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Five Irish Picks for St. Patrick's Day March 15 2018

Oscar Wilde: The Happy Prince, illustrated by Maisie Paradise Shearring

We're lucky to be a shop based in Ireland, a country with so many great stories and artists, and so many people who care about quality storytelling! With St. Patrick's Day coming up this weekend, we thought we'd share some of our favourite Irish themed books and gifts; from classic Irish stories to modern Dublin design. Here are five of our favourites:

Fog Island

Did you know that Tomi Ungerer, the iconic Alsatian creator of Moon Man, Otto and many more brilliant books, is an adopted Irishman? Ungerer moved to Ireland in the early seventies and still lives here with his wife and family. Fog Island is the author's ode to Ireland. It tells the story of Finn and Cara, a brother and sister who take their currach out to a mysterious island one foggy day. There they meet the mysterious Fog Man, who shows them how he makes the fog hang over the Atlantic!

Fog Island by Tomi Ungerer

Fog Island depicts rural Ireland in beautiful hand drawn illustrations, which capture the Irish light, waves and weather. Ungerer's dedication page reads, "I dedicate this book to Ireland and to all the wonderful people who welcomed us here". Aww. 


Chris Haughton

Chris Haughton is one of our favourite contemporary illustrators, and he was born and reared right here in Dublin! He now lives in London, and his colourful shapes and funny stories are endlessly popular with both children and adults.
We stock all of his picture books; Shh! We Have a Plan, Oh No,George!, A Bit Lost and his most recent title Goodnight Everyone.

Oh No George by Chris Haughton

Oh No, George might be our favourite of his books, featuring a dog who wants to be good but fails spectacularly. Last year we were delighted when Chris Haughton, and George himself, popped in to visit the shop on a trip home. Just look at our happy faces!

Chris Haughton at Tales for Tadpoles in Dublin

We're pleased to report that George the dog is as humble as they come, and has not let the bestselling fame go to his head. You can find out more about Chris Haughton's work in our "Illustrator of the Month" feature, here


P. J. Lynch

Amy Hest: When Jessie Came Across the Sea, illustrated by P.J. Lynch

P.J. Lynch is Ireland’s current Laureate na nÓg, he creates beautiful illustrations in a traditional and naturalistic style. Lynch has been illustrating both classic and contemporary stories by a range of authors for years.

P.J. Lynch: The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower

The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower and When Jessie Came Across the Sea, are two stories of emigrating to America, just as generations of Irish people have done. The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower is Lynch's first book as both illustrator and author. 

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde: Stories For Children, illustrated by P.J. Lynch

Oscar Wilde is one of the best known Irish writers. Like all true geniuses, he once turned his hand to entertaining that most discerning of audiences, children! We love this collection of Oscar Wilde’s children’s stories illustrated by P.J. Lynch. People often ask us to send this book as a gift to their family and friends overseas. It's a lovely a momento of Wilde’s home city of Dublin, and Lynch's illustrations in this edition really make the stories sing. 

Oscar Wilde: The Happy Prince, adapted by Maisie Paradise Shearring

If you like something a bit different, this modern adaptation of one of Wilde’s best known children’s stories, The Happy Prince, by Maisie Paradise Shearring is a great choice. Her unusual illustrations breathe new life into Wilde's story, and this book is a great way to introduce Oscar Wilde to young children. 

Irish design

Dublin is full of brilliant designers and makers, who can always put a new spin on even the best known stories. Keelin Murray, a.k.a. Murraymaker, is a local textile designer who makes our wonderful Roald Dahl and Peter Rabbit cushions.

Murraymaker Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cushion     

Shortly after opening Tales for Tadpoles we asked Dublin based design studio UNIT to reinterpret fairy tales and classic children’s books, they result was a range of amazing, symbolic artworks that our customers always notice and admire.

Seeing Red by UNIT, for Tales for Tadpoles

We hope all of our customers in Ireland and abroad have a wonderful St. Patrick's Day. Thank you for supporting a small Irish business! 

