Playing by the book

Reviews of kids' books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do

HAT WEEK: Sarah McIntyre, Celebrity Hat Stand

Posted on | October 31, 2014 | 2 Comments

When I first started planning hat week, I knew I wanted to invite the wonderful Sarah McIntyre, illustrator and writer of picture books and comics extraordinaire to take part. The creator of Vern and Lettuce, Princess Spaghetti and half of the all singing all dancing Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space team Sarah has serious form when it comes to hats. Her hats are book events are legendary. She has even been called a “celebrity hat stand”…

Thus it is with huge delight and a great sense of honour that I’ve a guest post today from Sarah McIntyre, all about her love of hats. It is time to doff mine and let Sarah take the floor…

“I daydream a lot. I love my job, but sometimes I wonder, what would I do if I wasn’t illustrating children’s books?

mcintyre_birdwig

I’ve contemplated taking various jobs, including:

  • a window dresser (I watched Mannequin too many times when I was a kid)
  • a medical illustrator (my biology teacher said I made good dissection drawings)
  • an archaeologist (I thought Indiana Jones was awesome)
  • a journalist (I tried it but found it too high-pressure)
  • a ship’s rigger (I interviewed for this job once but didn’t get it)
  • a shoemaker (I know exactly what kind of shoes I want and I can never find them)
  • a milliner

  • Okay, this last one. I’m not actually a hat maker, but funnily enough, my job has let me make little forays into this world of wearable sculpture. I don’t get very excited about the world of fashion; it’s mostly intended for skinny people and I’ve watched The Devil Wears Prada. I don’t understand all that stuff about stilettos and expensive handbags.

    I used to think I needed to wear slimming black and try to all but make myself disappear because I wasn’t a standard size, but south-east London has changed me. A large Afro-Caribbean population live in my neighbourhood and, let me tell you, a lot of those women don’t let a bit of WEIGHT stop them from looking absolutely fabulous. I adore their block-printed fabric designs. Here are some of my African-print dresses, from Sika Designs in Greenwich, and Esther Marfo in New Cross.

    mcintyre_african_dresses

    And the outfits on these Nigerian and Ghanaian ladies don’t stop with curve-enhancing dresses in bold patterns, their bright colours rise two or three feet up into the air with incredible head wraps. On a Sunday morning when people are going to church, the bus stop can look like a sea of giant fancy sweet wrappers. It’s glorious!

    Making books has given me lots of reasons to dress up, and if I’m doing a stage event, I can go as over-the-top as I want; my only limits are whether I can fit the outfit onto the train or into the airplane. Here’s a six-foot-tall wig made out of purple clingfilm:

    clingfilm

    In fact, I almost didn’t fit into my Oliver and the Seawigs book launch. I hadn’t counted having to pass through a glass door before ascending to the deck of the Golden Hinde ship. Here’s a photo of my editor helping me through. (Thank goodness for my dignity, I didn’t have to crawl.)

    doorway

    The other thing that has changed for me is that I used to think comfort was the most important thing in dressing. But there’s a certain amount of discomfort that’s worth it, because it’s so fun seeing people’s jaws drop in surprise. This alien cake hat, for the Cakes in Space launch, for instance. It was quite heavy and clopped me hard on the forehead whenever I jumped in the air (because one does jump in the air, in stage events). But when I’d squeeze the hidden valve and its mouth would open, I’d have a wonderful time watching people gape. Some kids would obsess over it, trying to figure out how it worked, or if it really was alive.

    mcintyre_cakehat

    My sculptor friend Eddie Smith helped me with both the giant Seawig and the Cake. He’s a Royal Academy sculptor and has done lots of Proper Art Stuff, but he’s loved doing something a bit different.

    For Jampires, I tried to find a Bakewell Tart fascinator on the Internet, and there were lots, but they were all too SMALL. So I made this one out of a sprinkler attachment from the pound shop, a children’s ball (also from the pound shop), a foam pizza base, the plastic lid from a Christmas pudding, some felt, lace, fabric and glitter.

    mcintyre_jampirehat

    My Summer Reading Challenge Medusa hat was also a pound shop marvel: a green pencil case, craft pipe cleaners, a yoghurt pot and a bit of painted foam. (I’m sure the Duchess of Cornwall wears very similar things herself.)

    mcintyre_camilla_reeve

    If you go on to my Hats Pinterest page, you can see lots more things I’ve worn! Some of them I’ve made, and some of them I’ve customised, from vintage hats I’ve found in second-hand shops. It doesn’t take much to make a quiet hat into a startling headpiece; just stick on some large feathers or a big bow, or a ship, or a giant octopus. Some day I may make a book exclusively about hats, but for now, go check out David Roberts‘ fab new picture book with Andrea Beaty, Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau, inspired by his favourite hat makers.
    madame_chapeau

    I do daydream about taking a year off to go study under someone such as Philip Treacy and make all sorts of wild headgear. But for now, I’ll be content with doing it as a job sideline… so much fun to be had!”

