The Five Senses : Hervé Tullet

The Five SensesThe Five Senses by Hervé Tullet

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been unpacking a lot of my books recently from eternal storage and amidst the general delight of rediscovering old favourites and all the Angela Brazils that I couldn’t remember I had, was this beautiful little book.

Tullet’s introduction to the five senses is a vivid, gorgeous thing. Art books for children are sometimes difficult things that don’t quite know how to deal with what they’re positing to deal with. Do you talk down? Do you talk up? Do you talk across? How do you position your textual voice when you’re talking about something as intensely personal as art?

This book sort of circumspects all that difficult discussion by presenting a series of paintings, cuttings, gluings(interventions?) that explore and dance around the topic. Each section is introduced in a similar manner; bright white background with a black painted ‘touch’ or ‘sound’ before descending into vivid individualistic moments on each page. A series of eyes. A clash of hands. A piece of wood (watch out for splinters). A distorting mirror. Anything, really, and that’s the great joy of this. It plays and dances with everything and does it with a great democracy.

Obviously there are limitations in talking about ‘smell’ or ‘hear’ when we’re looking at a book because of the format of the book. Tullet’s approach to ‘solving’ this is lovely. His images are so evocative, so all consuming that they act as an incentive to take the art out of the book and work with it in the real world. Sit by the side of the road when looking at the traffic page. Walk through the woods when touching the wood page. There’s a lot of activity that can be taken from a book like this and that’s the great joy of it. It’s a book to dip in, to explore and to go back and forth in and to not be afraid of.

It’s a book that acts as a very lovely and very accessible introduction to the art / design world. Mimic the drawings with your kids. Press fingers into paints and smear them along (designated!) walls. Draw around hands and collage them all together. One thing I always did (and still do!) was to make a sort of ‘mood’ book where I stuck in postcards, ticket stubs, photos, leafs – anything, really, which inspired or struck a chord with me. You can see a couple of sample images from this in the slideshow below.

These sort of things also act as a great inspiration for creative writing – use a page as a prompt, an inspiration. What does it make you feel? What does it make you taste?

Tullet’s a joy. I’ll be keeping this one around for a fair bit longer, I think.

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The Boy Who Fell Into A Book : The Joy of Book-Based Theatre

Children’s books are a funny, beloved thing of mine. I love how they are so resolutely what they are; I love the shape and feel and taste of them, the way that they are so viciously of themselves and will not be of something else. But equally, I love the way that sometimes you get to pull these books out of their bookish state and make them something different from what they started their life out as. They are still story, but now they’re cake-formed story, or animated story or theatrical story.

This weekend I got to go and see The Boy Who Fell Into A Book at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough. What’s special about the Stephen Joseph, is that it’s a theatre in the round. A theatre in the round is quite a lovely thing for it dispenses with the format that we’re perhaps more familiar with of an audience looking onto the stage from one direction only, and presents a stage in the centre of the action with an audience around all four sides.

It’s fascinating (and I imagine it’s really rather thrilling/terrifying) to work in because you are totally exposed. You’re part of the story as the audience because you are literally in it. You’re the edge of the building, or the back of the kitchen, and the actors have to give you everything because you’re there at every angle. There’s no escape from each other and it’s a space I’d love to write for some day.

The Boy Who Fell Into A Book is introduced here in the below video by Alan Ayckbourn who wrote the original, which has now been adapted into a musical.

There’s a great simplicity to this musical and it’s one that struck me as providing a great example of children’s literature and theatre working together. Lyrically, The Boy Who Fell Into A Book has a strong repeated motif of music and of echoes; the hero, Kevin, hums little melodies throughout his adventure and explains that these are to help him remember what happened where. That need to record our exploits, to memorialise ourselves and our story, is something very primal. It’s something that I think shows itself in the great love that children’s / young adult literature has for the first person narrative. We want to say that we were there. We want to say that we did these great and bold things.

It’s something that Frodo does when he starts to write his adventures down, it’s something that the Princess Bride acknowledges, it’s something that we do. We have our stories. And we share our stories because that’s what makes us human, that’s what ties us to each other.

The Boy Who Fell Into A Book does this, not just for dramatic purposes (or for the purposes of reminding an audience what’s happened and maintaining their interest in a narrative), but perhaps more from a genuine joy at being in a story. Kevin loves it. Even though it can’t be all kaboom, kapow (best song in the piece), it can be exciting. It can be terrifying, but it can be exciting. Stories live. Kevin made it happen and he’s in control. Reading. It’s the biggest superpower we have.

I love that. I love that a musical can exist where we roar through scenes from detective stories through to chess for beginners through to falling into one of Kevin’s younger sisters’ books – a book that features the terrifyingly Tellytubby-esque Wobblies. I love that we can live that journey  through Kevin’s books with Kevin, that we’re there in every step of the way and that there’s children in the audience yelling out to try and help Kevin back to finding his bedroom.

Theatre is a joy. The immediacy of it, the vitality of it, it’s a joy. Smart, funny and joyful theatrical adaptations of children’s literature? Well, to quote Oliver Twist: “Please Sir, can I have some more?” (And I will! I’m going to go and see The Wind In The Willows in August!).

Other theatrical productions, with a children’s literature twist, currently on around the country involve Matilda, Hetty Feather, The Tiger Who Came To Tea and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Shelves! Shelves with books!

I always love it when people share photographs of their bookshelves because I do the whole squinting at the page/screen thing and try to figure out what they have on their shelves. Seriously, I even do it on magazines when I’m meant to be focusing on who’s got married to who; all I’m interested in is whether they’ve got any books I recognise on their shelves.