Browse our shop for more illustration focused gifts and books

 


Too Much Too Soon? Dark Themes in Children's Books August 16 2017

Dark Themes in Children's Books

Illustration by Kaatje Vermeire from Maia and What Matters

We believe that children’s books have a special importance in teaching people about values, imagination and the world in general from a very young age. But should that education include the darker side of life, or should children be sheltered from life’s unpleasantness as far as possible?

Grimm & grimmer

Since stories for children have been in existence they have functioned as warnings and behavioural codes for children. The Brothers Grimm Fairytales have become part of our psyche without us even realising, everyone knows the meaning of a Big Bad Wolf.  Stripped back to their core, fairytales are just lessons for life: don’t talk to strangers (Little Red Riding Hood), don’t stray too far from home (Hansel and Gretel), and things are not always as they seem (The Princess and the Frog).

The original Grimms stories didn’t hold back when getting these messages across, some of the original tales are downright gory. Cinderella’s ugly sisters hack parts of their feet off to fit into the glass slipper and Red Riding Hood’s huntsman cuts the sleeping wolf’s belly open to find her grandmother still alive inside!

These stories have since been softened up and Disney-fied, with most people now knowing them in much fluffier forms. But what is still capturing the imaginations of artists and writers generations later is their dark edge, the way they touch on the less talked about sides of life. Stories can sometimes be the only place where we can freely explore difficult subjects, especially when we are children.

Seeing Red by UNIT design

This stencil artwork by UNIT. design studio captures the ambiguity and threat of the Red Riding Hood story. Read our earlier blog all about how UNIT. create their artwork here

Play-pretend and growing up

Books for children have a vital function not only in teaching them about the world, but also in allowing them to explore emotions such as fear and sadness, in a safe way. For a lot of children, giggling and cowering from an adult reading in the voice of the Big Bad Wolf is how they learn to act out fear for the first time. A lot of children enjoy scary stories in the same way adults enjoy rollercoasters and horror films. They present a chance to experience the full range of human emotion, without having to be in it for real. For children, learning what it is to be frightened within a make-believe context can help them process an emotion that they will inevitably face for real sooner or later in life.

Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf by golden age illustrator Arthur Rackham.

Our Illustrator of the Month blog series has touched on some of the best children’s authors, and what these authors all have in common is the fact that they don’t talk down to children. Instead, the best among them have a special ability to get in touch with the child’s psyche. Great children’s writers remember that children have a unique view on the world which is all too easy for grownups to forget. Learning about the absurdities of the adult world can be immensely confusing for children, when we consider that adults lie out of politeness, they accept things that are totally unfair, and they spend much of their time doing things they don’t enjoy. The best children’s books delight in this absurdity and create a world where the author and the child reader are in on it together. Think of the dedication preceding Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince: “I ask children to forgive me in dedicating this book to a grown up” and the exasperation in its first pages, “Grown ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to explain it to them again and again”.

The Little Prince (hardback)

Morality 

Working at Tales for Tadpoles gives us an insight into what children really like to read, and two books we’ve been told children love are This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen and The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer. Looking at what these books have in common, it may be their moral ambiguity that children delight in. In This Is Not My Hat, a flustered little fish tells us he has stolen a hat, and even though he knows that is wrong, he is going to keep it anyway. Adults tend to let out a guffaw of shock when they read the ending, as it not so subtly implies that the hat-stealing fish we have been rooting for all along has met a sticky end. But children love being let in on a secret from the adult world: sometimes good fish make bad decisions. And sometimes bad things happen to good fish.

This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

Find out more about Jon Klassen's work here.

The Three Robbers is another story in which the difference between good and evil is less clear than in more conventional children’s books. Three highwaymen hold up a carriage with a little orphan girl inside, and steal her away to a better life. They use their stolen gold to build a house for all mistreated children to live in. But does this make the fact that they’ve stolen the gold okay? The question is left unanswered.  For children, who are always being told what is what, it’s exciting to get to decide this one for themselves.

The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer

 

Reality in fiction

In an article on dark subjects in children's books for The Guardian, young adult fiction writer Rebecca Westcott had this to say: “Children live in families; they are surrounded by adults with all their adult problems…Life happens and they are a part of that. Their books need to reflect what they hear, what they see. They need to recognise their situations in a book”.

