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FABULOUS FIVE: Nadia Shireen presents Five Confidence-Destroying Picture Books

Posted on Jun 17, 2011 | 0 comments

Wow, what a title! But don’t be alarmed because Good Little Wolf ‘s author/illustrator Nadia Shireen has got some real treats for you in this fantastic latest Fabulous Five Feature.

Nadia Shireen enjoyed making homemade magazines and comics as a child. She studied law at university and then worked in magazine journalism; it was during this time that she started to draw again.
In 2007, she was accepted onto an MA course in Children’s Book Illustration at Anglia Rusin University. Good Little Wolf is her first picture book and was published by Jonathan Cape earlier this month. Her second book, The Baby That Roared, which is written by Simon Puttock, will be published by Nosy Crow in January 2012.

Five confidence-destroying picture books
by Nadia Shireen

Like many so-called creative types, there’s loads of stuff I like to look at when I want to feel mild-to-severe anxiety about the quality and scope of my work. To kick things off I’ll start by flicking through chunky illustration coffee table books until I feel the beginnings of a light sweat. Then I’ll leaf through some Fantagraphics and NoBrow Press comics, just to get my heart-rate going. Checking out online portfolios for an hour or two really gets the nausea to kick in – finally, I’ll crawl over to my stack of picture books and gaze at them until I need to have a little lie down.

You see, contrary to what you may believe, really good picture books are bad for your health. Here are some of the most dangerous ones.

Mr Peek And The Misunderstanding At The Zoo
Kevin Waldron

When I saw this book for the first time I almost ate it. The colours are delicious, and the drawing looks effortless. It’s a lovely, slightly strange story about paranoia and confusion – two emotional states close to my heart. This also made me rush out and buy Kevin Waldron’s version of The Owl And The Pussycat, and his collaboration with Michael Rosen, Tiny Little Fly. One day I will put one of his beautiful prints above my desk so I can feel a low-level sense of unease every day.

Harry The Dirty Dog
Gene Zion (author), Margaret Bloy Graham (illustrator)
I randomly picked this book up a couple of years ago. As I looked at the illustrations something strange happened… I was four years old again! While I don’t remember having this book as a kid, I have a strong memory of pointing at a particular picture of a very happy dog curled up on a pillow – which I now know is Harry. I must have read it in the library or something. Anyway, this is a really sweet story and Margaret Bloy Graham’s illustrations are joyful, elegant and scrappy all at the same time. The bit when Harry’s family don’t recognise him gets me right every time.

Beegu
Alexis Deacon

This is such an elegantly crafted book – it was one of the first picture books I bought as a ‘grown-up’. Everything about it – the words, the layout, the muted colours – pushes along the narrative. And the way he draws children is beautiful. I really envy that delicate line, though I suppose I just have to accept that my hands don’t work in the same way. It was quite thrilling when Alexis gave a talk at my college (Cambridge School of Art). We got to peek at his sketchbooks, which are things of great beauty. Of course he teaches there regularly now, which is just brilliant for me (I’m doing a sarcastic face right now).

Around The World With Mouk
Marc Boutavant

I defy anyone not to be charmed by this book. Not only is it a triumph of spatial awareness, but Marc Boutavant also draws huge numbers of individual characters. Every last flea has a distinct personality. Even his foliage has personality.
There’s not much of a story here, but this book is more about staring at heavily-populated scenes which just explode with colour. If anyone starts getting all snooty about how digitally-rendered work is synthetic or ‘fake’, I shove this book under their nose. It takes talent and skill to draw a cute dancing cockroach, whether it’s been drawn with a pencil, or on a graphics tablet.

My House
Delphine Durand

When I’m working, I can sometimes get stuck in a bit of a rut when it comes to narrative and layout – it’s all too easy to start mindlessly aping picture book convention. That’s usually a sign that I need a creative shot in the arm. Reading an absolutely insane book like this reminds me that rules are meant to be broken. It also makes me laugh a lot. It’s a random collection of very silly people, just hanging about, doing very silly things. It’s full of odd speech bubbles and annotations, and the artwork is a meticulously chaotic patchwork of scribbles and texture. The humour is quite surreal and reminds me that if I expect younger readers to laugh at something, it helps if I find it funny too.

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Thank you so much Nadia for this great selection and for taking the time to do this. I am so chuffed to see some of my favourites in there (Mr Peek – check my banner – and Mouk, of course!). And although I love Delphine Durand’s illustrations (we are big fans of the Mademoiselle Zazie series), I did not know of My House so will definitely check it out!

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