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

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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.

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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?

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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. 

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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.

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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 www.blog.finelittleday.com 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.


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.

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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.

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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 www.blog.finelittleday.com 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…”