It is natural for parents to want to protect their children from what’s going on in the world. But children are also citizens of the world, and older children who are aware of life’s cruelty need books to help them process it. In A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay, a young boy deals with his mother’s cancer through talking it out with a monster who visits him nightly. Jim Kay’s illustrations create an atmosphere of foreboding that anyone who has been touched by illness can recognise and appreciate, and this book bridges childhood and adulthood by representing a loved one’s illness in a child’s terms; a monster hiding in the dark.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and Jim Kay

Often in children’s books, illustrations help to fill the gaps when not everything can be expressed in words. Michael Rosen’s Sad Book is an excellent example of the importance of interplay between word and image when dealing with difficult subject matter. This book explores grief and depression in an accessible way, with Quentin Blake’s illustrations alternately lightening the mood and reinforcing the sadness of the text. The image below is among the most evocative illustrations in the book:  the dearth that a loved one leaves after their death is explained simply through a blank space.

 Michael Rosen's Sad Book

For children who have experienced the death of someone close to them, this is a straightforward visual representation of death itself, and of how it feels. Someone was there, and now they’re not. There is simply an empty space.

Maia and What Matters is another book that uses illustration to explore family situations that are hard to discuss in words. Maia’s grandmother’s loss of speech after a stroke is represented by illustrator Kaatje Vermeire in an image of Maia and her grandmother out to sea, perched on the edge of a boat. The water swells around them, isolating them, while a squirrel struggles against the swell, trying to reach out a phone to the boat. In Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling, research interviews show even the youngest children to be very adept at picking up visual metaphors. Where language fails small children, they express themselves in pictures, and this allows them to read images in a way that many adults lose. Trying to explain loss of speech to a young child in words may seem insurmountable, but a lot of children will associate the idea of someone holding out a phone with a memory of talking to their grandparents. Children can read the image and realise that the phone being lost at sea means that Maia can't speak with her grandmother anymore.  Visual cues that adults might miss are honed in on by children, and in this way illustrations can open up a discussion.

Maia and What Matters

Not just for children

As all wise grown-ups know, children’s books are not just for children. And illustrations can also help adults process difficult emotions. One of our most popular books with adults in the shop has been The Big Question, in which a committee of animals ask the question “How do you know when you love someone?”. There are a range of different answers, but they all leave the chairperson, a small ant, feeling lonely. If any book tried to manage this same story in passages of text, it would feel heavy handed, but the picture book format leaves space for us to feel things without having to process them consciously.

Reading children’s books later in life also links us back to our own childhood. The journalist Bruce Handy has written extensively on the subject of enjoying children’s books as an adult, and wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he “really hadn’t expected to be turned into an emotional puddle by Winnie the Pooh”. He spoke of reading the Pooh books to his own children, and the new layers of meaning he could come to appreciate. He was particularly moved by the passage at the end of The House at Pooh Corner where Christopher Robin struggles to explain to Pooh that he might not be around so much anymore…because he is not going to be a child forever. Tissue, anyone? 

Winnie the Pooh print by E.H. Shepard

Educating the next generation

As children’s books are written by adults, there are certainly always elements of them that we can only understand when we have grown up and seen what the world is like. But the likes of children’s authors Tomi Ungerer and Maurice Sendak would argue that even sheltered, happy children should be exposed to the adult world, including things like war, violence and injustice through books. Tomi Ungerer writes in the treasury of his work that “children should be exposed to what war is like as early as possible. If you don’t share stories like this, how are you going to bring awareness?”. For Ungerer,  books are an important tool to teach young people about prejudice and injustice so that they can go into life wanting to improve the world. (For more on Tomi Ungerer and his unique outlooks and experiences, see our previous blog on his work).