    *************

    So now you can see why I wanted Sarah to be part of my Hat Week extravaganza, can’t you! Do you have a favourite among Sarah’s hats?

    cakesinspace_philsarah

    Sarah McIntyre’s most recent books include Cakes in Space with Philip Reeve and Jampires with David O’Connell. Visit the book websites for fun activities!

    jampires_sarahdave

    Website & blog: jabberworks.co.uk
    Twitter: @jabberworks
    Hats Pinterest page: http://www.pinterest.com/mcintyre1000/my-hats/

    HAT WEEK: Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau and David Roberts’ previous life as a milliner

    Posted on | October 30, 2014 | 4 Comments

    What’s a life without love, even if that love is a bit wonky and not quite what you expected?

    1403988049Madame Chapeau, the latest creation from the finely paired team of Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, does her best to send little flights of joy and love out into the world, by making hats that perfectly match each of her clients. She’s imaginative, attentive and playful with what she creates, and her customers are delighted. However, poor Madame Chapeau lives alone. There clearly once was someone important in her life, but now, on her birthday she is left dining without close company.

    What makes it even harder to bear is that her most treasured hat has been lost en route to her solo birthday meal. Passers-by try to help by offering their own hats to Madame Chapeau, and although their kindness is appreciated. nothing is quite right.

    But then up steps a secret admirer, who has been watching Madame Chapeau for some time. A young girl, clearly fascinated by the hats Madame Chapeau creates, offers the milliner a little something she has been working on. It’s rather odd, but this gift has been made with much love and turns out to be the best sort of birthday present Mme Chapeau could have wished for. A new friendship is formed and – one suspects – a new hat maker begins her training.

    Detail from Happy Birthday, Madam Chapeau. Note the hat that Madame Chapeau is wearing and compare it with the hat in the photo below of David Roberts' mum.

    Detail from Happy Birthday, Madam Chapeau. Note the hat that Madame Chapeau is wearing and compare it with the hat in the photo below of David Roberts’ mum.

    This is a whimsical and charming book which celebrates creativity, generosity and thoughtfulness from start to finish. Beaty’s rhyming text tells a heart-warming tale, but Roberts’ detailed and exuberant illustrations steal the show. With lots of famous hats to spot (look out for Princess Beatrice’s hat, for example, or Charlie Chaplin’s Derby) and fabulous fashion, food and architectural details to pour over, this book rewards repeated readings. Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau is a joyous, life-affirming read and if that isn’t enough of a reason to seek it out, do read Maria Popova’s commentary on the subtle message this book has about diversity and cultural stereotypes.

    We brought Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau to life by customizing our own hats with pom-poms (these play an important role in the book).

    chapeau1

    Beanie type hats, plus some colourful craft pompoms make for some enjoyably silly headgear – perfect as winter approaches ;-)

    chapeau2

    chapeau3

    I wonder what David Roberts would make of our hats? I ask this because it turns out he was himself a milliner before he became an illustrator. From a young age he had an interest in fashion, making clothes for his sister and her dolls, before going on to study fashion design at college. From this, a special love and skill with hats grew – a love and eye that can clearly be seen in his Madame Chapeau illustrations. I asked David if he would share a little about his love of hats, how it developed and what he finds so enjoyable about making hats. Here’s what he had to say:-

    One of the first hats David Roberts made  - for The Clothes Show competition in 1993.

    One of the first hats David Roberts made – for The Clothes Show competition in 1993.

    “As a kid I was fascinated by Mrs Shilling, and the hats her son David made that she wore to Ascot. They were so theatrical that it would make the news! I loved how she wore these amazing and often bizarre creations with such style and elegance – even if the hat was ridiculous she never looked ridiculous in it.”

    David Shilling with his mother Gertrude Shilling. Photo: Sidney Harris

    #498836115 / gettyimages.com

    “So when I had the option to do a course in millinery while studying for a degree in fashion design at Manchester Polytechnic, I jumped at the chance, and from then on I was hooked.”

