Described by the Wall Street Journal as ‘A chatty discussion of art and its meanings, both commercial and cultural,’ the idea for this book evolved from many visits to art galleries and museums, either in the company of children or surrounded by them, and hearing their questions. (Actually, hearing lots of grown-ups’ questions too). The only real problem in planning the book was choosing which questions to leave out. Well, and choosing what artwork to include and what the illustrations should depict. So more than most children’s art books I’ve written, this was a real case of teamwork, from the sensitive editor, to the resourceful picture researcher and the talented illustrator and designer.
Overall, the book is lively and I hope, informative, asking and answering all sorts of tricky questions about what makes art art. It’s meant to encourage readers to ask more questions and to look more closely at art wherever they may see it. Different types of art from different periods are discussed, and the range is broad and hopefully often unexpected. It explores ideas such as whether or not still life is boring, why contemporary art is often weird, how and why art movements develop, whether you need to be clever to understand art, and of course, why art is always full of naked people.
This is part of a teacher’s independent review of the book:
‘The range of works chosen are well-considered and engaging. The title question was enough to get my class reaching for this book and, having caught their attention, kept it. They found some of the works of art funny, some odd, some beautiful; some they liked and some they didn’t; but what they did do was ask questions and engage with the works the book explores. Perfect for those interested in art…[it]…is also a great starting point for those who know little about the subject. A humorous look at the world of art, it makes a welcome addition to the class or school library!’
Why is Art Full of Naked People? has so far won: Gold Award for Made for Mums; FILAF Best Young People’s Art Book; and Vlag en Wimpel Honourable Mention.
Why is Art Full of Naked People? by Susie Hodge is published by Thames and Hudson Ltd.
There is a future for non-fiction – and it can be a profitable, challenging and interesting genre. But, it seems, mainly in the United States rather than this side of the Atlantic.
That was Nibweb member Lionel Bender’s message to the Society of Authors’s Educational Writers Group Spring Seminar on 6 May. (See ‘Meet us’ for more about Lionel.) He advised members to ‘try to get into the US market’ – where more money is invested in books and writers, and where more value is placed on non-fiction and non-fiction authors.
Lionel believes that an important reason for this is the Common Core State Standards Initiative, adopted by many states. This stipulates that younger children’s reading should be 50 per cent non-fiction, rising to 75 per cent to older students. The demand this creates is met by publishers with a whole range of different forms of non-fiction – including magazines, picture books, ‘chapter books’, readers and much more. The result is a greater availability and appreciation of non-fiction and non-fiction writers in the US.
By contrast, the National Curriculum in the UK gives little attention to non-fiction, while the decline in school and public libraries has led to fewer non-fiction books being published. A downward pressure on print-runs results in less money to spend on illustration and on authors – making it harder to create innovative, exciting and interesting books.
Lionel also pointed out that the media rarely covers children’s non-fiction, and with such a low profile, there is little demand for it, meaning that few bookshops, or even wholesalers, handle it. In this way, a downward drift continues.
Is it time for a re-think of children’s non-fiction? If it can be exciting and popular in the US, can’t it be enlivened in the UK?
Several Nibweb members attended the 2017 London Book Fair, meeting up with publishers and each other, and looking out for new ideas and opportunities. Several have offered pictures – see above and below. The LBF blog said ‘Day two of #LBF17 was once again a hive of activity. As industry professionals filled the halls of this global marketplace for rights negotiation and the sale and distribution of content across print, audio, TV, film and digital channels.’
Nibwebbers meeting up at the end of that very Day 2 (Wednesday) add: ‘Escaping from all that action, a select gathering of said professionals took refuge in the upper regions, near the end of the day.
‘And, below, here we are: (L toR) Brenda Williams, looking cheerful, Phil Steele busy, Lionel Bender relaxed, and Brian Williams reflective (while giving advice to the photographer on how to work the camera – a woman from the SoA stand kindly took the photo).’
When the owner of Splosh Art Gallery calls in sick, it’s up to a scrawny, bespectacled boy (looking a bit like a young Andy Warhol) and readers (age range 7-10) to prepare for an exhibition in time for the annual gallery competition. So readers are on a quest to make the judges believe that the gallery deserves to win the prestigious competition. Readers will find out about and prove that they know Munch from Magritte, Pollock from Picasso, Kandinsky from Klee and more. They will search for a counterfeit painting, spot an odd one out, decide what’s ‘real’ art and more. Meanwhile, they almost constantly have to outwit devious Don (who has an uncanny resemblance to Salvador Dalí) as he tries to trip them up.
Rather than progressing through the book chronologically, author Susie Hodge leads readers on with questions, riddles and puzzles, and depending on their answers, progress in different directions. Clues are dotted along the way and wrong turns are redirected. So the book is a fun game as well as a way of learning about modern art; a novel introduction to dozens of influential artists.
It was a fun book to write and plan – with great designer, illustrator and editor who all helped to make sense of the non-chronological confusion where necessary. More to follow in the series.
Modern Art Mayhem by Susie Hodge, published by QED
Nibweb writers are published in a vast number of countries, and in many different languages – it’s something we’re especially proud of. We sometimes make a point of looking out for our work in foreign bookshops. Member Clare Hibbert found these books by fellow-member, Cath Senker, in Italy:
As usual, this was at the House of Commons (very occasionally, it’s in the Lords) and, this year, doubled with the new Ruth Rendell Award for Services to Literacy. The event was on 6 December.
The winner of the Educational Writers Award was This Is Not a Maths Book by Anna Weltman, illustrated by Edward Cheverton and Ivan Hissey, published by Ivy Kids. The judges said of it that it’s ‘just not maths as you thought you knew it …it makes you itch to take up a pencil and get started on the designs … it taught us more about [maths and art] than we’ve learned in aeons!’
Runners up were: The School of Art by Teal Triggs and illustrated by Daniel Frost, published by Wide Eyed Editions; and The Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary by David and Ben Crystal, illustrated by Kate Bellamy, published by Oxford University Press.
The Ruth Rendell Ward winner was Andy McNab, who sent a video explaining how as a once-reluctant reader, now turned best-selling writer, he has worked to encourage young people to overcome struggles with reading and learn to enjoy it.
An interesting footnote is that two of the winning publishers – Ivy Kids and Wide Eyed Editions – are part of the Quarto group, though they began as small independents. And both books are distinctly one-off and unorthodox. Can this mean that the straitjacket of illustrated non-fiction in series is now a little looser than it used to be?
Nibweb members are likely to be keen to oblige if imagination, originality and idiosyncrasy are high on the agenda in future!
The English Buildings blog is an online diary of meetings with the remarkable buildings that Philip Wilkinson sees on his travels around the country. It began in 2007 as a continuation of Philip’s The English Buildings Book, which was first published by English Heritage in 2006. The blog has since taken on a life of its own, with short pieces on all kinds of buildings, from the very large (big churches and country houses) to the very small (well houses, gazebos, even the occasional public lavatory!). The emphasis is usually on the unfamiliar – on structures that aren’t much covered in books or online – and all the text and nearly all the photographs are by Philip himself.
Asked at the Awards Ceremony how he felt about winning for a second time, he replied, ‘Honoured, totally unprepared, and amazed!’ – but the supply of interesting English architecture seems almost endless, so he continues blogging in his dazed and grateful state.