Three Times the Fun with Ben Wood’s Picture Books

Contrasting colour palettes, use of mixed media, energetic and always adorable themes pop from the pictures in all three of these books. But there are differences, too. In my opinion, illustrator Ben Wood knows just how to adjust his tone perfectly to suit the nature of each story.  

imageThe Bush Book Club, Margaret Wild (author), Ben Wood (illus.), Omnibus Books, 2014.

Ben Wood’s enchanting pictures harmonise flawlessly with the natural writing style of Margaret Wild. Here is a wonderful story that captures the imagination of young readers on a path to self discovery.
Bilby, with the attention span of a fish, would much rather practise headstands and somersaults than sit and read quietly with the Bush Book Club animals. Perhaps he had Echidna’s ants in his pants! One night he is unintentionally locked in the clubhouse. With a bit of resourcefulness and creativity, Bilby finds things to do with all the books, even pick up one and read it! What a delightful ending to see this once reluctant reader so enthralled in a book that takes him on a heroic adventure. Who knew reading could be so much fun?!
I love how Wild’s message of reading for pleasure and connecting with books has been translated into the illustrations. Ben Wood beautifully captures the animals enjoying time alone as well as coming together to discuss their books. His complimentary, sunny colours, mixed paints and pencil techniques match the cheerful quality of the story, and his vignettes and expressive drawings gorgeously reflect the fast-paced, lively and humorous parts.
‘The Bush Book Club will be sure to have preschoolers entranced much long after the first sentence, even those with ants in their pants!  

imageSmall and Big, Karen Collum (author), Ben Wood (illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2015.

I’ve reviewed this one previously in my Picture Books of Beauty article; a story of friendship between a pair that couldn’t be more different in every way. A boy named Big likes to be seen and heard, believing it’s the big things that matter most, whilst his lizard pet Small appreciates the beauty in the little things. What follows is the dramatic quest to find one another and overcome feeling lost in a chaotic world.
In these illustrations, Ben Wood has captured the essence of the story, making the characters distinctively stand out from their backdrops. The surrounding colours are soft shades with lightly sketched buildings and pale watercolours, and are contrasted by the prominence of Big’s red jacket and Small’s bright yellow body. And in the more heart-stopping and reflective moments the characters are the only visuals evident, besides the text. Wood has a definite characteristic style of animation evident in this book and ‘The Bush Book Club’, but there is also a difference in his variety of media and artistic stroke.
In the enticing ‘Small and Big’, this clever illustrator has precisely captured the sense of drama, urgency and contrasting personalities. Magnificent!  

imageUnderneath a Cow, Carol Ann Martin (author), Ben Wood (illus.), Omnibus Books, 2015.

His illustrated books seem to become more expressive and striking with each new release! ‘Underneath a Cow’;, a humorous tale of animals forming bonds whilst ducking for protection from the rain underneath a lovely cow, Madge.
By the looks on their big-eyed, furrowing faces, the farm animals are clearly not happy when raindrops impede their plans. Luckily kind Madge has room down below for Lally the rabbit, Robinson the dog, Cackalina and her baby chicks, and even grumbling Spike the hedgehog. After much squabbling and some prickle-raising moments, Madge calms her sheltering posse by encouraging them to sing until the storm finally ceases and they go off on their merry ways. A touching story representing the safety found with a parenting figure, as well as the joys of being the one to provide that safe place.      
Ben Wood’s illustrations both coincide with the tenderness of the nurturing and friendship themes, as well as the comical and spirited elements that make this book so endearing. He effectively uses warming watercolour and pencil tones, even amongst the storm, and particularly dominating many of the pages with the large, cheery Madge. And with an Andrew Joyner-type feel we also find eye-catching, whimsical characters with an abundance of personality.      
This book is funny and sweet, entertaining and innovative. Preschoolers will be returning to the safety of ‘Underneath a Cow’‘ again and again.       

Visit Ben Wood’s website and facebook pages.                                                                                   

Picture Books of Beauty

Finding the extraordinary hidden in the simplest of things is like discovering a little piece of magic. Take a moment to stop and breathe in the beauty around you. You’ll find wonder in the most imaginative places! Whether you enjoy time in solitude, with a partner or a group, these few beautiful books help remind us all of the treasures in our world; nature, love and friends.  

the-red-featherThe Red Feather, Ben Kitchin (author), Owen Swan (illus.), New Frontier Publishing, 2015.

With its calming and gentle illustrations using soft, muted beachy blues and yellows, and delicately written, warming story, ‘The Red Feather’ symbolises tenderness, resilience and autonomy.
When a group of young children visit the seaside, it is Claude who finds the red feather first. Wanting it for himself, he takes a light approach; patting it and wearing it in his hair…until he feels hungry and swaps it for a whole watermelon. One by one, the children delight in its flexibility, including singing, twirling, cuddling, dancing, and jumping with the small red quill. And one by one they take turns to trade it (although hesistantly) when something else is needed…until they feel lonely. Finally they discover that playing cooperatively is much more satisfying…until the red feather finds a new owner.

