There Must Be More Than That!

There Must Be More Than That!
Shinsuke Yoshitake
Chronicle Books

In our increasingly pessimistic times, it’s really good to have children offered an alternative perspective on the future, especially when it’s presented with the wonderfully droll humour of Shinsuke Yoshitake.

It opens on a rainy day with big brother saying to his younger sister, “Hey, Sis. … Our future is doomed … Terrible things are going to happen … That’s what a grown-up told my friend.”

Feeling somewhat deflated the little girl goes and passes on his message to her Grandma. She however is much more level-headed suggesting focussing on the good things and the many possible choices one can make: “Grown-ups act like they can predict the future … but they’re not always right,” she says, immediately triggering more positivity in her grand-daughter.

She in turn then goes on to envisage possibilities of all kinds – ‘A future where it’s okay to spend the day in pyjamas’ – little did she know! – and one where ‘robots take us everywhere’ … and ‘someone always catches the strawberry you drop’ … and ‘someone does your homework for you.’ (“Bring it on,” I hear youngsters cry).

Now the girl is really on a roll, imagining outgrown shoes put to use as planters; being able to ban carrots, and having ‘that bully’ abducted by aliens or even finding her own true love and consequently not being bothered about the bully boy.

If you’re thoughtful, you can always think of extending your horizons and not thinking in terms of polar opposites. Thus good/bad could become ‘not bad / hard to say/ questionable / interesting /could be okay / strange’ or ‘I don’t know’.

There are lots of alternatives for an aging Grandma too – who knows, she could wake up as a teddy bear or live for 300 years. And as for that boring boiled or fried egg that Mum offers as the other options to left-overs for dinner … there are plenty of better ways to make an egg …

You just have to make up your mind which …

The Boring Book

The Boring Book
Shinsuke Yoshitake
Chronicle Books

“I’m bored.” How many times do we hear children utter those words? They’re the first words said by the child protagonist in Yoshitake’s philosophical picture book.

His mum can do nothing to alleviate his state so the boy decides to explore the whole notion of boredom. What does it mean? What causes it? Inertia perhaps?

The lad continues his consideration of ennui by looking at different situations such as detachment and disappointment

as well as whether inanimate objects can be bored.
He visits possible locations that induce boredom in the extreme – an amusement park that fails to amuse for example.

But then comes a revelation – ‘it’s actually fun to think about “boring” things. This is followed by a deliberation on the strange state between boredom and having fun when things are done seemingly without any thought at all – things like teeth brushing or riding in the bus.

And who invented the word anyway?

It’s probably not a good idea to question grandparents about being bored; they’re likely to ramble on for ages about their experiences and anyhow, looks can be deceptive when it comes to boredom.

What about Dads though? This particular one seems more insightful about the topic and even sparks off some creative thinking …

but then he goes and spoils things again …

One thing is certain though, exploring and discussing boredom is anything but boring. Boredom is an option but one that can often lead to creativity where children are concerned – if they’re left to their own devices.

Hibernation Hotel / Still Stuck

Hibernation Hotel
John Kelly and Laura Brenlla
Little Tiger Press

This book really made me think of winter, starring as it does, a bear, who despite it being past hibernation time, is still wide awake.
Bear’s sleeplessness is all down to his over-crowded cave but it looks like he’s thought of a solution.
A phone call later, followed by a drive in his jalopy and he’s checking in at a smart hotel in the mountains. The perfect place for some uninterrupted shut-eye, especially as he’s asked the receptionist for a March 1st wake-up call.

How wrong could Bear be? Noisy, partying guests, an over-soft bed, and heavy bedding are far from sleep-inducing, and the TV shows just upset him.
Perhaps an empty tummy is the cause of his insomnia; room service should soon fix things …

And fix things it does, entirely satisfactorily; only not quite in the way Bear anticipated.
Kelly & Brenlla’s enormous ursine character with his fascination for hotel freebies, fixtures and fittings, is a peevish delight.

In that luxurious alien environment he discovers that creature comforts can come in unexpected forms.
Just right for a pre-bedtime giggle with little ones, especially those who need a bit of help dropping off.

More bedtime shenanigans in:

Still Stuck
Shinsuke Yoshitake
Abrams Books for Young Readers

It’s time for a bath and the independent-minded toddler protagonist refuses help with getting undressed. Good on you, little one. But then, almost inevitably thinks the experienced nursery teacher part of me, his shirt gets stuck – well and truly so.
This sets the infant off on a surprisingly upbeat contemplation of the challenges of ‘stuckness’ and their problem-solving solutions – being thirsty for example …

Then there are the possibilities of friendship with other similarly stuck individuals: that could be lots of fun …

Coldness starts to invade his thoughts so the lad has another go at extricating himself, starting with his trousers – a valiant effort but definitely not a success.

