Audubon: On the wings of the world

Audubon: On the wings of the world

Fabien Grolleau & Jérémie Royer

Nobrow Press 2016, Hbk, 184pp

ISBN: 978-1-910620-15-1 AUD $29.99

Did you know that the greatest book on American birds was the work of a Frenchman? The ornithologist and artist James John Audubon was born in Haiti in 1785 to a French father and grew up in Nantes. At 18 he moved to America where he made his name – and a profound contribution to natural history and environmental studies. His legacy of four enormous volumes - The Birds of America - depicts life-sized images of every bird he could see, shoot, stuff, paint and portray between 1820 and 1838. 

Grolleau and Royer’s marvelous book is a thrilling introduction to a crucial moment of history. 

Grolleau and Royer’s marvelous book is a thrilling introduction to a crucial moment of history. 

The life of James John Audubon is brilliantly captured in this bande dessinnée, first published in France in 2016 and now in an English edition by UK champions Nobrow Press. In Audubon: On the wings of the world Fabien Grolleau and Jérémie Royer bring storytelling and design smarts along with real empathy for the subject in a book for teenagers and older. And like the subject himself, their book proves to be another valuable French export. 

The story by Grolleau and Royer begins in high drama and never slackens. As James Audubon and co. are drifting downriver focused on the birds above, a massive storm is heading their way. Desperate to save his sketches, and their own lives, the party scramble ashore and take refuge in a cave. Here Audubon broods upon his misfortune until he sees in the gloom an owl staring fixedly at him. So turning disaster to profit, he passes the storm by drawing the patient bird. 

Aubudon's life work really began after businesses failed and he was gaoled for bankruptcy (oh, that Donald Trump were gaoled for his!). Funded in large part by the work of his teacher wife, Lucy, he travelled for more than a decade in America and then to England drawing, painting, researching, writing and publishing Birds of America. During this time Lucy raised children (two others died in infancy) and endured years of isolation. There is something of the 'grand folly' in Audubon's story, a relentless pursuit of a noble cause. In his driving obsession and determination Audubon reminds me a lot of the explorer Matthew Flinders, the first to circumnavigate Australia. Sailing back to England, Flinders was imprisoned by the French on Mauritius for seven years, and died soon after his eventual return.  

"Swamp fever" was just one of the sicknesses Audubon suffered in his grand pursuit.

American institutions found his work too romantic, not sufficiently scientific and his rival Alexander Wilson was in the ascendent. But the English couldn't get enough of Audubon's dramatic images and provided willing support and financial subscribers. Audubon’s book was published in 87 parts then finally gathered into four volumes - double elephant folio size – each over one metre high. You might say Birds of America is an early example of crowdfunded global publishing with a strong environmental theme. Plus ça change, non?  

Alexander Wilson enjoyed the support of institutions and prolonged Audubon's struggle.

Alexander Wilson enjoyed the support of institutions and prolonged Audubon's struggle.

Grolleau and Royer's  book includes examples from Birds of America.

Today, the State Library Victoria has the complete bound set of Birds of America on permanent display in the Dome Galleries. (Matthew Flinders' map of Australia is in the same room.) When I dropped in recently, the page displayed was the bird of Washington, about which there is some dispute. The Library’s copy was purchased for £100 at a knock-down price from teacher William Stallard by Sir Redmond Barry (best known as the judge who sent Ned Kelly to the gallows). More recently, Aubudon’s Birds of America changed hands at Christies for about US$8 million. 

Audubon on Audubon.

Visitors to the State Library of Victoria seeing what James John Audubon saw nearly 200 years ago. Admiss

Visitors to the State Library of Victoria seeing what James John Audubon saw nearly 200 years ago. Admiss

French edition

Sur les Ailes du monde, BE Éditions Dargaud, 2016

Winner of the 2016 Best bande dessinée at the Festival International de géographie.

About the creators

Born in 1972 Fabien Grolleau trained in architecture and has written numerous bandes dessinée for publishers including Delcourt, Sarbacane and Daguard. He is the editorial manager for the independent press Vide Cocagne, which he established with Thierry Bedouet in 2003. The company is based in Nantes, the same city James John Audubon lived in growing up in France.

Jérémie Royer was born in Paris 1979 and grew up in Nice. He trained in advertising design in Nice before moving to Paris to extend his career,  then studied for two years at l'école de bande dessinée Saint-Luc in Brussels. He is part of the studio l'atelier Mille. Jérémie and Fabien worked on Audubon: On the wings of the world for three years.


For more on the original book see the Audubon Society website.





This is Not a Book

Jullien’s work often has a trompe-l’œil quality, and he seems to delight in muddling perspectives as much as he thrives on mixing materials. In many of his pictures we are invited, or slyly challenged to ask, what exactly it is we are seeing? Jullien used this quality to brilliant effect in Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise (Candlewick 2015) his book with Sean Taylor.

Read More


Rufus, The bat who loved colours

Tomi Ungerer

Phaidon Press, 2015

Hbk, 9780714869728 AUD $19.95

If diversity is a theme – or indeed a project – of children’s publishing today then Tomi Ungerer must be considered a pioneer and a champion of the cause.  The creator of Three Robbers (Trois brigands) has celebrated outsiders and pushed the boundaries for more than half a century. Since 2008, English language publisher Phaidon Press have been steadily reissuing his books in beautiful, and very affordable, hardcover editions.

Phaidon's  Tomi Ungerer reissues are superb productions. Chapeau!

By the time that Rufus The bat who love colours was published in 1961, Tomi Ungerer was already well on the way to being an established figure in children’s literature. Crictor, the tale of the unlikely friendship between a boa constrictor and an elderly lady published in 1958, appeared on numerous awards lists, including the Horn Book Fanfare Honor List and the ALA Notable Books. Rufus appeared in the same year as The Three Robbers. Let’s just say that writer’s block was never a problem.

