I like to feature an amazing author that everyone should now now and then, and today, it’s Oliver Jeffers.
Oliver Jeffers is one of those quiet geniuses of the picture book format. He’s not a wild and rollicking class visit favourite like Mo Willems, nor a solid booklist classic, like Eric Carle. Instead, he writes and paints lovely, lovely picture books over and over in his own distinctive style. From his list of wonderful things, here are three titles, each a little different, to give you a little taste of his work.
Lost and Found
ISBN: 978 0 39 924503 9
Audience: ages 2-6 yrs
This was the first of Jeffers’ books to catch my attention, and I almost missed it at first glance, how delightful it is. A quiet, moody story of friendship and finding your place in the world, this book stars only a boy and a penguin who find each other, say goodbye, and come back together as partners in a lonely world.
With spare but beautiful watercolour paintings, distinctive people, and wide-open skies, these books look like no one else’s, and use saturated washes of colour to gorgeous effect. The writing is similarly bare, leaving much to be understood by the reader, something few authors trust their young audiences to do. In the end, his works are mature, yet accessible, powerful, yet restrained. So refreshing!
To my great delight, I recently tripped across a short movie version of Lost and Found, animated in a style that stayed remarkably true to the illustrations and the mood of the story. I haven’t found a source for the movie yet, but have found trailers for it on YouTube, here, so you can get a little sneak peek at it. Meanwhile, you can preview the book here!
Up and Down
ISBN: 978 0 00 72384 4
Audience: ages 2-6 yrs
The friends from Lost and Found do everything together in this sequel, including trying to figure out how to make the penguin’s dream of flight come true. The penguin really wants to do this himself, though, and one day, he sees something that might just make it happen, and off he goes. The boy looks everywhere for him, and finds him just in time to bring him back home, satisfied with having tried it.
The message about chasing a dream and discovering that you had
everything you needed is handled lightly, as all Jeffers’ points are, and the warmth of the friendship is immediately apparent, from the first page. The warm colours in this book echo this, and give the whole thing a sweet, cozy, feel, while retaining the signature style that made the first book so delightful. My only complaint is a small bit of book design that sets charcoal text on a black background, making one page hard to read. Otherwise, this may be one of the perfect picture books of last year.
The Incredible Book-Eating Boy
ISBN: 978 0 39 924749 1
Audience: ages 5-9 yrs
Henry loved books – to eat. And the more he ate, the more he knew, until somehow, things started to get a bit jumbled, and he had to rediscover what reading was all about.
The darker, sepia-drenched illustrations in this title play on vaudeville and old, musty books cleverly, adding a maturity to this book that makes its audience a little older than in Lost and Found.
This reads both as a brilliant little parable on information overload and the gap between knowing a fact and understanding for older readers, and as a funny story for younger ones, for Jeffers is at his sly best in the humour department here.
The Heart and the Bottle
ISBN: 978 0 00 718230 5
Audience: ages 4 and up
Last year’s The Heart and the Bottle is a beautiful, moving take on grief, healing, and the magic to be found in an open heart and mind. It centres around a young girl “whose head was filled with all the curiosities of the world,” until the day that her father ‘s chair is empty, and she protects her heart by locking it away, and with it, her sense of wonder. It is not until she meets a young girl, years later, that she is able to reclaim her heart and her joy and interest in the world again.
The illustrations in this title manages to mix together collage effect and the amazing sweeps of colour and expansive landscapes that I love to create a whole that is at once a retro-style charmer and a fresh and airy beauty. Again, this tale can be read at face value as a curious little story with younger children, while older readers may take away the deeper message.
Check here for a look around inside.
Want to bring some of this goodness home to your kids? How about winning some?
I have one copy of The Heart and the Bottle and one pop-up edition of The Incredible Book-Eating Boy to give away! Just leave a comment below with an author you have found delightfully unusual. Contest closes February 21st, so you have time to think of a good one…