Otto by Tomi Ungerer

A little boy says goodbye to his soldier father in Tomi Ungerer's Otto

For Ungerer’s friend Maurice Sendak, children’s books also have an important function. Sendak had a difficult childhood and felt alienated from the happy-clappy world of conventional children’s books. In the 1990s he approached Tony Kushner to adapt Brundibar, a Czech opera, into a picture book. The resulting book functions on two levels, it is a colourful tale of working together to defeat unfairness, full of rhyme and song. But its historical background can help parents teach children about history. The opera this book is based on was performed by the children of Terezin, a Nazi concentration camp, in order to fool Red Cross inspector into thinking camp conditions were acceptable. Maurice Sendak’s childhood was affected by the death of many family members during the Holocaust, and today Walker Books donates a portion of proceeds from the book to the Holocaust Educational Trust.

Brundibar by Tony Kushner and Maurice Sendak

Children inhabit a world of imagination, and that’s what makes childhood such a unique and special time. But whether we like to acknowledge it or not they also live in the real world, an adult world with all its contradictions and questions. Children’s books can help build a bridge between this world of play and imagination and the darker side of human life. The best books for children don’t talk down to children, but understand their natural curiosity about all aspects of life, even the unpalatable ones. And even when we grow into adulthood, children’s books can help us process things about this world that are hard to understand.

 View our full hand-picked range of books here

 

 

 

 


For Our First Birthday: A Look At Childhood Through the Ages July 19 2017

It’s our birthday! Our Drury Street store was one year old last week and we have celebrated by giving out gifts in our massive sale and our social media competitions! 

Tales for Tadpoles Drury Street

To celebrate our first year, we’ve been thinking about one year olds through the ages; how they were raised and most importantly what they read! We’ve picked out some of the best children’s books published in every decade from the 1920s up to now, and taken a look at some of the popular parenting advice of their time.

 

Childhood in the 1920s

One year olds in the 1920s were an unfortunate bunch if their parents followed the popular parenting advice of the day, which ranged from touching the baby as little as possible to having it spend as much time outdoors as possible. Robert and Mary were the most popular names for babies, so while sitting alone on the lawn all day, little Mary or Robert may have found some comfort in the great picture books published in that decade, which included The Velveteen Rabbit and Clever Bill, both illustrated by William Nicholson.

Baby 1920s   The velveteen rabbit

And who could forget the beloved Pooh! The first Winnie the Pooh collection of stories was published in 1926, so perhaps these 1920's parents may have read it to their little ones out the kitchen window, while keeping a safe distance of course. 

Winnie the Pooh E.H. Shepard print

 

1930s

1930s baby cage

In the 1920s the emphasis on the need for fresh air and sunshine for babies persisted from the previous decade, and led to parents in high rise tenement blocks in places like London and the U.S. installing wire "baby cages" on their windows so that their toddlers could spend enough time outdoors! The '30s also saw the introduction from Vienna of a theory called “democratic parenting”, a method of kind but firm childrearing that aimed to treat children with more equality to adults than was common in that era.

Among the most popular baby names in the 1930s were Margaret and John, and these babies were treated to the adventures of Babar the Elephant, the popular series of books about King Babar and his wife Celeste. A.A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh, said “If you love elephants you will love Babar and Celeste. If you have never loved elephants you will love them now".

 

Babar the Elephant

1940s

1940s ad baby The Little Prince hardback

In 1946 a new parenting book was published by Dr. Benjamin Spock, advocating parents to reject the previous decades’ distant parenting style and reconnect to their natural nurturing instincts. This brought more focus to warmth and bonding than in previous years. Good news for little John and Margaret, who were still the most popular names! This decade was also a great one for children’s books, with one of the most popular children’s books ever, The Little Prince, being published in the original French in 1943. The Little Prince is the third most translated book in the world, after the Bible and the Koran! For children in Scandinavia, Moomins were also starting to make an appearance, with The Moomins and the Great Flood being published in the original Swedish in 1945.