Rufus looks into the light

Rufus absolutely rocks with colour, from the moody night scene of the cover, through the orange hardcover jacket, the vivid yellow end papers and Rufus’s startling plunge out of the cave and into the daylight. Breathtaking! Clearly, Rufus is not a bat to go gently into that good night. No, he finds an abandoned palette and paints himself in spectacular colours, like the birds and flowers he seems all around him. But this strange and wild creature frightens the earth-bound types threatened by the unknown. Luckily, Rufus is found by a butterfly collector, Dr Tarturo, who believes that he has discovered a rare specimen. Realising his error Dr Tarturo takes care of Rufus, nursing him back to health and creating a lifelong friend who care share his passion for wild and unusual creatures.

Ungerer’s pages have a freewheeling energy that more than 50 years cannot dim. In part, it’s the economy of the storytelling and the text. In part, it’s the visual economy honed in advertising and magazine work. And in part it’s Ungerer’s own impish wit and style. The modulation of light and dark, of colour and white space, is a little master class as the reader moves through the pages. There is a saying that ‘the best picture books don’t work on radio’, and it was never truer than in Rufus as it moves from caves to night skies, dazzling daylight, dim basements and living rooms and sunlit gardens.

Rufus, not your average bat.

Rufus, not your average bat.

Mr Tarturo

I suppose there are a number of anachronisms that children today might need explained. What is an open-air cinema? Why are they watching a black and white television? Let’s agree that this is part of the magnificent, vibrant and surprising world Tomi Ungerer creates and which will endure for many, many more decades to come.

Standing out in a crowd comes with a cost.

To return to the theme of diversity, one thing that helps sustain Rufus and many of Ungerer’s best books is that if there is a message, then it is wound tight into the story and characters. There is nothing didactic in this book. Rufus is not a symbol for anything other than his own curiosity and joy. This is Ungerer's best response to the punishers and those who would impose rules upon our human freedoms. Rufus is a lasting delight.

About the illustrator

Tomi Ungerer is a giant of book illustration. Born in Strasbourg in 1931, Tomi Ungerer grew up under Nazi occupation, after Hitler’s armies took over the Alsace region. The precocious Ungerer recorded these events in detailed and nuanced drawings, pictures that survive to this day. After liberation in 1945, the French authorities reasserted their presence. Yet Ungerer felt alienated all over again. Aged 25 he left Europe for New York City, where his career as an illustrator quickly took off amid a boom in magazine publishing. There are few, if any book illustrators of Ungerer's stature, whose work is so widely known. Maurice Sendak said that without Tomi Ungerer there would be no Where the Wild Things Are. "Tomi influenced everyone," Sendak said.

After twenty five years in the United States and Canada, Tomi Ungerer and his family moved to Cork in the west of Ireland, reconnecting him to Europe. He has been a tireless campaigner for French-German relations. Among many, many awards he was awarded the Legion d'Honneur in 1990 and the Hans Christian Andersen Prize for Children's Literature in 1998. 

His life is documented in the film Far Out is Not Far Enough. It's a fascinating and frank portrait of unique and important artist. It's well worth chasing up. 

Wake Up, Spring

Wake Up, Spring (Hotel Strange #1)

Florian & Katherine Ferrier

Graphic Universe, Lerner Publishing

Pbk, 9781467785846, AUD $16.95

Translated by Carol Burrell

French edition: Hôtel Étrange l'hiver au printemps Sarbacane, 2010

I met the creators of Hotel Strange, Florian and Katherine Ferrier, in 2011 Angoulême, south-west of France. The couple work and live in Angoulême, which just happens to be home Europe’s biggest comics and graphic novel festival. At that time Hôtel Étrange, issued by independent publisher Sarbacane, was provoking considerable interest. Four more books have since appeared, while Katherine and Florian have become regulars at festivals all across France.

All is calm, all is quiet.

So it is an absolute delight to see Hotel Strange now crossover into English. Katherine’s vivid and dynamic artwork and design match Florian’s witty, energetic stories to create a fresh, welcoming and delightful world of adventure. The hotel setting works rather like the Faraway Tree or the Treehouse books of Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton: it’s a venue to house all manner of curious guests and remarkable stories.

Unexpected guests.

In the first of the series all at Hotel Strange are deeply, deeply asleep when loud knocking startles them awake. Incredibly, they have slept past March 21 – Mr Spring has mysteriously failed to appear. What has happened to him? In search of Mr Spring they must go!

Marietta and Kiki prepare to search for Mr Spring.

The stars of Hotel Strange are the hotel’s keeper Marietta – an enterprising and capable child – and her friend Kiki, an excitable sprite figure whose drôle humour keeps the saccharine at bay. There’s also the bookish Mr Leclair, ghostly Mr Snarf and the practical-minded elf child Celestin to enrich the scene. As the books are designed for young readers the strange and gothic touches are lightly applied.

Kiki hates missing a meal.

Fending off creatures such as Grouchies, Mumblers and a Smog while searching for Mr Spring, there is still time for wild tobogganing, snowball fights, friendship and feasts.

Kiki gets a lesson in skiing.

Here is a fresh comic book series with classic and traditional aspects woven in. Strange Hotel is crowded with quirky characters, quick wit and delightful adventures. Perhaps it’s the wintry setting of Wake Up Spring that suggests the world of Moomintroll, but I can’t quite put my finger on why this graphic novel series also seems to retain a picture book quality. In any case, this is an added layer of pleasure for the reader.

This joy and energy makes Wake Up, Spring a welcome addition to any bookshelf where adventure, play, quirky characters and a sense of discovery have a home. There is even a recipe for sponge cake at the end.

About the illustrator

Katherine Ferrier holds a diploma in bande dessinée for the School of Beaux-Arts at Angoulême. Her work has appeared in magazines for children and teenagers and for major publishing houses including Milan, Fleurus and Bayard. Parallel with producing artwork for publications, Katherine worked for six years as a stylist/designer for the popular children’s clothing brand Du pareil au meme.

