Children’s books and art have a lot in common. Not just because the majority of children’s books are highly illustrated and created by artists, but because the art and language work together to create a kind of theatre and immerse children in the world of the book. When they are immersed in this new world they are encouraged to look and question, challenge and learn. This process helps them find out about themselves and the world around them, to think about their place in it and who they may become. That is what the best children’s books, the best theatre and the best art give to children.
This Saturday we went to the new Hauser and Wirth gallery in Bruton, Somerset. Mollie’s Grandparents live in Bruton and we are hugely lucky to have such an amazing, inspiring and child friendly place right on their doorstep. Mollie took part in their first Family Saturday; a child focused tour of their Phyllida Barlow sculpture exhibition, followed by a creative session where the children made their own recycled art inspired by what they’d seen.
Mollie particularly liked the room filled with fabric pom-poms of different sizes:
And the art that celebrates the farmland where the gallery is situated.
It was a hugely immersive and interactive exhibition that made us think about why and how art is created. Mollie was inspired. She came home and experimented with different materials and tried out some of the techniques she had learnt. She recycled plastic bottles into skittles and made her own large scale art work on cardboard.
I am thrilled that Mollie will grow up with access to world class art like this just ten minutes walk away from her grandparents’ house. And of course… access to a gallery bookshop! The shop has a whole stand devoted to children’s books and art materials. Mollie and I were in our element! I stroked some beautiful looking Tate Publishing books, flicked through some wonderfully inventive Herve Tullet books and smiled at Lydia Crook’s Paper Play, which we have and love -and is published by my local Ivy Press. I have added a fair few books to my wishlist, particularly the delicious looking Art in a Box- a keepsake box with twenty A5 cards each depicting a work of art from Tate’s collection, with related art activities for children on the back. Want!
But this trip was all about Mollie so she got to choose the books. And she chose two corkers.
The joy for me is that these books (and Paper Play, the Herve Tullets and Art in a Box) all echo our experience of the gallery. They are interactive and immersive and they have made us look carefully and think again about what we have seen and thought we knew. That, I think, is what art and creativity is all about- interaction, challenge, inspiration, making us think and feel and question who we are and what we know. The best children’s books do this seemingly without effort. These books certainly made us look at the format of children’s books anew.
In The Forest by Anouck Boisrobert and Louis Rigaud (Tate Publishing) is a delicious pop-up book that tells the story of a sloth living in the forest. Huge machines come to destroy the forest, gradually getting closer and closer to the sloth’s tree. The reader is invited to hunt for the sloth in every pop up scene and encourage him to run for safety. The machines destroy the forest and the sloth is gone. But then a man comes. He misses the forest and plants some seeds.
Regrowth. Regeneration. Reappearance of the sloth.
In the Forest is a book that begs for interaction. The pop ups are filled with animals to hunt for and identify. The machines destroy a further section of forest with each page turn.
Mollie played with the seed page for ages; growing the shoots and then shrinking them down again, holding the book to the sun and raining on the shoots with her fingers and growing them back up. She was chatting away narrating her own part of the story. She was truly immersed in the world of the book.
There’s so much to do and love in this book. The story delivers an important ecological message and discussion point and the format makes the book hugely interactive. A beautiful combination.
Dot to Dot by Malcolm Cossons and Neil Stevens (Thames & Hudson) is a flip-over book about a little girl called Dot and her Grandma, also called Dot. They share a birthday and more than anything they want to spend their special day together. But Dot lives in London and Grandma lives in New York. Each side of the book tells a Dot’s story with the culmination double page spread in the centre of the book describing the meeting of the characters as the two stories combine.
Mollie was fascinated and inspired by the format of this book. You know that look of innocent wonder and fascination that flashes across children’s faces when they find out something new? That was her face as she played with this book. She’s come across flip over books before, her favourite being Sue Hendra’s Upsy Down Town where the book is turned upside down halfway through. But Dot to Dot uses the format perfectly, the centre spread cementing the characters, the story, and the reading experience.
These books have encouraged Mollie to look at the traditional book format and storytelling experience from a fresh perspective and have opened her eyes to new possibilities. Much as the Barlow exhibition inspired her to look at materials in her home through an artist’s eyes. She has been intrigued, immersed and inspired. New possibilities have been opened for her.
And that is what art, literature, creativity and childhood is all about.