So here we are. This is the current state of play at DYESTTAFTSA Towers. It’s not pretty. It’s not organised. (Dear god, it’s not organised). But they are OUT OF THEIR BOXES. The books live! The books live!

(Also – Bowtie gets to come out of storage as well! Suddenly I’m a six year old again!)
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#kidbkgrp – Boundaries and responsibilities in children’s literature

Last night we talked about boundaries and responsibilities in children’s literature. It’s a bit of a vague topic but one that has a lot of relevance for children’s books and the world of reading / publishing in general. Children’s books are defined by adults for children and very rarely the other way round. Therefore we may have expectations of the genre that may not be actually reflected by the intendees (intendees is not a word and that point’s also a rampant generalisation so please forgive me but I hope you see where I’m going with it.) It’s also a topical issue with things like Roald Dahl front covers receiving less than positive feedback and The Bunker Diary receiving heated reactions post its Carnegie win.

I think talking about this sort of stuff and questioning both it and ourselves is vital (which is why I love blogging and Twitter in general). It’s through talking that we reaffirm ourselves. We understand ourselves. It’s when there’s silence and fear, that’s when understanding starts to become something quite foreign.

You can find the storify of the chat here and here’s a link to the previous chats.

The Glass Bird Girl : Esme Kerr

The Glass Bird GirlThe Glass Bird Girl by Esme Kerr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s a lot of books out like this at the moment (no bad thing -ed). The school story with a hint of mystery seem to be having a little bit of a resurgence (like I said, no bad thing -ed) and that’s clearly no bad thing at all (finally -ed).

The Glass Bird Girl is a very beautiful little book. From the precise eloquence of that title, through to the old-time feel of it, it’s a book that harks back to the classics of the genre and one which both plays with and pays tribute to the genre itself.

The first in a series, it tells the story of Edie who’s been sent by her uncle to Knight’s Haddon School to keep an eye on the daughter of one of his clients. Anastasia, a Russian princess, is finding school hard and there’s something afoot…

It’s a book which I liked a lot but also had a few troubles with. It’s a reticent book which, I grant, fits the nature of the beast but it’s also one that is not quite easy to grasp onto. I liked it, as I say, but there were moments when I felt quite removed from it. I wonder if a part of that is due to the nature of it being an opener to a series (and thus, having to set A Lot Of Things Into Place), but it’s something I’d like addressing in the next title in the series.

What is clear, is that Kerr is an eloquent, graceful writer and she does something I will always admire and pay tribute to. She’s written a book where school girls are school girls and where adults are mysterious, fallible, and three-dimensional. It’s always good for a school story to acknowledge the fact that the adults are people too because it invariably adds weight to the text of itself. It gives the story, the world, import. And Knight’s Haddon is full of truth, of import and of weight. I loved that about it.

This is a perfect book for those readers who are looking to graduate on from something like Malory Towers or St Clare’s onto something a little more mature and challenging. Kerr writes in a lovely, eloquent and accessible manner (though some of the ‘home’ scenes are little difficult to reconcile with the grace of the ‘school’ story itself). A book of two halves! It’s a good job the school part works so well.

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Have you heard of #kidbkgrp ?

Hi! Do we talk on Twitter? If not, we really should (say hi, you know you want to). (But, you know, say it with some context and not just hi, because then I’ll just hi back and that will not be constructive in the whole beginning a conversation thing and now I’m digressing just a tad, so I’ll stop and move on to what I actually wanted to tell you about)

#kidbkgrp is a monthly chat group which meets the first Thursday of every month, 9-10pm on Twitter. We talk about a whole range of issues relating to children’s literature and everyone is welcome. This means you, specifically ;)

All you need to do to take part is tweet during that time frame using the #kidbkgrp hashtag (basically so I and everyone else taking part in the chat sees you). That’s it! You can view the schedule for the remaining chats of the year here and this Thursday (August 7th), we chat about Drama in Children’s Literature (particularly relevant in a post Carnegie climate, no?). We’ll talk about what children’s literature should and should not do and how to achieve this. It should be good – and I’d love to see you there :-)

“Language is a skin : I rub my language against the other”

“Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.” – Roland Barthes

Barthes was one of the first people I found who said what I wanted to say about language and who said it how it needed to be said. And this quote, oh how I am stuck on it, how how I am always stuck on it, how I do not look away from it with heart nor eyes.

It makes me think about viewing. It makes me think about relationships, about sight and about point of view. We engage with everything we read on a personal nature, we push ourselves up to it and frame ourselves against it, in opposition to it and in conjunction with it.

We are not what we read, we are anti-what we read, we are and always will be what we read.

Reading is about viewing, about a relationship so specific, so tight, so focused and yet, it is a relationship that we do not control. We are controlled by An Other, an unknowable, un-quantifiable other who has pulled our focus, who has turned our head and made us see what we want to see.

Books lie. Books tell the truth that you want to see. Books tell you the truth that you need at that point in time, for who and what you are. Come back to them later, come back to them never, and they will change and they will meet you for what you are at that point in time.

I love writing. I love the shifting, feckless nature of it and the way it can lift its hands up to the hills and stand silhouetted in the setting of the sun. I love the way that it is, the way that it exists and then does not exist, the moment that I change a sentence or edit a word. Language is art and art is language and I love it , I love it, I love that it is. 

And I touch it. I rub my hand against it and I bathe in it and I look at things and I remember and I want to do it all over again.

I finished a draft of the book this week. It’s a book that I have ached for ever since it began inside my head. Finishing it has left me drunken and content and so, so pleased. It’s almost there. I hope you get to read it some day soon.