Katherine Ferrier at work on book 2

Tickle Monster & I Am the Wolf...and Here I Come

Two books about childhood fears - monsters and wolves in this case - which, at least on the surface, could not be more different.


I Am the Wolf...And Here I Come!

Bénédict Guettier

Gecko Press, board book, AUD $16.99


Translator: Penelope Todd

French edition: Je m'habille te croque, l'ecole des loisirs, 1998

I Am the Wolf...And I Here I Come! is a chunky little board book, a solid brick of a thing. Just ten images (plus the front and back cover - more of that later), are enough to create a sharp, squeal-worthy finale. The images have a primitive feel, the wolf's grey fur wrapped in a ragged, rapid black line. There's an energy to the drawing that lends movement to the pages, and just a touch of texture in the solid blocky colour. 

This is not a book that will appeal to every child - or perhaps more accurately - not every parent. Look beyond the brash colour palette, the simple narrative and sturdy pages however and you will discover a book built to thrill and delight.


I will admit to being a little freaked out by I Am the Wolf...And Here I Come! But on second and third and even fourth reading, I realise that the brash, cheeky style has great child appeal. Having boldly introduced himself on the first page the wolf immediately prepares for the day - or night - ahead. 


This wolf is, frankly, something of a dandy, with his jaunty boxers and stripy socks. His red top suggests the connection with Little Red Riding Hood, before pulling on his big boots, a fetching hunter's hat, and finishing with a sinister long black coat. But each turn of the page (from bottom-to-top, not the usual right-to-left), build the repetition and reveal. We know that Mr Wolf is getting closer. The last page parents is certain to bring gasps and shivers in young readers, so this one is definitely best read on the lap of a parent.


I Am the Wolf...and Here I Come! is a funny, rowdy romp. The coup-de-grace actually comes in fact on the back page, which encourages the child to snap the book closed and keep the wolf inside. The physical aspect of this little book can't be underestimated.

I Am the Wolf  allows a child to take control moments of anxiety and fear. For one, we can laugh at the wolf with all his fussy dressing. Don't we also get dressed just like this? The wolf mixes the strange with the familiar, and there's even an absurd element as he goes about his routine. But in the end a wolf is a wolf, and that daffy smile reveals some big teeth and a hungry mouth. So maybe we should be afraid. How to contain our fear? Quick - snap the book closed!

Tickle Monster, Édouard Manceau

Abrams Appleseed, 2015

Hbk, 32pp, 9781419717314, AUD $19.99

French Edition: Gros Cornichon, Éditions : Seuil jeunesse, 2014

Tickle Monster by Édouard Manceau takes a different path in putting fears to bed. You might say that Manceau's book deconstructs our fear of monsters, since that is exactly what the reader of this book does in a series of challenges thrown out to the monster. (The French title for the book is Gros Cornichon, which is  perhaps also a play-on-words for cochon or 'pig'.) But whatever it's called, the aim of this book is to inspire fun and creativity.

Enlight1 (54).jpg

What's brilliant about Tickle Monster is the way Manceau uses visual language to tell the story. With each provocation from the reader beginning If I...the answer is resolved by removing that part of the monster and turning into something else. So the work of challenging the monster is done with the eye, the imagination and by language. It's an active tussle that takes place with each turn of the page. And with each turn of the page, the monster reduces and is transformed into something both commonplace and extraordinary.


Once again simple drawing reveals a skilled design in the service of the story. The images and shapes look like paper collage - something a child can make with just scissors and coloured paper. The black pages suggest that this is a story for bedtime when fears can rise. Think of Bedtime For Frances by Russell Hoban and Garth Williams as a classic of the genre, but here the child or reader has greater agency and controls the outcome with a less parental intervention. The end result is that the sharp-toothed monster becomes a figure of fun, which the child can master. The wild-eyed beastie from page one looks a little less wild when we turn to the final spread. 

And while we wave farewell to the monster, I am sure we will see a lot more of Édouard Manceau.

(Apologies for the reflection on the images.)

(Apologies for the reflection on the images.)

About the Illustrators

Édouard Manceau is a prolific illustrator and author with more than 100 titles to his name. Most of his books are for preschool children. His books have been published widely outside of France, including in Germany, Catalonia, Spain, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Korea, China, the United States and Canada.

Explaining his approach to making books, Manceau told L’Express: “I want (my readers) to be actors because to be a reader is to be an actor. Henry Miller said, in regard to clowns, ‘The clown is the poet in action, he himself is the story that he plays.” And so this is what I try to give to children. In playing, I feel we must play deeply.” All this is fully evident in Tickle Monster.

Bénédicte Guettier  was born in Paris in 1962. In 1985 she obtained a ‘diplôme supérieur’ from l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Appliqués, followed by two years at l'Ecole Supérieure d'Arts Graphiques. She works in illustration for numerous magazines and creating drawings, prints and posters. With great inventiveness he has written and illustrated over 250 books for young children. Bénédicte is also the creator of Trotro, a highly popular series recently adapted as a stage musical.

The Marvellous Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty

The Marvellous Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty

Illustrator & author: Beatrice Alemagna

Publisher Thames & Hudson, 2015; Format Hbk,

Price AUD $27.99 ; ISBN 9780500650493

French Edition: Le merveilleux dodu-velu-petit, Albin Michel Jeunesse 2014


There is so much to delight and discover in The Marvellous Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty that it’s hard to know where to start: the tongue-twisting title, the Paris streets and old shops windows crammed with things everyday things, the eye-popping pink highlights…Here is a classic picture book that readers from three and up will read again and again with delight. It will go a long way to making Beatrice Alemagna as well known to English language readers as she is in Europe.


