over. This read-aloud book is a real treat!  

Lesley+GibbesInterview: Lesley Gibbes
Today I shiver (with delight) to conjure some spellbinding details behind Scary Night and what makes Lesley Gibbes tick.  

What was the inspiration behind the story?
As I child I loved exploring. My family home at Whale Beach on Sydney’s Northern Beaches was bushy and led onto a cliff top reserve. It was a great place to explore and go on exciting and sometimes scary journeys. So I wanted a story that had an exciting journey for my SCARY NIGHT characters. I also love scary! So setting the story at night when anything can happen was a must. My own children had a role to play too. The refrain ‘It’s a mystery!’ was all theirs. They had loads of fun answering my questions like ‘Where are your socks?’ with the answer ‘It’s a mystery!’, so I absolutely had to use this phrase. But there’s another less creative and more academic side to the construction of SCARY NIGHT. You see I’m a primary teacher and I wanted certain elements in the text to encourage and support reading. So you’ll find rhyme to support reading, refrains for repetition, question and answers to encourage participation and loads of opportunities for parents and teachers to ham it up for dramatic play. So all up SCARY NIGHT was quite a compilation of thoughts, ideas and inspirations.  

Scary Night is a whimsical rhyming tale. Do you often write in poem or do you have a variety of writing styles?
I love writing in rhyme and as primary teacher I understand the important role rhyme plays in the teaching of reading. But I do write in a variety of styles. I have three new picture books due for release next year and they showcase a variety of writing styles. ‘Bring A Duck!’ illustrated by Sue deGennaro is another rhyme/prose combination. It’s a riotous story about a duck themed birthday party. There’s no rhyme in the bedtime story ‘Little Bear’s First Sleep’ illustrated by Lisa Stewart or ‘White Fin’ illustrated by Michelle Dawson. White Fin is for primary aged children and is a story about the visiting whales in Sydney harbour. I also love writing novels and have a chapter series coming out soon.  

Are they your ideas to include the little illustrative details like spider webs and ghostly shadows in the images, or did you leave this up to your illustrator?
Stephen has such a creative mind I didn’t want to get in his way. All the quirky, interesting details are part of Stephen’s wonderful imagination. My own ideas would pale in comparison.  

What was it like to work with Stephen Michael King?
Stephen’s work is so magical I was in heaven as I watched the illustrations progress. Stephen did have a surprise for me though. He wanted to take the illustrations for SCARY NIGHT digital. Stephen started with hand drawn ink and watercolour then he created a unique look for SCARY NIGHT by working with the illustrations on the computer. So his soft water colour became bold blocks of colour, perfect for SCARY NIGHT.  
Is there anything that you’re really afraid of?
Being made to eat raw eggs! There, I said it. Yuck!  

438311-48df15a6-fb4a-11e3-8cc4-c8f5cb031907Do you have any traditions or plans for Halloween?
My children are very excited because at long last they are old enough to go on their first trick-or-treat romp around the neighbourhood. Costumes have been bought, lolly bags have been chosen and SCARY NIGHT has been pulled from the shelf ready for a night time reading to get us in the mood. I can’t wait!  

What’s the next writing project that you’re working on?
At the moment I’m writing book four of my FIZZ chapter book series for children 6-9 years old.  The series is being illustrated by Stephen Michael King and published by Allen & Unwin. It’s due for release in 2016. Fizz is a feisty dog who, more than anything, wants to be a police dog. But there’s one small problem. Police dogs are big and buff and Fizz is small, white and fluffy. Well you can see the problem! The books are loads of fun and full of laughs. I can’t wait to see Stephen’s illustrations.

Thank you so much for answering my questions! I really appreciate your participation, Lesley!  
My pleasure. Happy reading everyone!  

For more infomation about Lesley Gibbes:
http://www.lesleygibbes.com
http://www.facebook.com/lesley-gibbes-australian-childrens-author

Review and Interview by Romi Sharp
www.romisharp.wordpress.com
www.facebook.com/mylittlestorycorner