The Moomins and the Great Flood

1950s

1950s advertisement

Because of advertisements like the one above, 1950s common wisdom about what was healthy and correct is the source of much amusement these days! However some people have started to question whether they might have had some things right after all. Because factory production hadn’t returned to pre-war levels, more parents made their children’s toys by hand and used reusable cloth nappies, and with television still uncommon at home, young children were likely to be read to often. And what a choice of books those children had! Our perception of 1950s culture these days is usually of a conservative mainstream culture, but in children’s books as well as other areas a lot of artists were reaching new heights of innovation. Little Susan and David, the most likely names for babies born in the 1950s, may have grown up with the wacky Dr. Seuss as a household name, and Tove Jansson's Moomins also exploded in popularity during this decade.

Dr Seuss greeting card

1960s

1960s baby

In 1962 a paediatrician called Walter W. Sackett Jr. published Bringing Up Baby, a book which recommended that babies as young as 10 weeks should be eating bacon, eggs and even coffee, to acclimatise to the family’s eating habits! In the same decade, Harry Harlow’s controversial experiments on baby monkeys showed that infants prioritise warmth and comfort from a parent over basic needs. The Sixties was a good time for children’s books, with little David and Susan ,(still the most popular names!), likely to grow up with now-iconic characters such as Miffy.

Miffy by Dick Bruna

In the U.S., artists like Tomi Ungerer and Maurice Sendak led a swerve towards darker and edgier books for children, such as Ungerer's The Three Robbers. And cutting edge designers experimented with children's illustration in books like A Balloon For A Blunderbuss

The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer A Balloon for a Blunderbuss

1970s

1970s baby

The 1970s saw the rise of a more child-centred and intuitive parenting style proposed by Penelope Leach. In contrast to the parenting styles of previous generations, mothers and fathers were now encouraged to put the baby’s needs above their own and to trust their instincts. Jennifer and Michael were popular names for babies, and little Jenny and Mike grew up with Judith Kerr’s scatty cat Mog, who is still loved to this day. 

Mog on Fox Night by Judith Kerr

Other books that '70s kids might remember include When Tom Beat Captain Najork by Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake.

1980s

1980s baby    Brambly Hedge

This decade’s babies were likely to be named Sarah or Paul, and they would have grown up with more TV than previous generations. Children's books were still an important part of early childhood though, and some of our favourite books were published in the '80s. Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge stories were first published in this decade, along with Shirley Hughes’ Alfie books.

Alfie and Annie Rose print by Shirley Hughes

David McKee’s Elmer was reissued to major success at the end of the decade, and Jane Hissey's Old Bear series made its first appearance. 

Elmer by David McKee

And when these '80s kids grew up a bit more, they were lucky enough to be among the first people to read The BFG and Matilda!

Matilda Print

1990s

1990s

            Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen demonstrate the 1990s trend for attachment. 

By the time the 1990s came along, Michael and Jessica were the reigning babies! Guides advocating attachment parenting became popular, which is reflected in one of the most popular children’s books of the decade, Guess How Much I Love You.

Guess How Much I Love You

 

Nowadays

Jacob and Jack,  Emily and Sophie have all been popular names in the last few years, and social media has meant that childhood is more publicly shared and discussed than ever before. Children’s books have been booming with award-winning artists like Jon Klassen, Carson Ellis and Oliver Jeffers enjoying mass popularity. Klassen’s ‘Hat Trilogy’ may be remembered by this generation’s children as the iconic books of their childhood.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen      We Found A Hat by Jon KlassenThis Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

And in 2016, a little shop on Drury Street opened, with the aim to bring the best illustrated books from the last 100 years to children and grown up children in Ireland and beyond! A big thank you to all our customers for your valued support in our first year. Here's to the next hundred!

You can view our full collection of illustrated children's books here


Illustrator of the Month: Tomi Ungerer June 08 2017

Tomi Ungerer

Our new ‘Illustrator of the Month’ blog series focuses on some of our favourite illustrators, their lives and their works. This is a chance to learn more about the lives of the people who illustrated your favourite books, the influences that shaped their art style and storytelling, and some of their lesser known projects.

Last month we started with the brilliant Jon Klassen. Up next it’s the subversive, whimsical and extraordinary Tomi Ungerer!