Edith, 'but my friends call me Eddie', is five and half years old. She lives in Paris with her vastly over-achieving family (father speaks five languages, mother a beautiful singer, sister, brilliant ice-skater), leaving little room for Eddie to shine. But, as her mother’s birthday approaches, our straw-haired heroine sees the chance to find an absolutely knockout present. But just what is a 'marvellous fluffy squishy itty bitty? And what could Eddie's mother do with it anyway?


There’s more than a hint of Amélie in what unfolds in Eddie’s quest for search a Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty, a phrase that Edith overhears and makes as her quest. Like Amélie, Eddie is something of an outsider, with the goal of bringing happiness to others. There’s also strong sense that this is a book where the child is in charge as Eddie goes on her mission.

Eddie visits a boulangerie, a florist, a thrift shop, an antique dealer and a butcher. While each store offers a gallery of objects and items, it’s the butcher that is the tour-de-force. There is even a fold-out page that displays hanging pigs head, various fowl, hams, sausages and meats. 


Paris – as a city, as a set of images and scenes – is so worked over that it would be very easy indeed to present the reader with a checklist of those familiar sites and sounds. Beatrice Alemagna stands out from the crowd, creating fresh, vibrant moments, textures and tones that hold the eye and vivify the story. This Paris is not shiny and chic, it’s more lived-in, human and warm. One other thing that is striking about The Marvellous Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty is the almost unlimited freedom allowed to Eddie. She needs to acquire a present? Off through the streets she goes! This degree of freedom is completely unremarked and natural. Here’s a book that would, I suppose, scare the hell out of literal-minded parents, but one that is also a quiet celebration of community and a child's ability to imagine, explore and create.


What Alemagna also does is very delicately and engagingly introduce the young eye to new ways of seeing. Her images are richly yet subtlety layered, or embedded, with details. Indeed, the story itself is a sort of treasure hunt, as Eddie gathers her mismatched gifts. Somehow these gifts, usually thrust upon her by misunderstanding adults, allow Eddie to complete her quest. Alemagna exploits the possibilities perspective with sightlines skewwhiff suggesting the child’s restless energy. There’s an easy and appealing cubist twist to her artwork, making it both visually interesting and lending an informal, human note. Alegmana uses gouache, pencil and collage, finely balancing colour for dramatic effect.

It took nearly five years for Alemagna’s book A Lion in Paris to appear in English. This one has been far quicker, spurred by the success of the earlier book. The Marvellous Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty might just be the breakout book to make English readers really get to know this marvellous, original, subtle, accomplished artist.

Buy the book here.

About the illustrator

Beatrice Alemagna was born in Bologna, Italy, in 1973 and now lives in Paris. From the age of eight she knew that she would be make picture books. She first attended the Bologna Book Fair aged 14 and received early encouragement from Tomi Ungerer.  Beatrice is the author of more than 20 books, most of which were published initially in France. Her books have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, English, Dutch, Czech, Slovenian, Greek, Taiwanese, Korean, Portuguese, Brazilian-Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese.  

Other books in English include: Little Big Boubo (Tate Publishing), the 'Bugs' books (Phaidon) and The Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty (Thames & Hudson).

Beatrice told that first inspirations “came from Picasso, naïve paintings from Douanier Rousseau, essential forms from Bruno Munari (that was very present during my childhood), wild characters from BoschPiero della Francesca or de Chirico inspired me a lot too. Nowadays, I admire mostly contemporary art or paintings.I feel fascinated by composed universes, in balance between a grown-up vision and a childish one like the ones from Chris JohansonDavid ShrigleyAnne-Marie Schneider, JockumAtakMarcel DzamaAnke Feuchtenberger, etc…”

In this short film Beatrice Alemagna talks about her book What is a Child? and reveals some of the ideas that drive her.

My First Touch-and-Feel Words Book

My First Touch and Feel Words Book

Illustrator & author Xavier Duneux

Publisher: Twirl Books

Hbk; 12pp including cover; AUD $14.95; ISBN 9782848019802

Translator Michael Shneider

French Edition: Éditions Tourbillon, Paris, 2012

If it’s true that readers are made on the lap of their parents (and I am sure this is so), then a really good touch-and-feel book will help create that essential bond between the child and parent. Xavier Deneux’s My First Touch and Feel: Words Book is certainly something infants and parents will enjoy together. There are at least four levels of interaction to explore: the image, the word, the pairing and of course the textures.

The fun begins even before the first page. That smart red tunic on the cover is soft velour, so the child reader is already exploring the book from the moment we pick it up. Rounded corners make the book more comfortable to hold. The cover's red, blue and white colour palette is not gender specific and the figure is not strongly gendered either, which is to be applauded. 

What’s inside? We encounter five paired images: a cat, a dog; a house and a hatching chick; a bicycle and a car; shoes and socks; and a ball and baby. While dominant colour palette is black and white with red highlights, primary colours are introduced, which will appeal well to young eyes. The opening spread is a simple, bold combination.

Bold contrasts and simple pairings work well in young hands

Bold contrasts and simple pairings work well in young hands

Some of the word pairs probably work better in French, as some of the English words miss the alliterative qualities of the original. It’s not a problem, but just a necessary quirk of translating simple nouns. For the touch-and-feel textures, each right-hand page offers a new sensory experience – and each one is an opportunity for the older and younger reader to talk and interact. The dog has a soft, velvety ear. The car has a ridged surface, and by strumming your finger upon it, the car will make engine sounds. The final page offers a soft grow-suit for a little baby, and affirms the child-centred experience of this delightful early stages book.

