An Artist’s Alphabet

An Artist’s Alphabet
Norman Messenger
Walker Studio

This is really way beyond a mere alphabet book: it’s a stunningly beautiful art book, extraordinarily clever, playful, sophisticated and nigh on irreverent where the ABC is concerned, being based more on the shape and form of letters than their sound quality.

There are some surreal offerings, letters inspired by works of art such as Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa. (C for curves maybe); mythology,

botany,

zoology,

landscape features including clouds and mountains, tools; but every single one of Messenger’s pages is itself a work of art. Some of them might challenge you: it took me some while to appreciate his use of negative space in R; but once you see it you think, how come I didn’t see it immediately, especially as it’s obvious on the cover.

I’d love to share every single letter with you but rather, I urge you to get your own copy of this book if you have an interest in art, design, and / or language and its components,

An absolute treasure to behold, to pore over and to spark the imagination: I see it being enjoyed by individuals of all ages, used in art and design courses in schools and colleges, and much more.

The Hero’s Quest

The Hero’s Quest
Jeffrey Alan Love
Walker Studio

Told in rhyming couplets writ large on the page, and dramatic scenes of a rider who, tasked by the Ancient One, sets out on a quest into the unknown, this epic tale has a satisfying circularity.

We see the quester looking dwarfed as he encounters the array of massive, terrifying adversaries that threaten. There are dragons, elves wielding swords wreathed in flames,

a terrifying wolfpack

sea monsters and more, each presented in a limited colour palette that serves to heighten the impact of the drama.

Totally brilliant: this enormously accomplished, immersive book will appeal particularly to myth and fantasy lovers across a very wide age group who, due to its structure, will want to read it over and over marvelling at each and every spread.

Having seen this picture book, it’s no surprise to learn that Jeffrey Alan Love is a multi-award winning artist and writer.

A World of Plants

A World of Plants
James Brown and Martin Jenkins
Walker Studio

With the continuous stream of books about animals, it’s great to see this large format volume about plants.

There’s an absolute wealth of information packed between its covers with each spread focusing on a different aspect of plant life. The author, Martin Jenkins is highly adept at presenting complicated topics in such a way as to make them accessible and enjoyable for children. Having explained what a plant is, he includes information about such aspects of plant life as photosynthesis, the carbon cycle and reproduction.

There’s a spread on the functions of xylem and phloem (tissues I didn’t come across until I studied A-level botany).

Seeds and their dispersal mechanisms are discussed;

so too are plant hormones, and climbing plants – those with twining stems, tendrils, clinging suckers or roots, and hooks.

Symbiosis and other plant interactions are explored, as are carnivorous plants – I’m always fascinated by these when I visit Kew Garden – and parasitic plants.

Sacred and Symbolic Plants talks about the many thousands of plants used as medicinal herbs and stimulants, provide spices, flavourings and perfumes or for ornamental purposes. I knew that the sacred lotus is an important symbol in Buddhism but was surprised to read that it was also revered in Ancient Egypt on account of the way its beautiful pure flowers emerge from unclean waters.

There’s a look at plant defences: I was fascinated to discover that there are plants with ‘spikes’ (needle-like crystals of calcium minerals called raphides) in their tissues that can penetrate the lining of an animal’s mouth and throat releasing poison into its bloodstream.

In fact no matter which spread you choose to read, you cannot  but be excited by the manner in which Jenkins and illustrator/print maker, James Brown present the botanical world. The latter’s full page illustrations, double spreads and borders are absolutely awesome.

This book provides wonderful insight into the wide and varied world of plants.

The Child of Dreams

The Child of Dreams
Irena Brignull and Richard Jones
Walker Studio

A little girl lives happily with her mother until she realises that unlike the other creatures she observes, she doesn’t have a father.

The answer her mother supplies doesn’t satisfy her and so the girl resolves to find out for herself about her origins.

Her quest takes her into the woods where she encounters first a stork and then squirrels, a salmon

and a fox.

Each one provides a part of her story, which eventually leads her to the source – the place where fox had found her.

There she comes upon a boy sitting alone staring at the road behind which is a tall building. He tells her that he’s waiting for someone to come for him.

As they talk together, the girl realises that what is truly important to her is what she already has.

Unlike the boy who is still waiting to discover where he’s going, that is something which, thanks to her mother’s love; a love ‘stronger than the rocks on the mountain peak, softer than the petals of the meadow flowers, fuller than the harvest moon’, she already knows.

There’s a fairy tale feel to this magical story that is essentially one celebrating the love between a parent and child – that sense of belonging that everyone yearns for.