This simple story of resourcefulness, sharing and friendship stands out as one of beauty, just like the bright red feather that joyfully glides and swishes throughout the pale background scenery. ‘The Red Feather’ is an enchanting story to encourage preschoolers to see the value in togetherness; a single feather may look beautiful on its own, but imagine its beauty in full plumage.  

a-riverA River, Marc Martin (author, illus.), Viking Penguin, 2015.

This stunning book by Marc Martin encourages the solidarity of imagination in a world that is far greater, but no less beautiful, than a single feather. From the gorgeous, embossed front cover, to the endpapers that signify the beginning and ending of the story, with plenty of hidden clues to draw us in, it is easy to become totally entranced by this book.
A girl sits at her desk overlooking an expansive, crowded city with a single winding river flowing through it. In her little boat, she imagines floating amidst speeding cars on motorways, smoky factory buildings, patchwork fields of crops on farms, lush green valleys, gushing waterfalls, and through jungles and rainforests like the Amazon. And as the darkness sets upon her, she sails into open, and sometimes gusty seas until the raindrops on her window bring her back to the reality of her bedroom, and she notices the glimmering moonlight shining on her silver boat ready for another adventure.

Magnificently detailed, soothing landscapes on double page spreads and whimsically constructed poetic text beautifully compliment each other, effectively taking the reader on this tranquil journey with the little girl. Just divine!  

51CY7krRqaL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Yak and Gnu, Juliette MacIver (author), Cat Chapman (illus.), Walker Books Australia, 2015.

In another river ride adventure, Yak and Gnu are the best of friends. In rollicking rhyming text, this unsual pair sing and row along peacefully in their kayaks, believing that their ingenuity is unlike any other beast known to…beast. Until they encounter a goat in a boat. Now there are no other beasts like them, except for Goat. Carrying on their journey to the sea, Yak and Gnu are surprised and disgruntled each time they meet other sailing, rafting, floating and hovercrafting wild animals. Initially able to count these intruders of the water, the numbers appearing, and the ways they travel become more and more ridiculous and overwhelming. Concluding with an exquisite sunset, Yak and Gnu come to realise the beauty of their friendship to each other overrides any notion of originality or superiority.

Wildly bold and animated watercolour illustrations and entertaining rhythmic, read-aloud language, Yak and Gnu will have young readers in bursts of giggles from start to finish.  

Teacup-coverTeacup, Rebecca Young (author), Matt Ottley (illus.), Scholastic Press, 2015.

In one word – breathtaking. The irrefutable talent of illustrator Matt Ottley is sublimely showcased with texture and depth in this profound tale written by Rebecca Young. Her poetic text has a sophisticated tone with its ability to evoke emotive feelings and strong imagery in one’s heart and mind.
Experiencing days of serene white backdrops, calming whale sounds and the gentle, whistling sea breeze, together with times of darkness and cruelty, a young boy has no choice but to flee on a courageous journey to find a new life. Memories from home flood his heart but these reflections carry him forward. Amongst his few possessions, a simple teacup filled with earth, becomes the fruitful treasure that ties the uncertainty of the sea to the prosperous future that was just a whisper away.

‘Teacup’ is a poignant, powerful story of displacement, change and hope. It is a stunning gem aimed to promote the understanding of social issues and human rights, and also one that primary school aged children are sure to appreciate for its majestic beauty.
Read Dimity’s captivating review of ‘Teacup’ here.  

small-and-bigSmall and Big, Karen Collum (author), Ben Wood (illus.), Windy Hollow Books, 2015.  

With large, clear font, this gentle story tells of two friends that are like polar opposites; a self-assured boy called Big and his little, timid lizard-like pet, Small. Their perspectives on the world differ greatly. Big bellows in the city streets, admiring the huge buildings and long streets. Small curiously observes autumn leaves and trickles of water. He ends up following slippery snail trails, a scampering mouse and a feather, until he realises he’s lost. In his desperate attempt to find his way back to Big, Small must think ‘big’ thoughts. It takes this near tragedy for both to realise what matters most in this life…each other.

With a gorgeous array of watercolours and pencil sketches, bright colours and mixture of busy scenes and stark, lonely white pages, the illustrations and narrative effectively capture moments of joy, wonder, urgency and despair. ‘Small and Big’ is a sweet, heartwarming tale of friendship, appreciating each others’ unique differences, and a world of beauty. Primary school aged children of any size and personality will adore this ‘little book with a big heart’.