A burst of primary colours in the final spread

A burst of primary colours in the final spread

The publisher Twirl Books specialise in interactive books. Run your eye down the list of Twirl authors and the frequency of French names is striking. In fact, Twirl is a publishing partnership between Paris-based Éditions Tourbillon (part of Bayard Jeunesse) and Chronicle Books in San Francisco. Their hand-in-glove arrangement is a sign of the growing awareness among English language readers of just what French illustration and design has to offer. Christopher Franceschelli, a key player in the arrangement,  explained the strategy behind Twirl Books to Publisher’s Weekly this way:

Bayard saw that Chronicle had been successful with English-language editions of some of their titles (ed: including Hervé Tullet), and wanted to get their feet wet in the U.S. market. What’s special here beyond the usual distribution relationship, where the distributee publisher shows up with a bag of books and says, ‘Here, sell them,’ is that Chronicle’s editorial and marketing teams entered into discussion with their counterparts at Éditions Tourbillon to help fine-tune the Twirl list and select titles we thought would be right, not only for the North American market, but the U.K. market as well.

And presumably for everywhere else English is spoken. 

Thanks to Leslie Lambert at The Little Bookroom, where I bought the book. I look forward to exploring more from Twirl Books soon. You can see the complete current list here.

Detail from back cover

Detail from back cover

About the illustrator

Xavier Deneux lives and works in Paris. He specialises in designing and illustrating books for young children. He studied at Beaux-Arts de Paris and then took a diploma at the ecole supérieure des arts graphiques. He worked as a graphic designer, producing posters and decorations before dedicating his career to picture books. He has since created more than 50 titles.

Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster

Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster

Illustrator Pauline Martin

Author Astrid Desbordes

Publisher Gecko Press

Paperback, 128pp;  $AUD 18.99; 9781927271834

Translator Linda Burgess

French Edition Le voyage d’un hamster extraordinaire Albin Michel Jeunesse, 2014


It would be difficult to find a more self-centred hamster than the one starring in this illustrated story. It’s a kind of extreme ‘Tales From the Riverbank’, where the hamster has all the charm of Toad of Toad Hall and is every bit as brazen. Hamster introduces himself to us by dropping in on his friends' picnic.

Enlight1 (12).jpg

This is hotly followed by an invitation to read his friend Mole’s novel. But the novel is far too boring and Hamster imposes his own reading on the story: The hamster lit up the clearing. Each morning, a hedgehog and a mole smiled at him – as if to thank him for being there.

Hamster’s egocentrism is so startling I found myself compelled to read on! We travel with Hamster and friends from their clearing in a European forest home to the Arctic Circle, where he and his friends go on holiday.

This beautifully drawn story unfolds in short, sharply crafted scenes. At 128 pages, it is a type of book we don’t often see from English language publishers. The text is concise: it’s pure dialogue, like a great film script. The visual design and characters are integrated and sustained. Illustrator Pauline Martin began her career in graphic novels (bande dessinée) and it's clearly a strength of the book. The combination of image and text results in a book that is part picture book, part comic. It’s a sophisticated delight, as accessible to beginning readers as it is rewarding to the most able, adults included.

Besides the bumptious Hamster, the rest of his friends are utterly charming. These include Snail, who the Hamster requires to make a space craft from wood and nails; the irrepressible Mole; a red squirrel; a white rabbit (non-magical), and a very friendly bear. Together the group goes on holiday to the North Pole and there meet a polar bear, a whale and an emperor penguin (okay, penguins live in the Antarctic, but let’s not quibble). The encounters between creatures of different places leads to some thought provoking, funny and philosophical conversations. The use of white space in book’s design is a natural fit for the frozen landscapes.


Travels of an Extraordinary Hamster ends with all safely returned home and the promise of further adventurers and I cannot wait to join them.

About the illustrator

Pauline Martin was born in Paris in 1975. She attended the l’Atelier de Sèvres in Paris, and then l’institut Supérieur des Arts Appliqués, where she was mentored by  Killofer and Dupuy-Berbérian. For many years she as a graphic designer for a publisher and explored her own ideas through drawing. Her published books include La Boîte and La meillieure du monde (published in English as The Best in the World). Pauline Martin illustrated Leonora for the celebrated graphic novelist David B. Today her illustration work is dedicated to children’s books and is published in France by Albin Michel Jeunesse.

Poka and Mia - Football

Poka and Mia - Football

Author & Illustrator Kitty Crowther

Tate Publishing, 2014 

Hbk, 32 pp, AUD $14.99 ISBN 9781849762427

Translator Ann Drummond in association with First Editions Translations Ltd.

French Edition: Poka & Mine, Le football l’ecole des loisirs, Paris 2010

Kitty Crowther is interviewed for French Picture Books here.


Mia is a busy, energetic and curious-minded creature and Poka her patient, doting and occasionally put-upon father. When Mia and her father Poka stop for a rest while out walking one day, a football (soccer) game catches Mia’s eye.

Enlight1 (9).jpg

Before you can ‘Astrid Lindgren Award winner’, Kitty Crowther’s adorable duo head off to buy football boots.

Bravo to Tate Publishing for bringing seven titles in the Poka and Mine series into English. So far, four titles have appeared. Poka and Mia’s indulgent relationship is not unlike that between Charlie and Lola, but with a more surreal, playful realm. (Other books in this series take readers on a trip to the cinema, an adventure in the garden and a domestic comedy involving a sleeping Poka.)

Mia’s first time on a football pitch, and fitting into the all-boy team, proves trickier than it looks: training ends in massive frustration and mild scorn from her would-be teammates. Worse, Mia must wait for all the boys to leave before she can have a shower. But she won’t give up and soon irrepressible Mia has a solution.


When Saturday comes, Mia is ready: nervous, but ready. Everything turns out for the best, and, walking home after the match, Mia spies a ballet school. 'Prepare to be surprised and to challenge stereotypes' is the message of this book.


Like Shaun Tan, (another Astrid Lindgren Award winner), Kitty Crowther conjures up worlds and creatures you won’t find in an encyclopedia; birds, insects and other animals defy categorisation and have a life of their own. In the six-legged world of Poka and Mia no two characters are the same and creates a space of play and possibility. Crowther’s impish sense of humour makes all of her books a lasting pleasure.

