Posts tagged Quentin Blake

The Big Adventure of a Little Line by Serge Bloch

The Big Adventure of a Little LineIMG_1184

Picture Book

Ages 5 and up

By Serge Bloch

88 pages

Thames & Hudson







Occasionally I’ll pick up a book from an author or illustrator I’m not familiar with and, after some research, will be stunned to discover that the person has published multiple books and is a sensation in another area of the world. French-born author and artist Serge Bloch is an example of one of these discoveries.

His animated SamSam series, based on his SamSam comic, is hugely popular in Europe. His series Max et Lili, (published in France since 1992) has sold millions of copies. He compiled and illustrated a book of Steve Martin’s tweets and he regularly draws editorial illustrations for publications including the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, as well as Time and New York Magazine.

So, Serge Bloch’s extraordinary illustrations have finally etched their way into my consciousness, although I must have seen his work among the pages of some magazine or newspaper and filed it away in my brain because, as soon as I picked up The Big Adventure of a Little Line, the art was familiar. And probably not just because Bloch was clearly influenced by Tomi Ungerer, R.O. Blechman, Shel Silverstein, Quentin Blake and Charles Addams. Like these other masters of the line, Bloch is able to convey a considerable amount with minimal details. It is a true gift and I find this style immensely appealing.

I’ve had the great pleasure of knowing many artists as a result of my career in children’s books. The relationship between an artist and his art is complex and rife with struggles, but the artist’s art is essential to the artist’s well being. Creative compulsion can be exhilarating, comforting, and freeing. It can also be confusing, frightening, and debilitating. The combination of Bloch’s minimalist visual style and to-the-point story of living with and nurturing a creative drive lays bare the complicated relationship between an artist and his art starting at the most fundamental level.

Art as a profession is often the subject of parental fears. It can be incredibly difficult to develop and maintain an artistic career. But whether an artistic person decides to pursue a career in the arts is frequently irrelevant to the level of personal importance the art has in that person’s life. That creative impulse should be nurtured, loved, respected and supported. Should the person end up  in a job or career that is more financially practical, artistic expression  may prove to be an important outlet in maintaining a balanced life as well as the key to mental wellness. I highly recommend The Big Adventure of a Little Line for any person realizing an artistic inclination.

The book opens with a wistful looking boy out for a walk when he spots a small reddish-orange line lying by the side of the road. Intrigued, the boy takes the line home and rests it on a shelf alongside other cherished objects. The line sits mostly forgotten until the boy takes it down and lays it on an open page in his notebook. Thus begins the life of an artist.


Like many lifelong relationships, this one  starts simply, though not necessarily easily, and develops over time into something integral. The boy and the line need to learn about each other, and find a way to co-exist. We follow the newly formed pair through airy, uncluttered spreads of discovery and understanding, interspersed with chaotic images of frustration and struggle.


The line helps the boy grow into a man and becomes his complement. Traveling the world, delighting children, opening exhibits, stirring emotions and fraternizing with other artists, the creative relationship proves magical.


The artist grows old, and eventually he and the line agree that it is time to use a bit of their magic to inspire others. As the book comes to a close, the contented elder artist snips off a small bit of his line and deposits it on a stretch of road. It is quickly spotted by a grinning girl who immediately tucks it into her pocket, an apt metaphor.


An inherently beautiful effect of art is to bring about thoughts, feeling and emotions that one might not otherwise have had. Art does not simply exist as an expression of the artist, it also moves, inspires and stimulates. I like to imagine that many little pieces of the artist’s line were discovered, collected and carried by others throughout the career of the man and his craft, whether he meant to inspire or not.



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A TurtleAndRobot Book List: 15 Picture Books featuring Birds

It is not uncommon for a child to latch onto a specific subject and then focus intensely on that one thing for a time. When such obsessions begin, the book purchaser’s job suddenly becomes easier and imbued with a new sense of fun—any book containing that subject will be an instant winner. But once the obvious choices pertaining to that topic have been exhausted, choosing books can become a painful, and fruitless, process. Buyer beware- that T.V. tie-in title that pertains to your child’s interest may be tempting but I assure you there are always higher quality choices still undiscovered.

I compiled this list of fiction picture books for people with a bird-loving child in their lives. Angelo by David Macaulay, a phenomenal and underappreciated book, is about a pigeon that brightens the life of an elderly stone worker. Bob Staake’s Bluebird spotlights an attentive bird that befriends a boy who is being bullied by his classmates. Whether the cobalt-hued hero of Bluebird is an actual bluebird or just a bird that is blue isn’t made clear, but that won’t matter to those who choose this remarkable wordless picture book. The remaining titles feature generalized, i.e. not necessarily naturalistic birds of a recognizable breed, as their main characters.