Tomi Ungerer is a French cult illustrator who was part of the turn towards more unusual and edgy children’s books in the US in the sixties. He started out in advertising and quickly gained a reputation for his visual playfulness and his bold experimental style, which was at the time wildly different from the traditional and homely style of many American magazine illustrators. He became one of the most prolific and popular children’s author-illustrators of that decade, but for a time his boundary-pushing art became too much for the establishment and he is only recently reclaiming the level of recognition that he deserves.


Absurd humour for absurd humanity

Tomi grew up in Strasbourg in the Alsace region of France. As a young child he witnessed occupation under the Nazi regime, which he says has had a huge influence on his outlook on life, and on his work. His books are known both for their sense of social justice and for their absurd humour, and both of these sensibilities were influenced by what Tomi witnessed during the war and after liberation. He speaks in the brilliant documentary Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story, about the absurdity of war and how he always felt caught between two identities, as Alsace straddles the border of France and Germany.

When Alsace was liberated the city of Strasbourg rejoiced, but soon afterwards the French liberationists burned all of the classic German books in the library. The hypocrisy and contradiction of these actions made a young Tomi keenly aware of the absurdity of humanity, so his books combine a strong sense of morality with a darkly satirical humour.

Growing up under the Nazis gave Ungerer a sense of fear that never fully left him and some of his best known books explore this sense of anxiety and unbelonging. Otto: the Autobiography of a Teddy Bear tells the story of a bear belonging to a Jewish boy, who loses contact with his owner during the World War II. Even though it is told through the voice of a teddy bear and has a happy ending, this is no cutesy story, and it doesn’t try to conceal the brutalities of war. Ungerer writes in the Tomi Ungerer Treasury that “children should be exposed to what war is like as early as possible. If you don’t share stories like this, how are you going to bring awareness?” For Ungerer, the only way to change things for the better is to educate younger generations on injustice, so that they will grow up seeking to improve a flawed world.
Otto by Tomi Ungerer

Searching for belonging

Ungerer’s adventurous spirit meant he soon left his native patch seeking opportunity and new experiences. In 1956 he touched down in New York City and began seeking work as an illustrator. In the days before television, illustration was big business in newspapers and magazines, and he trawled his way round publishers’ art departments with a box full of drawings until he found work.

He quickly built up a reputation for his witty imagination and bold graphic style, and it wasn’t long until he made the transition to children’s books. This was fertile ground for Ungerer with his childlike ability to see through the contradictions of the adult world. Books such as The Mellops series, The Three Robbers and Adelaide  were a wild success and for years he was one of the leading children’s authors in America.

This was a boom-time for bold and innovative children’s illustration, with other author-illustrators like Maurice Sendak (who called Tomi Ungerer a “spectacular graphic genius”), also challenging the accepted modes of children’s books in both subject and style. While the trend in recent years had been for sweet and cuddly stories like Goodnight Moon and Harold and the Purple Crayon, Ungerer favoured characters and animals that no one else would think to make the hero of a children’s book; bats, vultures, octopuses and snakes all became lovable protagonists.

His stories thus teach us that everyone has something to bring to the table, and that when you tap into your unique and authentic self you can reach your full potential. Take Emile, the octopus, who because of his many arms makes an excellent multi-instrumentalist.

Emile by Tomi Ungerer


Tomi’s experiences as an immigrant in New York inspired one of his most beloved books. Moon Man tells the story of the man in the moon visiting earth to join in the fun, only to find that he is treated as an invader and thrown into jail! The Moon Man is just looking for a place to fit in where he can have some company and enjoy the fruits of our planet, but the government officials of earth want to keep tight control of borders and distrust any form of difference. Written during the Cold War, the story is as relevant today as when it was first published. Children who read this book will pick up on its message about welcoming and respecting differences and newcomers, without it having to be spelled out. Ungerer’s work never talks down to children, but has utmost respect for their natural sense of curiosity and exploration.

Ungerer packs a lot of punch into his stories but the actual word count is often minimal; he lets the pictures take a leading role. Moon Man features double page spreads of colourful pen and ink paintings. The illustrator uses tempera, a method of painting with pigment mixed in a solution, so that his illustrations are textured with brushstrokes, ink bubbles and streaks of colour. The gentle blue wash of the shimmering Moon Man emphasises his gentleness in contrast with the bold and brash colours of the earth upon which he has landed.