Hopefully The Poka and Mia books are a delightful entrée to the world of Kitty Crowther, an artist vastly under-appreciated by English-language readers. I can only echo the words of The Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler who has blurbed the series. “I’ve admired the enchanted world of Kitty Crowther for a long time and I’m happy that English speaking children can now get to know it as well.” Play on! 


About Kitty Crowther

I write and illustrate books for children. I have always wanted to do this. I was born hearing impaired, and books are like windows on the world.

Kitty Crowther is not an artist easily pigeonholed. She was born in 1970 to an English father and Swedish mother, Kitty grew up in Belgium. She publishes mostly with French-based Pastel/l'ecole des loisirs. Her first book, Mon Royaume, appeared in 1994. She developed and nurtured her talent for writing and illustration at l’Academie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and further studies at l’Institut de Saint-Luc, where her talents were recognised and encouraged. She has since published more than 35 books.

Her illustrations have a soft line and hand-made look. The line is full of feeling and her use of colour is integral. Her stories seem to plunge effortlessly into a deep well of myth and folklore. While she predominately uses coloured pencil, her employment of white space is crucial to her books, inspired partly from a childhood love of Beatrix Potter. The images are don’t seem to be prettified; her line and colour maintain the intimacy of the artist’s hand.

“My concern, when I draw, is to convey an emotion, to accompany and not abandon the character at the end of the book.”

In September 2015 US publisher Enchanted Lion releases Scritch, Scratch, Dip, Clapote! under the English title English title Scritch, Scratch, Scraww, Plop. But any publisher taking on her books like Alors?Mère médusa, Le petit homme et Dieu and Annie du lac would be doing English speaking readers a great favour.

Like Shaun Tan, Kitty Crowther revels in creating creatures that you won’t find in an encyclopedia; birds, insects and other animals that defy categorisation have a life of their own. Such creatures populate the world Kitty Crowther makes, enticing the reader to enter further in. I think that perhaps it’s the way her art can draw upon a sense of tradition, yet transform into something deeply personal and original makes her so special. She has an impish sense of humour that makes all of her books such a pleasure to read and reread.

Interview with 2010 ALMA laureate Kitty Crowther. Award week in Stockholm, May 2010.

At the Same Moment, Around the World

At the Same Moment Around the World

Illustrator & Author Clotilde Perrin

Chronicle Books, Hbk, AUD $26.95, ISBN: 9781452122083

Translator: Chronicle Books

Details of French Edition: Au meme instant, published by Rue du monde, 2011


At the Same Moment Around the World takes young readers on an imaginative journey and rounds it off with two wonderful ‘extras’, creating an intriguing blend of fact and story.

We begin in Dakar, Senegal, (a former French colony) at six o’clock in the morning. Keita wakes up early to help his father count the fish caught during the night, while a ship edges towards the shore. Turn the page: it’s six o’clock we are in Paris as Benedict drinks hot chocolate before school. In the street the day is already underway: a street sweepers get to work as a man puffs on his cigarette, perhaps on his way to the metro.


We then travel across eastern Europe, the middle east, Asia, Australia, north and south America…indeed around the world. The book’s simple, beguiling subject is portrayed in playful, imaginative, information-rich and distinctly child-friendly images. Clotilde Perrin creates her images in pencil and then with digital colour. The text functions largely as a caption.

As an Australian reader of course I was curious to see how we would be represented. Of course any creator is going to use broad cultural gestures, but I must confess to being a little disappointed that Uluru is still being called Ayres Rock, the site has had a dual name since 1993. Anyway, it seems like a missed opportunity to more appropriately acknowledge the rock’s Indigenous heritage. Also, the text informs us that it is four o’clock in the afternoon, and Kate drives toward the beach…so it’s going to be a long afternoon for Kate. That said, the book isn’t striving for strict accuracy and still succeeds in conveying the idea of one world marked by time zones.


As well as exploring the idea of a continuous now, At the Same Moment Around the World introduces the reader to details of daily lives: climates and weather, a range of homes, architecture, animals and activities. There is another technical challenge for the illustrator to overcome. Since each page is a different place there is no double page spread and so Perrin has needed create images that blend places that are otherwise isolated and distinct. Yet she stitches it together as a suitably seamless whole.


The large number of scenes taking place at night also presents a challenge for the illustrator. On the whole Perrin resolves this with scenes of quiet nighttime activities (getting ready for bed, kissing goodnight, a baby being born). And when we turn the final page we see a ship sailing into shore at five o’clock in the morning ‘when Chloe finds herself tired from dancing all night’. It is of course also the first image in the book.

Which brings me to the two bonus elements of the book. Did you know that time zones have been in practice for less than 150 years? A brief history of timezones and time keeping explains that it was the coming of the telegraph, where great distances were joined at a keystroke demanded a more cohesive sense of time, sharpened the need to more accurately measure time. (In that sense, the illustrations for each page might cause us to reflect on the idea of ‘local time’ and the urgency, or otherwise, with which tasks are done or events unfold.) This part is a little more technical than the heart of the book.

And then the showstopper: a handsome fold out map that unites the whole adventure and reintroduces the children we have met on our journey around the world. What are you waiting for?



About Clotilde Perrin

Clotilde Perrin studied illustration at l'École des Arts Décoratifs in Strasbourg. As well illustrations for numerous magazines and newspapers including Astrapi, J’aime Lire, Les belles Histoires and magasine XXI, she has illustrated more than 30 books for a variety of publishers. Clotilde has also written and illustrated seven more personal books. Her work is celebrated for its poetic, imaginative force. Beneath an apparently simple surface her works are fine and detailed, with sparing and sensitive metaphorical elements in atmospheric settings. Her many and inventive compositions and landscapes are populated with endearing characters and her stories shaped with a touch of surrealism.

A great example of Clotilde Perrin's imaginative world can be seen in the film clip from her 2009 exhibition.