Inch by InchInchByInch

Ages 3-7

By Leo Lionni

32 pages



1961 Caldecott Honor Book


Time FliesTimeFlies

Ages 3-7

By Eric Rohman

32 pages

Crown Publishers


1995 Caldecott Honor Book


A Home for BirdHomeforBird

Ages 3-7

By Phil C. Stead

32 pages

Roaring Brook Press



See TurtleAndRobot’s full review here.


Hello, My Name is RubyRuby

Ages 3-7

By Philip C. Stead

36 pages

Roaring Brook Press



Flap Your WingsFlapYourWings

Ages 3-8

By P.D. Eastman

48 pages

Random House


(Also by P.D. Eastman, Are You My Mother? and The Best Nest)


The BirdwatchersTheBirdwatchers

Ages 3-8

By Simon James

32 pages



Out of print


Little Red BirdLittleRedBird

Ages 3-8

By Nick Bruel

32 pages

Roaring Brook Press



Poppy and EllaPoppy&Ella

Ages 3-9

By Jef Kaminsky

48 pages



Out of print


Franny B. Kranny, There’s a Bird in Your HairFrannyBKranny

Ages 3-9

Written by Harriet Lerner and Susan Goldhor

Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

40 pages



Out of print


13 Words13Words

Ages 4-7

Written by Lemony Snickett

Illustrated by Maira Kalman

40 pages




See TurtleAndRobot’s full review here.



Ages 4-8

By Bob Staake

40 pages

Schwartz & Wade



A Funny Little Bird

Ages 4-8

By Jennifer Yerkes

48 pages

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky



Feathers for LunchFeathersForLunch

Ages 4-9

By Lois Ehlert

36 pages

HMH Books for Young Readers




Ages 4-9

By David Macaulay

48 pages

HMH Books for Young Readers



The Life of BirdsLifeofBirds

Ages 5 and up

By Quentin Blake

80 pages

Doubleday UK


Out of print

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Clown by Quentin Blake: A wordless delight.



Picture Book

Ages 2-10

By Quentin Blake

32 pages

Henry Holt




The work of Quentin Blake has appeared before on,  here and here. He is perhaps my most favorite illustrator. Fortunately for me, he is extremely prolific. Unfortunately for me, I may never be able to collect all his books. His skilled storytelling, expert lines, quirky style and exceptional art never cease to amaze me. Clown, a wordless picture book, is among my favorite picture books ever. Blake’s generous palette is radiant and expansive. The story is sweet and sad; the art, as always, is active and expressive.

Though this is his only wordless picture book to date, Blake’s art often needs no words; with a quick line and a splash of color he is able to convey more energy and emotion in one panel that some artists can achieve in an entire book. The small and elite group that I consider to be in the same realm of Blake’s artistic genius includes only two other illustrators: Shel Silverstein and Tomi Ungerer. Each of these men is able to breathe irrepressible life into a single line. Though the style may appear to be easy and uncomplicated it is in fact richly complex and expertly crafted.

Wordless picture books can be off-putting to some adults—they panic, “What do I read if there are no words?” But a wordless book can be liberating. Readers have an opportunity to change the story every time they tell it. The story is right there in the pictures and how it’s told is up to the reader. Wordless books offer children and adults an opportunity to observe the action, follow a sequence of events and tell their own version of what they perceive. Wordless stories can aid in developing visual literacy, narrative skills and creativity. Freed from the confines of text, novel nuances emerge every time the book is opened.


Clown opens with a grandmotherly figure descending the steps of a brownstone, her hands full of old, worn dolls. Into the garbage they go; the lifeless toys oblivious to their new unfortunate situation. In the next spread, a surprised Clown—who is amongst the recently discarded—looks around in dismay and quickly wriggles free. He drops to the ground and brushes himself off. Noticing his ragged shoes, the quick-thinking Clown roots through the neighboring pile of garbage and finds himself a sporty pair of high-top sneakers. The rejuvenated Clown is off and running!



He soon spots a young child and rushes to tell her his story, but before he can finish she is scooped up by her parents and taken away. The baffled Clown is wondering what to do next when he’s picked up by an adult and promptly added to a group of costumed children being photographed. Clown, growing distressed, tells his story to a young girl dressed in a fairy costume. She happily picks Clown up and takes him with her. When she arrives at home her mother promptly throws the used toy out the window.



Clown lands safely on the street and is immediately chased down by an angry dog. The situation seems dire but the ever-energetic Clown jumps onto a crate and puts on a show of acrobatics for the now bewildered dog. Just then, the dog’s owner comes along and Clown quickly finds himself being tossed aside again.