    David Roberts' sister in the hat he made her for her wedding day.

    David Roberts’ sister in the hat he made her for her wedding day.

    “I love the sculptural aspect of millinery; a hat can be so individual, so singular, a one off. It’s so exciting to have all your elements to create a hat, cloth, wire, glue, buckram, feathers, beads, tulle, net and just let something evolve in your hands. It can turn in to anything really – an abstract shape or something natural like a plant or a flower.”

    Stephen Jones, surrounded by some of his hat creations, London, circa 1985. Photo: Christopher Pillitz

    #106423234 / gettyimages.com

    “I worked for Stephen Jones for 5 years make his couture hats , where I learned so many skills. And although I loved making his imaginative creations, I stared to realise that I wanted to try my hand at illustrating children’s books – the other great passion in my life.”

    This hat is one David Roberts made for his partner Chris (modelling it here). David used this as one of the hats in Madame Chapeau's shop.

    This hat is one David Roberts made for his partner Chris (modelling it here). Do look out for it in Madame Chapeau’s shop!

    “I am glad I made the step in to illustration, but I do still love to get the wire and beads and feathers out to make a hat once in a while. Madame Chapeau came about when the author Andrea Beaty heard that I had once been a milliner: She wrote the text for me and sent it from Chicago in a hat box! I was utterly captivated by it and enjoyed illustrating it and indulging myself once more in the wonderful world of millinery.”

    This is the hat David Roberts gave to Madame Chapeau to wear. It is one David made for his mum to wear at his sister's wedding.

    This is the hat David Roberts gave to Madame Chapeau to wear. It is one David made for his mum to wear at his sister’s wedding.

    My enormous thanks to David for sharing some of his millinery background with us today. His passion for hats shines through in his gorgeous illustrations for Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau. Don’t take my word for it – go and find a copy to enjoy yourselves!

    HAT WEEK: Hooray for Hat! by Brian Won

    Posted on | October 29, 2014 | 4 Comments

    Elephant’s day doesn’t get off to a good start. He wakes up GRUMPY.

    When the doorbell rings, it only annoys him. When he thumps downstairs to see who it is, there is a mystery present waiting for him and this unexpected gift – a most spectacular hat – turns his day around and puts a great big smile on his face.

    Keen to share his good fortune Elephant visits his friends. They too have woken up out of sorts but Elephant knows a great way to spread his happiness: by sharing his present and giving each friend a fabulous hat to wear.

    hoorayHooray for Hat by Brian Won is a wonderfully up-beat and joyous ode to friendship, the good things that come from ‘paying it forward’ and teamwork. It perfectly captures the transformational magic of hats; a little bit of frivolity and exuberance bursting out of your head can indeed do wonders to how you feel!

    From the deftly humorous grumpy facial expressions in a range of animals, to the appealing candy colour palette beautifully set off against stark white pages, Hooray for Hat‘s illustrations and design are a delight. The dapper carnival procession of animals are sure to make young readers giggle and banish any blues, helping us remember how little acts of kindness in life can make all the difference. A treat, pure and simple!

    In response to Hooray for Hat we set up our own millinery studio, using old lampshades as bases for our hats (we were able to source lots of old lampshades from a local recycling centre).

    hoorayforhat5

    Lampshades, ribbon, paper, hot clue, sequins and a whole lot of imagination and craziness later we had our hats:

    hoorayforhat4

    hoorayforhat3

    As you can see, they made us feel very happy!

    hoorayforhat2

    Whilst making our hats we listened to:

  • I Wanna Hat with Cherries played by the Glenn Miller Orchestra
  • Top Hat Ramble by Big Country Bluegrass – great for dancing to, but the only free recording I can find on YouTube isn’t great quality.
  • The Tinfoil Hat made both girls giggle


  • Other activities which would go well alongside reading Hooray for Hat include:

  • Playing with the activity sheet Brian Won has created to go with his book. You can download it from here and it includes bunting, different paper hats to make and colouring in.
  • Checking out this Pinterest board with lots of hats kids can make themselves. I like the tissue paper hats and the peacock hat.
  • Choosing to make and deliver a surprise gift for someone, just because…

  • Are you a hat person? If so, I’d love to hear about your favourite hat!

    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of Hooray for Hat from the publisher.

    keep looking »
  • Coming soon – new adventures

  • Categories