Greenaway Shortlist: Alphabets, Bears & Holes

So the announcement is looming, it’s less than a week ‘til we know the winners of the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals; we’re hoping to have posted reviews of all of the shortlisted titles by then so we’re kicking off with a bumper three in one Greenaway edition.

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Something About A Bear – Jackie Morris

First of all, let me just say this book is BEAUTIFUL. If asked to describe it in one word, that’s what pops to mind first, or possibly lyrical, or maybe rich… but you get the idea. This book has lots of visual appeal but as we all know that’s not enough to impress the judges, so looking in a bit more detail…IMG_1010

The judging criteria mentions something about the medium and artistic style being appropriate to the subject matter and this is where the watercolour illustrations really excel – they lend a fluidity of movement both to the bears themselves and their habitats (I love the rushing waterfall of the Brown Bear spread). There’s character there too in abundance (see the spectacled bear cubs) but I think what I most enjoyed, and perhaps is where the book’s strength lies, is the way that the illustration puts you in the habitat with the bears.

The illustrations are full page with the colour bleeding right to the edges of the spreads. The use of colour is masterful – it’s used to convey temperature so that we experience these habitats – they are not mere pictorial upholstery. Perspective too plays a part; we’re up in the trees with the spectacled bears or down  in the churning water amongst the salmon. It gave me the sense of having travelled, of having journeyed as part of the reading experience. And what’s more it left me wanting to know more: Jackie’s words and pictures gave real characters to these bears and their surroundings and that in turn made me want to know more – just imagine what the song of a spectacled bear would sound like…

Read more about the genesis of the book on Jackie’s blog.

Sam and Dave Dig A Hole – Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

When I think about this book it conjures in my head a sense of crumbly soil and the intense desire to find one of those spectacular jewels! Testament again to a book which is experienced rather than just words on a page.IMG_1011

Ostensibly very simple, the textured and muted illustrations set the scene for this comedy of errors beautifully. Though a character can look exactly the same from page to page a slight change in expression and most particularly the eyes (the dog might be one of my all-time picture book characters for this reason) can change the whole story. There’s a pantomime ‘it’s behind you’ quality about the book –the cross sectional illustrations give a special knowledge about the unfolding action that the hapless Sam and Dave are completely unaware of. Very much in the vein of the classic Rosie’s Walk, the illustrations in fact reveal something quite different than the text might suggest. In decoding the pictures we become actively involved in the storytelling process.

One of my favourite things about this book though is that it has given us this: 6 Theories on The Ending of Sam and Dave Dig A Hole. How wonderful and how powerful that a book can cause such flights of fancy and speculation.

Once Upon An Alphabet – Oliver Jeffers

Conceptually brilliant, Jeffers takes the idea of an alphabet book and explodes it into a 112 page narrative. It’s as wry and witty as you’d expect from a Oliver Jeffers book with all the tender and humorous little touches that have characterized his work so far. Colour is used to great effect, setting the mood or tone for the words (of course Danger Delilah was going to wear a purple super hero cape). The use of white space focuses attention adding extra poignancy or emphasis, it also means that despite the plethora of materials used in the illustrations (there’s watercolour, pastels, crayons, pencils, collage and I particularly loved the turned back and crumpled pages of the letter Q) the effect is never overwhelming or fussy.IMG_1004

Each letter is illustrated in a way that adds extra layers of narrative to the words. There’s extra details and conversation added in handwriting as well as plenty of signposts to send you doubling backwards (or forwards) checking where a character last appeared. The book actively encourages movement between the pages beyond the traditional page turn: so that if you want to know the solution to the enigma of the letter E then you need to turn straight to the letter N.

Though we’re ostensibly following the alphabet, Jeffers shows us that stories can be fluid and that their life continues beyond the page. It’s certainly a book that will keep on offering new details or nuances each time you pick it up.

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