Mix It Up

Mix It Up

Author & Illustrator Hervé Tullet

Allen & Unwin, 2014, board book, AUD $19.99;  978-2747051309, 32pp

French Edition Couleurs, Bayard Jeunesse, 2014


Creating something simple is always a lot harder than it looks. Rather than being the first thing that pops into your head, capturing the essential elements is usually the end result of years of refinement. What could be more fundamental to a picture book than the question of colour? Hervé Tullet has been publishing since 1994 and latest book is a joyful demonstrates that simple doesn’t mean easy. Mix It Up is a massive invitation to young children to discover and create.


There is something pleasingly anarchic about a book that encourages – indeed, demands – the reader make       a mess. Mix It Up makes the reader not just a viewer but also a participant. (Working in a bookshop, it's fascinating to see children pick up this book and quietly explore the possibilities.)

Here is a mess with a meaning as the young reader experiences the magic of mixing colours. Young readers will discover what happens when blue contacts green, or red contacts blue by the pressing and turning of pages. They not only see but also make the magic happen. It’s this invitation to be physically involved in handling the book-as-object that makes Mix It Up much more than just another book about colours. It’s a magic lantern of a book: a game, a lesson, an object, and a road to discovery.  Rub, press, flip and reveal – for most children, their first wish will be to do it again.

There is sophistication buried beneath the surface simplicity and adult readers will marvel at the magic, too. As adults, we rediscover the joys felt when we first mixed colours. This is a book that, as a shared experience, offers moments of wonder. Children putting brush to paint and paper will use the discoveries to experiment and learn for themselves. They will want to get mixing and experimenting right away. And you will want to join in too.

About the illustrator

Hervé Tullet was born in Normandy and grew up in Paris. He studied fine art and decorative arts, publishing illustrations in magazines before his  first book Comment Papa a rencontré Maman appeared in 1994. In 1998 won the Bologna International Prize for Non-Fiction for Faut Pas Confondre (Must Not Confuse). Now with more than 60 books published, Tullet is read and enjoyed in more than 25 languages. His work explores the possibilities of the book: how we read it, how we make meaning and how we can interact beyond just words or images. Tullet's book re-inscribe the presence of visual language in our lives. 

“When you are starting out (as a child) you are learning a verbal language and a visual language at that same time, and they are more easily kind of related to each other. As the verbal language triumphs the visual one fades and you become inhibited and you don’t want to do it and you don’t want to show that you don’t do it as well as other people."

In Australia, Hervé Tullet is published by Allen & Unwin. They also publish Press Here. (Thanks to A&U for sending me these books.)

For a complete list of books in English, see Hervé's website.

Hervé Tullet shows you how.

The Rabbit and the Shadow

The Rabbit and the Shadow

Illustrator & author Mélanie Rutten

Book Island, Hbk, 285mm x 220mm, AUD $32.95

ISBN 978 0 9941098 0 4

Translator Sarah Ardizzone

Originally published as L’ombre de chacun, Editions MeMo 2013

The first thing to say about The Rabbit and the Shadow is that it’s a perfect combination of illustration and word. The story begins in the close, loving relationship of a large, protective stag and the young, vulnerable and lively rabbit. A few brief pages modulate their bonding, discovery, joy, harmony – and the possibility of separation. Their relationship presents all of the complex emotions that love and parenting – and being a small child – entail.


The story introduces, in a most sinuous and twisting path, their bond of love and “a Soldier at war, a Cat who keeps having the same dream, a Book who wants to know everything, and a Shadow”.


Each of these characters, save perhaps for the Shadow (whose secret identity is delightfully revealed), have a hidden side or something they fear. The Rabbit, the Soldier and the Cat form a team “to prove we’re not afraid of…of…”

“Of climbing volcanoes,” said the Rabbit.

“Yes! Of climbing volcanoes!” shouted the Soldier.


Using short chapters, the story doesn’t unfold in a straightforward way, as it weaves in the fears and dreams of each character. This includes a conversation between the Rabbit and the Stag that is a key to the Rabbit’s journey away from home. Very elegantly and gently the book introduces the idea of growing old and dying, but also of family, memory and love. Ultimately The Rabbit and the Shadow is a remarkable and unforgettable celebration of love. The eccentric touches never become cloying, the philosophy never navel-gazing. Perhaps the free brushwork and sinuous line keep any outward appearance of seriousness in check. It is a kind of Runaway Bunny tale that comes from a deeply felt place.

Mélanie Rutten’s illustration uses a full colour palette from deep rich burning reds to cool forest browns and greens, as she creates a complete world. Deep nighttime blues contrast with the vivid golds and a skillful use of white space. The visual rhythm balances intimate and nuanced cameo images with full-page sumptuous full pages and two significant double page spreads. There is an effortless harmony throughout, that amplifies the reading pleasure.

About Mélanie Rutten

Born in Belgium, Mélanie spend much of her childhood in Central America and Africa before returning to Belgium as a teenager. She studied photography in Brussels. Although her illustration work is largely self-taught, Mélanie studied with Kitty Crowther at La Gaumette, a centre for creativity. Her previous books for the French publisher éditions MeMo include Öko, un thé en hiver and Mitsu, un jour parfait.

About the translator: Sarah Ardizzone is an award winning translator of French literature. She has translated books by Alain Mabanckou, Daniel Pennac, Timothee de Fombelle and Joann Sfar. She told the website Publishing Perspectives that her strengths “are dialogue and something that feels contemporary and alive”. Both qualities are very much to the fore in The Rabbit and the Shadow: while there is something classic about the story it always feels immediate and original.


