The other day I started a little blog series about the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. Today I'm going to share what I think of the books in the shortlist for the Russell Clark Award for Illustration.
Now, I've already told you about three of the illustration finalists because they're up for the Picture Book Award as well. So if you want to know what I thought of My Cat Can See Ghosts, The Eight Gifts of Te Wheke, or The Greatest Haka Festival on Earth/Mokopuna Matatini you can just go back to my earlier post about the Picture Book category.
Gavin Bishop is, of course, a doyen of the children's book world. He is a prolific and highly acclaimed illustrator and author. Atua is just as rich and beautiful as any book he has created. The illustrations combine the look of traditional Māori carvings with vibrant colours and lush, watery paint. Through these illustrations, Bishop weaves together creation myths, migration, and tribal stories, in what is being called a "once in a generation compendium".
Kimberly Andrews' illustrations in Moose the Pilot are beautiful and highly detailed, as always. In this story, Moose flies his plane to visit friends who live high in the mountains, deep in the forest, on rivers and lakes; each landscape is perfectly captured, and they each tell their own little story. Every time I look at this book, I find a wonderful, new little detail. Actually, of all the illustrations in all the books in the shortlist, my hands-down, absolute favourite illustration is in Moose the Pilot!
This shelfie of Moose with his books is absolutely something else!! How much fun it must have been thinking of the titles for his shelf! There's books like Hairy Potter, Graze Pray Roar, and A Good Keen Moose. Moose even has a copy of the Moosewood Cookbook, with a pinecone and acorn on the cover instead of citrus slices and a radish! His house looks so cosy and lived in, with all the things pinned on the wall and tucked away in the cupboard. I love it!
So. Now to choose my winner. It turns out this decision has been much harder than I expected! How does one choose a favourite book?
To help me decide, I've thought long and hard about picture book illustrations, what makes them great, and what I love about them.
I guess I love picture books so much because I actually learnt to read quite late. Even when I was eight years old, I was still struggling to make any sense of the letters and words on a page. But the pictures! I always knew what they meant! I could "read" all of my favourite books just by looking at the pictures, because I had the words memorized, and I knew exactly which words went with which picture. Without the pictures, though, I was completely lost. So trying to judge the illustrations only has been an interesting exercise. Should I look at the illustrations in isolation? This Award is for the illustrations after all, not the picture book as a whole. But a picture book is a whole package. The words and the pictures have to work together and complement each other. If I actually was a judge, how would I choose? Would I choose my personal favourite book? The book with the picture I love most? What if I loved the pictures but the story not so much? Should I choose the illustrations that complemented the story best, creating a whole that is better than the sum of its parts?? Or is there some other way to decide which is best??
Both books have everything I love in the illustrations: Loads of little details that invite you back with their "eye spy" quality; vibrant, evocative pictures that tell their own story. But I can only choose one!
I can't wait to find out what the real judges think! The winners of the awards will be announced on 10 August.