He flies through the air and lands inside a home where a woeful caretaker is desperately trying to comfort a crying child. Clown’s unexpected appearance shocks them both. Without delay, the charming Clown begins entertaining his new audience. Swiftly relieved of their tears, the guardian and her charge are won over. Once again he explains his predicament. Clown and the caretaker quickly come to an agreement: he will help her clean up the house before the child’s mother arrives and she will help him rescue his friends from the garbage.


The new friends work wonderfully together and the apartment is soon in perfect order. Clown, caretaker and baby head out to liberate the toys from their difficult situation. After retrieving his rejected comrades from the garbage, Clown finds a lovely blue ribbon for the babysitter’s hair and a bouquet of flowers to decorate the apartment; the jovial trio returns home.


When the tired-looking mother arrives, she’s surprised and delighted to find a happy child, a clean home and a menagerie of new friends. Clown rests happily, his ordeals behind him, with his old friends and his new family.


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Tell Me a Picture offers a fresh and unique way to appreciate art without distraction.


Tell Me a Picture



Ages 5 and up

By Quentin Blake

128 pages

Frances Lincoln Limited



Quentin Blake is a British illustrator—he’s well known for his art in Roald Dahl’s books—and an author and cartoonist as well. He also writes and illustrates his own books. He is a frequent producer of quality work and has illustrated over three hundred children’s books, including Great Day for Up written by Dr. Seuss (and the first book that Seuss did not illustrate himself).

Blake’s loose, lively style is totally unmistakable; he is able to communicate so much with a just few lines and a hint of color. His art is spirited and full of joy. I often marvel at the simplicity of it. He is a master of using deceptively simple drawings to convey complex actions and emotions.

Blake began his career at Punch; his first drawings were published when he was sixteen. He was head of the Illustration department at the Royal College of Art from 1978 to 1986. He was appointed the first British Children’s Laureate and served from 1999 to 2001. In 2002, he was awarded the biennial Hans Christian Andersen Award for his career contribution to children’s literature. This year, Blake was knighted for his services to illustration. This is all to say, the man is respected and beloved by many.

One of the appointed duties of the British Children’s Laureate is to raise the profile of writing and drawing for children “in whatever way the Laureate considers appropriate.” Blake decided to design an art exhibit at the National Gallery in London so that he could better communicate his belief that looking at great illustrations can be the first step in a life long appreciation of great art. This book was published to accompany that 2001 exhibition of the same title.

Tell Me a Picture features twenty-six paintings, each by a different artist and all chosen by Blake. The variety of artists is extraordinary. He includes old masters, modern illustrators and various artists in between; the earliest piece, by Paolo Uccello, was painted in 1460.

At the start of the book Blake offers “A Word of Explanation” about how this book came to be. In it he explains how he organized the art, alphabetically by the artist’s last name, and why, “so that they are in no order that has anything to do with one painting being more important than another, or more recent, or more respected.”


Each painting is introduced by “an assorted crew of conversational children,” illustrated by Blake. Every piece of art is given its own two-page spread; this was done so that the reader could be alone with the art and absorb the image without distraction.


The page following each piece features those conversational children and their thoughts and questions about the art that’s just been viewed, sometimes accompanied by a detail of the painting.


At the end of the book, Blake offers a few more thoughts on viewing art and tips on viewing art with young children, as well as information on each painting and its artist.


Tell Me a Picture offers a fresh and unique way to appreciate art and a fantastic way to introduce young children the myriad stories one painting can reveal.


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In honor of the forthcoming Caldecott and Newbery announcement (on January 28th, 2013) Philip and Erin Stead, author and illustrator of A Sick Day for Amos McGee (the 2011 Caldecott winner) and Bear Has a Story to Tell, announce their Phildecott and Steadbery Awards, aka their “Best of 2012” list.

Includes bonus thoughts on the importance of bookstores and the perseverance of the printed book.



Philip Stead Illustration | A Home for Bird, Jonathan and the Big Blue Boat, Creamed Tuna Fish and Peas on Toast, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, Bear Has a Story to Tell

But first, a Short Essay Regarding the Importance of the Independent Bookstore

From the Cluttered Desk of Philip Stead (with Erin sitting close by):

The twenty-first century has had a rocky start for lovers of bookstores and real, paper books. The advent of e-bookery coupled with Wall Street’s unfortunate shenanigans has created an environment in which many stores have had to close their doors. Here in Ann Arbor we lost Shaman Drum, our downtown indie store that had peddled books to students and townies alike for more than three decades. Next was Borders, an Ann Arbor institution that began as a small indie shop on State Street. Long before her career as a bookmaker Erin worked at the downtown Borders. She tended the children’s section. It’s strange now to walk by its empty shell.

Throughout all this I’ve believed (or, more accurately, wanted to believe) that there’s…

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The Dot: “Just make a mark and see where it takes you.”