Sélection Petite Fureur 2014
Lauréat Prix Fernand Baudin 2014
Prix Brindacier 2014
Honourable Mention - Fiction – Bologna Ragazzi Award 2014
Prix "Folies d'encre" 2013
Sélection Pépites de l'album 2013 - Salon du Livre et de la Presse jeunesse de Montreuil

A Lion in Paris

A Lion in Paris

Illustrator/Author Beatrice Alemagna

Publisher Tate Publishing, Hbk, AUD $29.95, ISBN 978 184976 171 0

Translator Rae Walter in association with First Edition Translations Ltd

Details of French Edition Un Lion à Paris, Autrement 2006 


One day a lion arrives in Paris (via Gare de Lyon, where else?) 

He was a big lion. A young, curious and lonely lion. He was bored at home on the grasslands, and so one day he set off to find a job, love and a future.

lion gare.jpg

The book begins with a hand-drawn map of Paris, held by paws, inviting the reader to play the role of the lion. Making a new home in a big city, or coping with any major change, takes time. So the lion needs time to get to know Paris as he visits some very recognizable sites. But people mostly seem uninterested or unimpressed. Some carry a strange kind of sword under their arms, and the weather gets him down. And, hey, a lion likes to be noticed. At last, a girl notices him “and her eyes followed him for a while with loving, tender look”.

 Of course with Paris as a backdrop things can look easy. And yet Beatrice Alemagna is able to give many of the familiar places and ideas a fresh new twist. The images combine collage, pencil, pen and brush and this mixed media roughly translates the diverse textures of the city, while the text employs some gentle, sly humour. Her design is uncluttered, like a stage set upon which this drama can play out. The perspectives and scale of figures in the streetscapes skillfully modulate the lion’s initial discomfit and his growing adjustment to new surroundings. The double page image of the Eiffel Tour has an especial lightness and brio.

But I think what makes A Lion in Paris really succeed is the way the lion carries the same curiosities and anxieties we all do (children and adults), in facing new situations. The lion is brave and vulnerable, curious and anxious. But ultimately the story achieves a resolution that satisfies the mind and the eye. Familiar places are borne along by the story’s emotional weight.

Winner of the Bologna Ragazzi Special Mention Award in 2006 it has taken eight years for the book to appear in English and I’m not sure why. I can only conclude that’s arrival is a sign that the English language world is really waking up to what French illustrators are capable of.

In France a picture book is an ‘album’ (l’album), and with A Lion in Paris this seems particularly just. It’s big (385mm x 290mm), landscape, and tucks under the arm like an artist’s folio. It opens from the top, and in the hands of a child, it’s lion-sized.



About the illustrator

Beatrice Alemagna was born in Bologna, Italy, in 1973 and now lives in Paris. From the age of eight she knew that she would be make picture books. She first attended the Bologna Book Fair aged 14 and received early encouragement from Tomi Ungerer.  Beatrice is the author of more than 20 books, most of which were published initially in France. Her books have been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, English, Dutch, Czech, Slovenian, Greek, Taiwanese, Korean, Portuguese, Brazilian-Portuguese, Chinese and Japanese.  

Other books in English include: Little Big Boubo (Tate Publishing), the 'Bugs' books (Phaidon) and The Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty (Thames & Hudson).

Beatrice told that first inspirations “came from Picasso, naïve paintings from Douanier Rousseau, essential forms from Bruno Munari (that was very present during my childhood), wild characters from BoschPiero della Francesca or de Chirico inspired me a lot too. Nowadays, I admire mostly contemporary art or paintings.I feel fascinated by composed universes, in balance between a grown-up vision and a childish one like the ones from Chris JohansonDavid Shrigley, Anne-Marie Schneider, JockumAtakMarcel DzamaAnke Feuchtenberger, etc…”

In This Book

In This Book

Illustrator Joëlle Jolivet

Author Fani Marceau

Chronicle Books, Format Hbk, 64pp 282mm x 245mm

Price AUD $27.95, ISBN 978-1452125886

Translator: unknown

Details of French Edition First published as: Dans le livre by helium, 18 rue Séguier 75006 Paris, 2012


Early years picture books don’t come much more charming than In This Book: a winning combination of simple words and bold visuals. The book begins: I am in the poppy, said the bee take the viewer through everyday and adventurous places: forests and farms, kitchens and clouds. That simple statement I am in the… invites the listener to identify closely with each image. These include a tiger, lighthouse keeper, a scorpion, a swimmer, a snail, a tractor, a hammer a sleeping dog. It’s a generous and frequently surprising list.  

In This Book gives voice to the natural and intimate world of the young child – where the boundary the human and natural worlds can be very thin indeed.  

Joëlle Jolivet’s images have a look of being made as linocuts, although some are (I think) purely digital. The overall feel is of something very hand-made and personal. The double page spread of a prowling tiger is one of many striking pieces, the tiger’s stripes mingling with the forest leaves.


Jolivet’s eye for space and colour, her simple sweeping lines and bold contrasts touched here and there with detail and texture makes for continuously enjoyable reading. Playfulness and surprises spring also from the contrast in subjects and images, flipping from a seed in the ground to a baby in a stroller, to a butterfly in a net. The apparent randomness captures the way a child encounters the world: immediate, tactile, curios and speculative.


But In This Book all ends satisfyingly – wherever we have been and whatever we have seen – with the child sleeping nested in a parent’s arms.

About the illustrator

Joëlle Jolivet is perhaps best known for her illustrations in 365 Penguins (text by Jean-Luc Fromental, naïve, 2007), which became a worldwide hit and Zoology, another oversized high impact picture book. In that sense, In This Book could serve as a more modest introduction to those bigger, more intensely illustrated books. Either way, In This Book is a lasting pleasure.  

Joëlle Jolivet studied first at L'école supérieure d'arts graphiques Penninghen and then graphic art and advertising at the School of Applied Art in Paris (Arts Appliqués de Paris). Her interest in engraving and printing led to a year in the lithography workshop at the School of Fine Art (Ecole de beaux arts) in Paris. This led to lino-cutting, which has remained her main mode ever since.

See Jöelle at work in her studio, including working with her ancient printmaking tools.