Wild Animals of the North : Dieter Braun

Wild Animals of the NorthWild Animals of the North by Dieter Braun

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The latest step on my Carnegie / Kate Greenaway catch up is Wild Animals of the North by Dieter Braun. Genuinely a little bit breathtaking, this is something rather special.The conceit is simple and easy to grasp: Braun lists a selection of the wild animals to be found across a series of regions in The North. This can cover anything from killer whales in the Arctic through to pandas in Asia. And, as I said, it is something.

It’s hard to quite do justice to Braun’s big, bare, stylish artwork so instead I’ll direct you to a gallery of images. This is remarkable work, genuinely. One of the big points about this book is its size. It’s maybe a little difficult to wield for tinier hands, but that gamble pays off as it allows the artwork to breathe. There’s something rather special about just going big and bare with your work and it’s a gamble that pays off. Some of the images are genuinely breathtaking. All of them would be perfect as pictures on the wall.

Each image of an animal is labelled both with its English and Latin names. Some of them come with extra paragraphs of information, a little eccentrically formed, but still rather charming. What gives this book its strength is that sense of individuality about it. The weight of the paper. The texture of that front cover. The nuanced picking of detail in those paragraphs. I learnt things! (Learning things from a book – who’d imagine such a thing?!)

I loved this. It’s inspiring, distinct and fiercely unique work.

And I want pretty much all of it on my wall.

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Fifty Shades of Feminism : eds Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes & Susie Orbach

Fifty Shades of FeminismFifty Shades of Feminism by Lisa Appignanesi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fifty Shades of Feminism is a collection of short, bitesize pieces from a range of “some of the most significant feminists of our time”. The list is impressive, juxtaposing Alison Bechdel with Elaine Showalter with Sandi Toksvig and Kathy Lette amongst many other equally talented writers and voices. The editors are overt in acknowledging that limiting the book to fifty was a struggle; and there’s something in me that’s both proud and sad of that. A struggle because the voices are out there and demanding to be heard, and yet, the options for them to be heard are so limited, so tight –

There are omissions, naturally, as with every compendium of this nature. I’d have welcomed some more diversely formatted entries; illustration features, and yet, I want more, somehow, always.

Of the many entries that left me staring and breathless, Laura Dockrill’s entry captivated me. It’s a handwritten piece sprawling across two pages and yet, I didn’t somehow figure this out until I was halfway down one page and loving the free, blank verse. Sentences that ran together as fluid, questioning prose across both pages, broke up and became direct, wonderful things: “that’s your job handing out / purpose. Become a woman”. A wilful misreading, yes, but one that left me breathless.

Maybe that’s the thing about compilations of this nature. There will always be omissions but there will always be space. And that’s what we need to find, need to occupy, need to own –

Shelve this with Louise O’Neill, with Holly Bourne, and allow the questions to be formed –

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Cherry Cake And Ginger Beer : Jane Brocket

Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer: A Golden Treasury of Classic TreatsCherry Cake and Ginger Beer: A Golden Treasury of Classic Treats by Jane Brocket

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It was when I saw the recipe for ‘St Clare’s Eclairs’ that I knew something very clear about this book. I am going to marry it. I am in such love with Cherry Cake And Ginger Beer that I can scarcely cope with reviewing it. I shall try though, but do forgive me if every now and then I punctuate a sentence with an increasingly breathless cry of – Chalet School Apple Cake!

I’ve heard about Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer for a long time and had it recommended to me several times on Twitter. Thank you if you’re one of the people who mentioned it to me. I love it. God, I love this book – Amy’s Pickled Lines!

Brocket’s approach is simple, rich and heartfelt (The Borrowers’ Potted Shrimps!). She works her way through a range of chapters which loosely group the recipes together under headings such as Picnic Treats, School Food and Proper Elevenses. And oh, God, they’re brilliant. Every page reveals something new. Something delicious. I want to make St Clare’s Eclairs. I don’t even like Eclairs. I want to make Pollyanna’s Calf’s Foot Jelly even though I don’t think I’ve ever seen a calf’s foot in the shop. I want to make Miss Heliotrope’s Preferred Nice Plain Junket even though I’m still not 100% certain on what Junket is. I love this book. I love the thick, fat love that Brocket has for her subject, and the way she pulls references from all of the right books: The Little White Horse, Ballet Shoes (Doctor Jakes’ Heavenly Hot Ginger Drink!) , The Faraway Tree and so many more.

This book and I were meant to be. I’m in love.

Bad Harry’s Birthday Trifle!

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Shackleton’s Journey : William Grill

Shackleton's JourneyShackleton’s Journey by William Grill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is craft, this book.

It’s hard to know where to begin with Grill’s masterpiece; whether to talk about the palette of clear and clean colours, or his use of space on the page and that conscious decision to let the visuals work for his story to their utmost, or the vivid little marks of humanity dotted in each scene – the men dotted across the white expanse of the page, or huddled together for warmth under the curve of a broken up boat held together by oil paints.

Perhaps it’s best to start with the facts: Shackleton’s Journey details one of the expeditions of Ernest Shackleton to the Arctic. Grill’s love and knowledge of his topic shines in his awareness of the detail and the human nuances he gives every illustration. The crew of the expedition range one page, looking out at us, with captions ranging from Able Seaman through to Stowaway. (A quick sidebar: more stories on stowaways please, I am intrigued so much by them).