Eventually Mum appears, disrobes the boy and lugs him off (wait for giggles at the bum views) to the bathroom.
But then, come the pyjamas – hmmm. What could possibly go wrong?

Yoshitake’s dead-pan text combined with wonderfully observed, cartoon comic, digitally rendered visuals make for a chucklesome pre-bedtime share for adults and infants.

Can I Build Another Me?


Can I Build Another Me?
Shinsuke Yoshitake
Thames & Hudson
The boy narrator of this powerful, brilliantly inventive book, shares with readers what happens when he comes up with the ingenious idea of building a Kevin replica in order to avoid doing boring things such as homework, tidying his room and generally helping around the house. Off he goes to the electronics shop where he spends all his pocket money on a robot. “From now on, you’re going to be the new me!” he informs the thing, “But don’t let anyone know. You must behave exactly like me.”
The ordinary basic facts are easily dealt with …


but in order to be fool-proof, the robot needs to know everything about Kevin and that entails getting right up close and personal …


Even that is not enough though; Kevin has to do a complete self-evaluation and consider the things that REALLY make him, him. No easy undertaking, as talking about himself is not something Kevin likes to do, especially when it comes to tricky considerations such as ‘What do other people think about me?


Eventually, it becomes evident that Kevin is anything but ordinary


or as his Grandma has pointed out he’s ‘NO ONE BUT ME … everyone is like a tree … you can choose how to grow … and it’s whether you like your tree, that’s what counts!’
In other words, he’s utterly unique: it’s the Kevinness of Kevin that matters.


Is that something the robot can ever really take on, no matter how precise a picture he has amassed: will the master plan work or will Mum see through the whole charade right away? Err …
Philosophy for children this certainly is: I lost count of how many times it opens up space for reflection and discussion. It’s also totally empowering, funny, bound to induce self-reflection – who can resist creating some quirky Kevin-style self-portraits like these …


and the minimal colour palette and superbly detailed illustrations, both large and small, all build up to one thing when it comes to the latest Yoshitake and that one thing is, genius.

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A Forest & It Might Be An Apple

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A Forest
Marc Martin
Templar Publishing
Once there was a forest – an ancient one that had grown up thick and lush over thousands of years; but then along came people with saws and axes and they began to cut down the trees, Just a little at a time at first and with care, replacing what they’d taken.

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Greed soon replaces judiciousness though and gradually trees give way to smoke-belching factories. There instead stands a city – all but treeless and thick with pollution. Then comes a terrible storm with rain so strong it destroys the entire built environment …

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leaving just one small tree.
Thank heavens for that one tree for, as the years pass it develops into another forest.

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Let’s hope those greedy people stop and think this itme.
This alarmingly thought-provoking fable – a debut book for Australian illustrator, Martin – is a timely (and timeless) reminder of the terrible damage mankind can all too easily do to our precious environment. His mixed media scenes are a felicitous amalgam of digitally manipulated watercolour and fine-lined, close packed pen work.

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It Might be An Apple
Shinsuke Yoshitake
Thames and Hudson
When you see an apple before you on the table, what do you think? Probably, like me – ‘Hmm! yummy – just what I need’ – and you proceed to bite into it.
Not so the boy in this brilliantly inventive, romp of a book. His thoughts are much more philosophical in nature: is it really an apple? Might it perhaps be a jelly-filled cherry, a red fish curled into a ball or an egg? Could it even be packed with clever devices

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such as an engine, a flavour generator, a redness regulator?
Our investigator’s imagination continues to flow – onwards, up and out – till it becomes an amazing house, then an entire crazy fantasy planet populated with tiny apple aliens. Seemingly the possibilities are endless when entertained by our lad herein: does it have feelings? Siblings and other family members? A desire to learn about our narrator? A funky new hairstyle?


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Even,’Is everyone else an apple?’

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Then of course, there’s that existential question ‘Why is it here in the first place?’
And much more …

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Not only has Shinsuke Yoshitake picked a common or garden item and peeled off its skin to reveal a world with a multitude of possibilities and more, he also encourages youngsters (and perhaps adults) to adopt a questioning attitude towards the world around. Those comic strip sequences and full spread scenes are fantastic; thought provoking and highly entertaining – in more ways than one. I feel a community of enquiry coming on.
Do, I urge you take a bite of this one; and then go back for more and more and … And, in case you are wondering whether our boy narrator finally samples this object of wonder,


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well you’ll have to get hold of this delicious book and discover for yourself. Superb stuff.

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