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April 2012
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June 2012

The Art of Seawigs

Seawigs illustrated by Sarah McIntyreSeawigs is the first in a four book series written by Philip Reeve and illustrated by Sarah McIntyre.

Coming from Oxford University Press in late 2013, it is described as a "hilarious and highly illustrated adventure".

In the original March announcement, both Mr. Reeve and Ms. McIntyre shared their thoughts on how the book came about. Apparently the idea was generated involved mermaids, mispronunciations, chocolate biscuits, fancy dress and a lot of laughter. Their 'he said/she said' can be found on their respective blogs

Although both are experts - and friends - Seawigs is their first professional collaboration. We were curious how that worked out, and asked Ms. McIntyre for more detail on their collaborative process. From her description, it sounds like a meeting of (wonderfully goofy) minds:

We'd get an idea and bat it around, and get sillier and sillier with it, then he'd go off and write something. Then he'd send it to me, and we'd talk on Skype and come up with more ideas about it. I can hardly wait to illustrate it; I've already had loads of fun doodling near-sighted mermaids, sea monkeys and giant wigs.

Sarah McIntyre is also the author of this amazing rebuttal to an Independent piece about a perceived 'lack' of British illustrators. It is simply required reading: explaining how illustration works, highlighting a few examples of brilliant contemporary talent and giving a few quick tips for supporting new illustrators.

Art by Sarah McIntyre

Sarah McIntyre and Philip Reeve are co-hosts of Worlds of Tomorrow - come poke them in person!

Terry Brooks' The Sword of Shannara by Justin Landon

Sword of Shannara1/17/94

Not a date the world recognizes. It's not 5/8/45 or 11/22/63 or 7/20/69 or 9/11/01. But, January 17, 1994, just outside Los Angeles, California, an earthquake struck. Fifty-seven people lost their lives and nearly nine thousand were injured. Twenty billion in property damage, it remains one of the most devastating natural disasters in history.

It was a seminal moment in my life for wholly different reasons.


An earthquake woke up the twelve year old boy, jiggling like a chubby preteen is want to do when the ground moves. He jumped out of bed and ran to the relative safety of the backyard (it should be noted he did so in opposition to all recommend safety teachings pounded into his skull for the past eight years). Like anyone living near the San Andreas Fault, the boy figured school would be cancelled as they waited out the assured aftershock. He also suspected his mother was unlikely to let him back in the house. This being the fourth earthquake in the previous two years, it should come as no surprise he knew these things intuitively.

Several hours outside the home in the California desert can be pretty rough. Not from exposure mind you, a landscaped yard is as comfortable there as it is anywhere (it just costs more), but extreme boredom was his primary foe. Temperature and high winds discourage outdoor activities. Thus, most of the boy's hobbies were indoor focused, unrelated of course to his penchant for solitude and social awkwardness. Thankfully, he'd fallen asleep the night before clutching a book of prodigious size, a diversion to carry him through the long morning. Some might credit his quick thinking in grabbing the book. Truth be told it was easier to run out with it, than cast it aside to risk further damage of the home's interior.

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The Art of Amos and Boris

Amos and Boris
William Steig (1907 - 2003) drew thousands of cartoons for the New Yorker, with his scritchy little pen and ink drawings adorning nearly every issue for decades. (Plus, to quote Wikipedia, 117 covers. Crikey.)

His children's books won a small stack of awards. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1969) won the Caldecott Award and was a National Book Award finalist. Doctor DeSoto (1982), the clever tale of a mouse dentist and his fox patient, won the National Book Award and an Academy Award, when it was adapted into an animated short in 1984. Mr. Steig's largest legacy is big, green and smelly. The eternal engine of Disney's Shrek franchise is based on his children's book, Shrek!, first published in 1990.

For me, Mr. Steig's genius will forever be best expressed by three books from the early 1970s. The Real Thief (1973) is a mystery in a dozen pages, and never fails to make me giggle (there's a very proud goose involved). Dominic (1972), one of the first books I ever remember reading (or having read to me!), is the reason I'm still obsessed with fantasy. But of them all, it may be Amos and Boris (1971) that's the most astonishing. The tale of an unlikely friendship between a mouse and a whale, Amos and Boris shows off the simplicity and the power of both Mr. Steig's writing and his art.