The Dot


Picture Book

Ages 3-7

By Peter H. Reynolds

32 pages




Peter H. Reynolds has illustrated the books he’s written, as well as books penned by other authors. While reminiscent of Quentin Blake, his illustration style is undoubtedly his own. His art is loose, free and energetic. In The Dot, he uses beautiful splashes of color over carefully shaded two-tone art. Reynolds’ writing style is uncomplicated and undiluted. He says just what needs to be said and moves the story effortlessly. 

Reynolds has also devoted himself to inspiring creativity through his books: guiding children to find their artistry, to feed it, grow it, and nurture it. And not just the kind of creativity you already know exists but any kind of creativity, encouraging readers to be imaginative and inventive and to look for inspiration all around them.

Vashti stares at her blank piece of paper at the end of art class. Her teacher meets her declaration that she “cannot draw” with calmness, and a suggestion.

Vashti picks up a marker and makes a strong jab at the paper, leaving behind a small dot. Her teacher studies the dot, and then asks Vashti to sign it.

The next week, when Vashti enters her art class, she sees her art framed and hanging over her teacher’s desk! Vashti feels both pleased and challenged.

She cracks open a new case of watercolors and sets to work. She paints dots of every color. She makes little dots and big dots.

The dots are a huge success at the school art show! A small admirer approaches Vashti.  He wishes he had her talent but claims he “can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.” Vashti hands the boy a piece of paper and asks him to draw a line. He returns the paper with a small squiggly line drawn on it. Then Vashti asks him to sign it.

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Esio Trot: True love, by way of a tortoise.

Esio Trot


Middle Reader

Ages 7-10

By Roald Dahl

Illustrated by Quentin Blake

64 pages


Published 1990


A quick note about the title—Esio Trot is tortoise spelled backwards.

If you’re familiar with Roald Dahl’s books, you know Quentin Blake’s art; he is Roald Dahl’s main illustrator. Blake has a vast canon of his own amazing works as well. He illustrated Dr. Seuss’s A Great Day for Up! He’s also my favorite illustrator, which is too bad because it’s near impossible to collect all of his books.

Blake’s art is loose, free, uncomplicated and energetic. He is able to capture everything you need to know with a simple line stroke and just the perfect amount of contrast. There’s movement to his art. When he works in color, he uses a perfect palette and adds just enough color to give you the essence you need. His work looks so effortless that it can, wrongly, give you the idea that what he does is easy. It’s not. There have been many illustrators who have tried to copy Blake’s style, but there’s no comparison. Only Blake can convey so much emotion with so little ink.

In Esio Trot we have my favorite illustrator drawing my favorite animal! Turtles, or in this case, tortoises. The interior art is black and white and is quintessential Blake. The tortoises each seem to have their own expression and personality. You can see the gentle heart of Mr. Hopper and hear Mrs. Silver’s laugh. And this is all accomplished through Blake’s hand.

Mr. Hoppy lives upstairs from Mrs. Silver. He’s quite smitten with her but he’s also quite shy. He often converses with her from their respective balconies but just that requires all courage he can muster. Mrs. Silver has a pet tortoise Alfie that she is quite fond of. Alfie’s lived with her for eleven years (I myself have had a pet turtle for 19 years) and in that time he has only gained three ounces. Mrs. Silver is desperate, and impatient, for Alfie to grow bigger. This situation gives Mr. Hopper an opportunity to win Mrs. Silver’s heart.

Mr. Hoppy confides that he has a secret: a phrase to say to Alfie three times a day that will make him grow. Mrs. Silver dutifully, though skeptically, follows his instructions. In the meantime, Mr. Hopper visits every pet store in town and purchases 140 tortoises of varying sizes. You see where this is going, right?

Mr. Hopper is ever so careful in his plan to make it appear as though Alfie is really growing. He weighs each tortoise, matches the colors on the shell to the original model and picks one that is ever so slightly larger to replace Alfie. He does this every week for eight weeks. Mrs. Silver is overjoyed at how well the spell is working. It’s working so well that Alfie has grown too big to fit into his house!

Not to worry. Mr. Hopper gives her another spell, this time to reverse the growing, just enough so that Alfie fits back in his house. And Mr. Silver goes through the whole process again, backwards. And it works again! Mrs. Silver is so overjoyed she invites Mr. Hopper to come down to her balcony and he proposes on the spot! She joyfully accepts. Mrs. Silver is none the wiser and Mr. Hopper is able to return all the excess tortoises he’d purchased.

Alfie, who was returned to one of those stores, is purchased a week later and goes to live with a young girl named Roberta Squibb. Roberta is grown up now; she’s married and has a family of her own. Alfie still lives with them and it’s taken him all that time to grow twice the size he was when he lived with Mrs. Silver.

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