Richard Jones’s awesome mixed media illustrations add to the power of this story of growing up and finding how you fit into the world.

My First Book of Birds / Birds

My First Book of Birds
Illustrated by Zoë Ingram
Walker Books

This is a smashing little book that introduces to youngsters twenty or so birds that commonly visit our UK gardens.
Such is the quality of Zoë Ingram’s illustrations that as well as taking delight in them, little ones can use them to help in avian identification.
After an opening spread explaining that the birds are presented in size order as well as talking about conservation status (this is given to each one in the ‘Bird Facts’ window) and feeding, each bird is showcased in a double spread.
The first is the tiny Goldcrest, Europe’s smallest bird, that over winters in Britain while the largest and final bird featured is the omnivorous Magpie that has a wingspan about four times larger than the Goldcrest.
In between are some real beauties including the mellifluous colourful Goldfinch;

the yellow-billed Blackbird and the glossy feathered, bold Starling,

As well as the facts window, each bird has a paragraph about such things as plumage, diet, song; plus there are egg facts and a ‘Did you know?’

Ideal for home use as well as to add to a primary school collection; it’s important that youngsters get acquainted with birds and this is a great starting point.

Birds
Carme Lemniscates
Walker Studio

Not a guide to birds, (although you will doubtless recognise most of those the artist includes but never names); rather, the words are at least in part, the thoughts of a little girl narrator as she moves around the countryside on foot, on her bike or even as a flight of fancy, on the back of a goose.
What starts out as straightforward observation, ‘Some birds are really big. // Others are tiny.’

gives way about half way through to simile and metaphor: ’A bird’s song is like the loving words of a friend. // A happy song that greets us every morning. // And our hearts sing, too, because birds are like good news coming. // Or messages of peace.’

The digitally rendered illustrations are richly coloured, enticing and immediately attractive to little ones, though I do wonder if there’s a slight mismatch between the intended audience for the book and some of the latter part of the child’s narrative.

A book to use with one child or a few, rather than a class I suggest.

My First Book of London

My First Book of London
Ingela P Arrhenius
Walker Studio

No matter whether Ingela P Arrhenius is working in large or small format, her retro-modern style is always eye catching.

In her latest large scale offering Ingela has chosen to explore London. She takes readers on a whistle-stop tour to visit all the popular tourist destinations in the capital showcasing each with a double spread of labelled images and an introductory sentence or two.

First stop is Buckingham Palace after which we visit the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, the Globe Theatre and its neighbour. Tate Modern.
Then, it’s on to London Zoo, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park – a great place for a picnic; followed by the London Eye (taking in the National Theatre). Phew!

If shopping is your thing, then you might take a stroll to the famous Carnaby Street, or perhaps take a trip to Harrods, Liberty or Hamleys toy shop, by which time afternoon tea will be the order of the day.

Covent Garden, with its street performers, stalls and cafes (one of my favourite parts) is the next venue.

You can enjoy a virtual visit to all these and other famous places, including Greenwich, home of the Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory, which is slightly further out that most of the other locations Ingela has chosen to showcase.

A great book to use in nurseries, or to give to a young child who is from outside the capital before a visit.

The Dam

The Dam
David Almond and Levi Pinfold
Walker Studio

Based on a true story, award-winning author Almond tells in lyrical style a tale of loss and hope, music and memories, memorial and mystery, water and wonder.

One morning early, a father wakes his daughter instructing her to “Bring your fiddle,”. Then together they walk into the valley, an abandoned valley in Northumberland that is soon to be flooded once the Kielder Dam construction is complete.

Now the buildings lie empty, their inhabitants re-housed. The father pulls down the door of a deserted cottage, bidding his daughter to enter.
“Play, Kathryn, play,” he instructs. “Dance, Daddy, dance.” comes her response and so they do.

First there, and then at every other one of the deserted dwellings, filling each one with music as Kathryn plays ‘for all that are gone and for all that are still to come…”

It’s heard by the birds, the beasts, the earth, the trees and the ghosts.

As darkness descends the two walk away leaving behind them drowning beauty, water echoing deep in the dam and drifting forth, rising and echoing too in the waves, leaves and grass they tread upon;

in their memories; in their dreams and right through them in all their internal dams, making them play, making them sing, making them dance, and so it will always be.

Totally riveting, this powerful book is a thing of beauty, elegance, awe and reverence as the author and artist pay homage to a deeply loved landscape: Almond with his spare poetical telling, Pinfold with his majestic windswept spreads, brooding vignettes, and musical, mystical skyscapes.

A treasure of a book.