Also, it still makes me tear up.

Art by William Steig

Will Hill's Department 19 by Lou Morgan

Department 19 Will HillLet's do a little visualisation exercise.

Ready? OK. Let's go.

It's early 2011, and you're in a bookshop. You're looking for something to read... what? Oh. Yes. Good point. Why else, indeed. Moving on... You're wandering through the Young Adult section. You caught the end of a vampire film on television last night, and you're in the mood for something with a little bite - but that's good, because you heard that vampires are big in YA right now.

You scan the shelves. There's high-school vampires, secret vampires, sibling vampires. Vampires-in-training, love-triangle vampires, sparkling vampires...

And there's Will Hill's Department 19.

The book opens with 14 year-old Jamie Carpenter seeing his father gunned down outside the family home in strange circumstances: circumstances which are soon explained to Jamie as his father's involvement in a plot to sell secrets to terrorists. But two years on, Jamie is attacked, and his mother is taken by a man in a suit and with teeth like razor blades... and the cavalry - when it comes - comes in the shape of Frankenstein's monster.

And Jamie's life just keeps on getting weirder.

Drawn into the world of Department 19, a covert Government operation dedicated to protecting the population from vampires, Jamie learns to fight alongside the department's "Operators" - who, in their military uniforms, are either vaguely nightmarish or something McG might dream up (or both) - as he learns the truth about his father and his family's past, and searches for his mother.

Department 19 has, at its heart, a very simple premise: what if the events of Dracula were real... and what happened next?

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The Art of Teeny Tinysaurs

Teeny Tinysaurs by Gary Northfield
We're madly in love with all of Gary Northfield's creations - from Derek the Sheep to the bugs in his garden to the Dickensian landscapes of Stories of the Smoke. His current project is a children's book, The Terrible Tales of the Teeny Tinysaurs, coming from Walker in 2013. It incorporates everything we love in the world: which is to say, dinosaurs.

Mr. Northfield said the book came about from a meeting with Walker, who'd asked him to pitch a graphic novel for children. He was attempting to convince them to publish his work on garden critters, but they spotted his dinosaur drawings and the editor immediately fell in love. Gary concocted several strip ideas based on various characters and the one featuring an entire gang of dinosaurs was swiftly approved.

Now, we just wait until 2013... (or not... Gary's work in progress can be found on his tumblr.)

Art by Gary Northfield

The Art of A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls
The breathtaking artwork from Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd's A Monster Calls is now available as a series of limited edition prints from artist Jim Kay. A Monster Calls won last year's Red Tentacle (and a zillion other, less-tentacular awards) and the cover was a finalist for the Inky, as well as the BSFA's art prize. The proof copies were on display briefly at Foyles and, speaking from first-hand experience, they're absolutely stunning.

During a talk, Mr. Kay spoke about the experience of illustrating A Monster Calls, and how he drew inspiration from anything and everything - including a beetle that had the good (or bad) fortune to walk across an unfinished piece, leave its tracks as part of the art. The work was created in Scotland, during the depths of winter, in an unheated home. Mr. Kay used to take breaks to go running (while wearing every layer he had) in order to thaw out.

Illustration by Jim Kay

Friday Five: 5 Classic Children's Covers

We're handing over the reins of Friday Five again - this time to Joey HipFi, the hottest designer in two hemispheres. Mr. HiFi shot to the UK's attention with the British release of Zoo City (for which he won a well-deserved BSFA art award) and his glorious artwork for the Science Museum's 'Summer in Space'. But in his native South Africa, Joey has been quietly creating amazing work for years. His latest covers include a reissue of Moxyland, Mockingbird and the Knights of Breton Court omnibus.

We asked Joey Hi-Fi if he could share his five favourite children's covers with us, and he was happy to oblige... 

Only choosing five was a daunting task. I have a proclivity for the dark and macabre (even as a child), so my favourite children's book covers lean ominously in that direction. I tried to resist just choosing 5 books that would leave most children (and parents) sleeping with the light on.

I also tended to choose books where the cover is as equally well designed and illustrated as the content of the book.

