Back at the start of the year a début picture book caught my eye: Little One by Jo Weaver (@JoWeaver6) is a gentle and touching exploration of parent-child love as a young one begins to explore the world.
With beautifully textured charcoal drawings (you can see a gallery on the Guardian website), Weaver introduces us to Big Bear and her new cub as spring arrives and they step out of their den to discover what the year ahead holds for them. Together they make discoveries and learn how to play, how to make friends and how to live life in the world around them. It’s a quiet, soothing and reassuring read with expressive illustrations, perfect for snuggling up together with your very own little one at bedtime.
To find out a little bit more about Jo, I asked her to share her eight ‘desert island’ books, books she especially loves, books which have been pivotal in her path to becoming a published illustrator, and today I’m delighted to share the books and Jo’s comments on them with you.
1. Winnie-the-Pooh by AA Milne and EH Shepherd
My father read to me every night throughout my childhood and a particular favourite of ours was the wonderful Winnie-the-Pooh. I learned to draw by copying Shepherd’s magical watercolour drawings and was forever adopting certain Pooh-isms in my language which have stayed with me to this day.
2. East of the Sun, West of the Moon, nordic tales illustrated by Kay Neilsen
My grandmother had a round stained glass window in her study where we would sit together and pour over Kay Neilsen’s exquisite illustrations in her beautiful old copy of East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Each illustration was a hand printed plate stuck into the book. Behind a leaf of protective paper, silvery long-haired princesses rode through the night on elegant polar bears and languished under willow trees with their Nordic princes. I barely remember the stories but the artwork and how precious it seemed, made a huge impression on me. My grandmother later gave me her copy of the book which I treasure.
3. The Bear that Wasn’t by Frank Tashlin
This was another of my father’s favourites. It’s a 1940s tale about a bear who wakes from hibernation to find a factory has been built over the top of his cave. He gets put to work as a factory worker and told so many times that he is just “a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat” that he starts to question whether he isn’t a bear after all. The illustration and text are poetic, funny and poignant in equal measure. My tattered old copy was illustrated with simple black and white line. It has had a huge influence on me to the extent that my original title for my first book, “Little One”, was “The Bear That Was”!
4. Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
I completely fell in love with the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes in my early teens. I used to save up my pocket money to buy the anthology books. I still adore them to this day – they are a true celebration of childhood imagination, laugh out loud funny, often very moving and are the most magnificent philosophical commentary on humanity and the modern world. Watterson’s illustrated characters are busting with expression – I learned a great deal about character development from studying his artwork.
5. Augustus and His Smile by Catherine Rayner
This book came to me when I was in my mid twenties, working as a support worker. I was doodling in my spare time and producing the odd illustration but nothing serious. I had always wanted to develop my artwork into something more but I hadn’t considered turning my hand to picture-books before. Discovering this book was something of a penny-dropping moment! I love all of Catherine Rayner’s artwork and her ability in capturing the character and movement of animals, but Augustus in particular inspired me to retrain as a picture-book illustrator. The simple story celebrates the beauty of the world and the joy we can experience in it if only we can allow ourselves to see it. It’s the kind of story that I wanted to write myself and the artwork was what I aspired to. Around this time, my brother picked up a flyer for a local evening class in children’s book illustration which is where I took my first steps towards becoming an illustrator.
6. A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay
Jim Kay was a guest lecturer at the Cambridge School of Art when I was studying for my MA there. His artwork for this book absolutely blew me away and prompted me to start exploring with black and white in my own work (previously I had only been working in colour). I admire his approach to his work enormously – he doesn’t concern himself with what book illustration SHOULD be and focuses instead on trusting where his own creativity takes him. Many of the textures in the artwork for A Monster Calls were created through printing found objects such as his old breadboard. The result is spectacular – haunting, beautiful and uniquely atmospheric illustration which compliments Patrick Ness’ extraordinary text perfectly.
7. The Arrival by Shaun Tan
A wordless, monochrome, graphic novel featuring an immigrant’s life in an imaginary world. Shaun Tan was brought to my attention during my MA and fast became another idol of mine for his exquisite draftsmanship and commitment to his own vision. The Arrival is an example of truly bold and important storytelling and Tan’s ability to develop such a rich imaginary world without a single word is breathtaking. It took him years to complete – his vision, commitment and skill bowl me over and always give me something to aspire to.
8. The House Held Up By Trees, By Ted Kooser, illustrated by Jon Klassen
This is a recent discovery for me. A lyrical tale about a house in disrepair gradually being reclaimed by the trees as they grow up around it. Jon Klassen’s illustrations are deeply atmospheric, evoking summery days in the woodland. His colour palate is soft and natural and his use of space and perspective feel almost filmic to me. Its extremely effective. I find the book as a whole, with its contemplative mood, and poetic prose, very moving.