Grill follows this journey from start to end and details every step of it with such graceful and poetic illustrations, that this book starts to ache with perfection. I hope that Shackleton’s Journey endures for a long while and becomes considered as a classic alongside some of the great canonical titles of children’s literature. It’s already stating its case for classic status with ease; spreads of the ice-floe breaking up swallow the page with their magnitude, dwarfing the expedition with their immense, jaw-dropping scale, whilst other spreads speak of a warmth and humour that pays tribute to the bravery of these men. This in particular is a vital touch. (Google: Frank Hurley and Endurance to see some of the photographs from the expedition – they’re almost unreal).

Shackleton’s Journey is perfect, really, and it is one of those books that feels a little bit like a landmark point for the sector. I am in love.

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Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book : Enid Blyton

Enid Blyton's Nature Lover's BookEnid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Book by Enid Blyton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As ever with me and Enid Blyton, the idea of ‘rating’ one of her books is something quite different than rating another. So four stars, yes, definitely, but they are four Blyton-shaped stars and thus of a very different ilk to those that I would give something else.
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How artists see feelings : Colleen Carroll

How Artists See: Feelings: Joy, Sadness, Fear, LoveHow Artists See: Feelings: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Love by Colleen Carroll

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘How Artists See Feelings’ covers a series of artworks separated under the headings of: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Love. Under each heading, Carroll presents a simple spread of the artwork on one side and a little piece of text on the other, which tells us about the piece and asks us a few questions about it.

It’s a lovely little book, part of a bigger series called ‘How Artists See…’ and covers a range of work ranging from ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch through to ‘The Kiss’ by Constantin Brรขncuศ™i and ‘Lemon and his wife’s ghost’ by Shunbaisai Hokuei. I welcome Carroll’s choice of artworks and welcome her selections.

My main issue (and sadness) with this book is that it feels very dated now. The front cover is not the best and just throughout, it feels very much of its time. I’d really welcome a new edition along the same principles as Carroll’s text is genuinely engaging, vibrant and friendly. She has a great skill of creating a dialogue with the reader, asking them to engage in the artwork asking them to “Try [to] imagine yourself in this situation. What sounds do you hear?” and to think about “How does the heaviness of the metal help show her feelings?” I really love her stylistics here and it’s probably because of this, that I think this book still has a place in todays dialogue around art. Don’t look past it! It’s worth picking up.

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What is Contemporary Art? A Children’s Guide : Jacky and Suzy Klein

What Is Contemporary Art? a Guide for KidsWhat Is Contemporary Art? a Guide for Kids by Jacky Klein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t know much about contemporary art for a long time. I didn’t know that it even existed, in a way. I tought art and I thought about the traditional images of art; the oil paintings on the wall, the statues in the gallery, the black and white photographs hung in a row.

But then I went to university and accidentally started to specialise in the subject and my mind exploded. Cindy Sherman. Tracey Emin. Barbara Kruger. Jenny Holzer. Richard Serra. Rineke Dijkstra. Douglas Gordon. Shirin Neshat. All of them doing things with text and image that I longed to do, that I hadn’t known it was okay for me to do, that I hadn’t known that I wanted to do, and now that I did know this, I knew that I would never let it go. That this way of writing, of seeing, of thinking, was something that I liked, something that I subscribed wholly too and something that made my writing better.

It changed my life. Can you tell? It’s because of that that I have a strong interest in art books for children because, in a way, I want them to have the opportunity to have that feeling. I want their mind to be blown. I want them to realise that the creative boundaries that may have been imposed on them (“every story has a beginning, a middle and an end, and you need to know this before you begin”) can, could and maybe should be broken.

‘What is Contemporary Art?’ is a challenging book for me to review in that I felt there were certain areas of it that worked really well. I love that it exists, firstly. I love that it’s selected and discussed some bold and challenging work (“Adjustable Wall Bra” by Vito Acconci, for one, and “Untitled (bed)” by Rachel Whiteread, for another). I love that it’s not afraid of asking children to look at Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol. The curation of pieces for this book is really, really strong.

And yet, in another way, it’s a little bit frustrating. The endpapers seem a wasted space, an apparent abstract design on the front, which we come to realise is “Butterfly Kisses” by Janine Antoni and then get to see again when we come to finish the book. I’d have welcomed some sense of experimentation with these pages rather than what feels like a slight redundancy in using the same image twice.

I also had some difficulty with the descriptions. There’s a little bit of ‘artspeak’ in there which, I suspect, could lead to a prerequisite of ‘why’ questions (both a positive and a negative, but one that I suspect would frustrate a cynical mindset). Sentences such as “his chessboard is no longer a battlefield, but a landscape of the imagination” beg to be challenged and discussed (which is again both a positive and a negative, come to think of it.)

One final thing to note though is that it has a really good and useful glossary covering such terms as ‘assemblage’, ‘found media’ and ‘urban intervention’. This is great, though the highlighting of these words in the body of the book has suffered due to the advent of internet speak. They appear in the text *like this* which gives an odd emphasis to terms and phrases. I’d hope that this maybe gets reviewed in a newer edition.

So where do we sit with this book? It’s good, it does have some very good points, but I found it frustrating and a little confusing with the voice. In a way, I’d have liked it pitched younger and a little ‘freer’ with some descriptions in order to both loosen up the stiffer parts of the book and to also broaden the appeal of the book and the artwork within.

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