In no particular order:

Bembos Zoo

Bembo's Zoo by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich. I love this book. It's a well designed animal alphabet book with illustrations created from the letters in each animal's name (using Bembo, one of the most elegant of the classic typefaces). A great concept, It has a clever cover using typographic illustration.

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Daniel Pinkwater's Lizard Music by Robert Jackson Bennett

Lizard music daniel pinkwaterThere are lots of children’s books that I remember with a great deal fondness – anything written by Madeleine L’Engel, or Roald Dahl, or any of the Mary Poppins books – and I’m sure many of them made a deep impression on me.

But there’s one book in my memory that still has a very special place, to the extent that just thinking about it stirs up a fog of mystery and joy in my head.

There are many books that are good for children because of their story, theme, and general content. But very few writers actually manage to capture the logic and structure of a child’s mind: there is an actual strain of meaning that makes perfect sense to children, but either leaves adults stupefied, or escapes them entirely, leaving them unsure why the story has any appeal at all.

I don’t know how he does it, but Daniel Pinkwater structures his stories in this exact manner. I think part of it might be that, to a child, very little of what adults do or what happens in the adult world makes sense. And when adults try to explain things, they often fail entirely. I remember being about four and asking my father how the United States Electoral Colleges worked, and though he tried valiantly it utterly confused me.

Eventually, to most children, adult explanations boil down to, “Things happen this way just because.”

And that’s exactly how Pinkwater’s books work. They’re full of a whimsical absurdity that you wind up accepting just because it carries itself in such a confident matter: his stories aren’t crazy because they do not believe themselves to be crazy. After a while, you just shrug and say, “Okay,” and let the book sweep you off your feet.

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The Art of The Phantom Tollbooth

Phantom Tollbooth
There are classics and there are classics, and for fifty years The Phantom Tollbooth has been delighting children, adults and, well... us (over and over and over again). Norton Juster made a rare UK trip at the end of April and spoke to the crowd at Foyles about the experience of writing this legendary book.

WhetherMr. Juster confessed that The Phantom Tollbooth was an accident - a distraction, even. He had received a grant to write a children's book about the development of cities. Completely unprepared for the task, The Phantom Tollbooth was something he put together while procrastinating furiously. Jules Feiffer, his friend and neighbour, would hear Juster pacing around upstairs. Feiffer would come up, look over the latest pages, borrow them and create his (now-famous) illustrations.

The two had a respectful, if occasionally argumentative, relationship. Feiffer refused to draw backgrounds or settings, the greatest cause of argument between them. Nor would he draw a map - the map that's been in every edition of The Phantom Tollbooth was drawn by Norton Juster, and later retraced by Feiffer when its conclusion become inevitable. Juster also enjoyed putting traps into the book for his illustrator, including the "Triple Demons of Compromise – one tall and thin, one short and fat, and the third exactly like the other two". Feiffer declined to draw the Triple Demons, but got his own back by inserting a likeness of Juster as the "Whether Man".

The two delivered the book as a package: text and illustrations, and the publisher was delighted. (And who wouldn't be?!) The rest is history.

Illustrations by Jules Feiffer

Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew by Anne C. Perry

Nancy Drew Hidden StaircaseI've reread a number of beloved books from my childhood for this project, but there's one I won't touch. And, by "one," I mean "a ten billion volume strong series" - the Nancy Drew mysteries. I tried rereading one when I was about 20, and I couldn't stand it. So I'm just going to leave the Nancy Drew books where they belong: my memory.

First, a little personal history. I didn't read before I was seven. My parents, both great readers, were concerned there was something wrong with me, but there just didn't seem to be anything to do about it. I just... wasn't interested. In a last-ditch effort to get me reading, my mom gave me a box of books she'd bought at a garage sale - twelve of the 1930s Nancy Drews, and the complete Narnia series. We spent the day after Christmas that year tortuously working through The Hidden Staircase, the 1930 edition of the second ever Nancy Drew. Mom would read a page aloud, then make me read a page. I'll never forget how slow reading aloud was, how frustrated I was that it took forever to find out what happened next.

I took the rest of the box to my room that evening and haven't stopped reading (silently) since.

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