Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Storm Whale Trifecta

My wonderful friend Mr. Colby Sharp, the Nerdy Book Club, and I are celebrating one of the best picture books of the year: Benji Davies' The Storm Whale. Have you read it? Isn't it stunning? You plan on buying many copies for your family and friends, right? My niece is getting a copy for Christmas. Did you see the whale Benji's mom knitted? It is a-d-o-r-a-b-l-e! 


Hi, Benji! I bet you have rituals before you read, illustrate, or write a picture book. Before I read a picture book for the first time, I must: 
  1. Examine the front cover illustration, the back cover illustration, and the spine.
  2. Take the cover off to see if there is a surprise on the case.
  3. Read the bio on the back jacket flap.
  4. Smell the paper.
I give The Storm Whale’s front cover illustration, back cover illustration, and spine 5 stars. 

I award the surprise under the case and the smell of the paper 5 stars. 

Your bio earns 5 stars, too. 

So, tell us about your rituals… 

Benji Davies: Thank you! I'm so pleased you like it.
First of all my eyes widen slightly... and then I pick up the book, scan the cover admiringly, read the title and feel the surface texture of the paper, tilt it in the light... like you, I then flip it over and do the same on the back paying attention to the smaller details. Jackets aren't as common on picture books in the UK, so this less of a concern. Next I open it and have a good look at the endpapers at the front (like in The Storm Whale, the story sometimes starts here) and then, full of expectation, I begin reading. 
The writing and illustrating rituals are a little harder to pin down. There is a lot of pacing and head scratching, looking out of windows, making cups of tea, chin rubbing, checking twitter. In no particular order.


Illustration/Photo Credit: Benji Davies 

This quotation appears on the title page: 

“The wonder of the world,
The beauty and the power,
The shapes of things,
Their colours, light, and shades—
These I saw.
Look ye also while life lasts.” 
-Anonymous 

Please share why you included this quotation. 

Firstly, I think its beautiful and poetic. I didn't write the words but they really speak to me. It expresses something that I believe is true of what drives me to draw and record the world around me in my writing and illustration, the act of looking at the natural world in detail and handing down a message to the reader. I want them to see things how I do. Also, the idea of things coming to pass, which I find very life affirming - there is a great strength in this idea and the way it has been written. It takes my breath away.

My favourite book when I was about eight years old was called The Little Grey Men by BB, about the three last gnomes in England and their quest to find their lost brother. The author was an artist and writer called Denys Watkins Pitchford. He used the “BB” nom de plume when he wrote for children. His father had copied this quote from a tombstone in the north of England, and BB then used it as a quote in the front of many of his books, which is how I found it.
So it has lots of relevance and connections for me, which is why I chose to use it over a personal dedication.


Illustration/Photo Credit: Benji Davies 

Noi and his dad have six cats. They do not have names in the story, but did you name them in your head? Do you have any pets? 

I don't have pets. If I didn't live in London, I'd love to have some chickens and a couple of pigs.
I did name a couple of the cats, although long after I’d written the book, to help decipher them from one another to somebody who asked whether there really were six. 

Heres roughly what I said. I hope it helps:

There are 3 black cats, one ginger and one grey tabby, and one white with black ears and spots. One of the black cats has white front paws - but in the main exterior house image he is the one inside the house framed in the window. He tends to hang out there in the morning, waiting for Noi to serve up his milk breakfast - and of course his paws are hidden from view behind the window frame. The other two pure black cats are the older of the gang and do more sleeping, under the house, in the chair or on the rug by the fire. They find their own breakfast elsewhere.

The cat asleep on the shed roof (lets call him Smokey) is a lazy old cat and doesn’t move from one spread to the next. The cat on the high roof in the wide vista of the beach spread, he can be Shadow, is the cat who was asleep under the steps on the previous spread. He has gone for a walk and a stretch up on the roof before disappearing into the sand dunes for the morning.


Illustration/Photo Credit: Benji Davies 
If we visited your studio, what would we see? 

You would find a very neat narrow room, with two desks by the window, one for my computer, one for drawing and painting. All the pencils and pens and brushes would be in their pots lined up at the back of the desk. There would be no half-drunk cups of tea, no inky glasses of water used to wash brushes in an emergency, and all the papers would be squarely stacked and put away in the plan chest. All the sketchbooks would be arranged on the shelf and you would walk easily into the room, not tripping over boxes of foreign editions sent to me by publishers, yet to find a home. My year-end accounts would be done and filed, no receipts would lie scattered about the room.

If you let me know you were coming.


Please finish these sentence starters:

Picture books are worlds you can escape into.

Reading is the most important thing you can learn to do.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me where I keep the stroopwafels.

Thank you, Benji! 


Please head over to the Nerdy Book Club's blog to learn how The Storm Whale came to be. 


Visit Colby Sharp's blog to read ten things he loves about The Storm Whale


Borrow The Storm Whale from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 

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