Moon Man by Tomi Ungerer

Tomi Ungerer’s illustration always retains a sense of playfulness, even when dealing with serious themes. He draws things that children love to draw, like boats, cars and furry animals, and his scenes are full of hidden detail that can be pored over again and again. In The Beast of Monsieur Racine, a “retired tax collector”, (who else would make a tax-collector the hero of a children's story?!), makes friends with a mysterious beast. The book is full of chaotic crowd scenes which give Ungerer full scope to insert myriad little jokes and references, like a newspaper headline about his friend Maurice Sendak, or a vagabond carrying a spare foot in his bindle - because he has to do so much walking! As well as always appealing to children, his work reminds adults how fun life can be if you can let go and face everything with a wry sense of humour.

The Beast of Monsieur Racine by Tomi Ungerer                             The Beast of Monsieur Racine by Tomi Ungerer

 


A stirred pot boils over

Ungerer’s wry outlook on the world fed into his work beyond picture books too. While the age of revolutions and upheavals was turning the world upside down in the sixties, Ungerer could not sit back and watch, and he used his talents to draw attention to injustice. He created a series of anti-Vietnam War posters that are still as affecting today as they were when they were first appeared.

In Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story, Ungerer states that the Nazi propaganda that saturated his youth under occupation actually fed into his design sensibilities. He learned that bold posters can be dangerously effective in getting a message across, but his message was always one of disdain for the political powers of war and destruction.

Tomi Ungerer Vietnam War
 

In an age before the internet ensured that everyone knows everything about everybody, Ungerer was able to work on political projects, satirical cartoons, subversive erotica and popular children’s books, all at the same time! However, eventually the balance between the mollycoddled world of children’s books and the edginess of his other works boiled over, and he was ostracised from the children’s book world. No bookshops would stock his work, he was blacklisted from libraries, and he found himself adrift in a world that had previously embraced him. His love affair with New York had ended and Ungerer set sail again, this time for a complete change of lifestyle, to rural Nova Scotia.

Far Out Isn’t Far Enough

In 1971 Ungerer moved with his wife Yvonne to an extremely remote part of Canada, and set about creating a self-sufficient life in the countryside. He documented this in drawings of course, and the muted tones of rural Nova Scotia introduced a new element to his drawing. He sketched the animal life and the landscapes surrounding him, as well as the people of the town and its dilapidated buildings. These illustrations and his diary entries from the time are collected in a memoir called Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: Life in the Back of Beyond.

Far Out Isn't Far Enough by Tomi Ungerer
This book is an unflinchingly honest account of what life is really like in a harsh rural environment and, true to form, Ungerer doesn’t shy away from depicting the more unpalatable elements of the lifestyle. With more than 150 illustrations, the memoir truly shows what a prolific illustrator Ungerer was and still is. He has spoken in the past about how he would sometimes create a whole book in just a single day!

Finding a home in Ireland

When Ungerer and his wife decided to have children, they realised that their Canadian farm was not the right environment to raise them in. They moved on again, finally settling on the Emerald Isle. The illustrator lives in Cork to this day, and is openly expressive of his fondness for Ireland and its people.

After a long hiatus from children’s books following his fall from favour in the industry, he returned to picture book making with Flix in 1997. Flix is the story of a dog born into a cat family, and reflects the identity dilemma of Ungerer’s upbringing in a Germanic region of France. Ungerer had been doing a lot of work for German-French relations in the intervening years since moving back to Europe, and Flix again shows his knack for subtly reinforcing a message of peace and unity all within an outrageous and funny story.

Flix by Tomi Ungerer

Since returning to picture books, Ungerer has rekindled his imaginative fire. One of his most recent books Fog Island is a love letter to Ireland, dedicated to the country and the people who so warmly welcomed Ungerer and his family. Though published only in 2013, the book has the feel of an old classic. Ungerer is still creating the kind of stories that feel like they’ve always been part of your life.

In Fog Island, two children in the west of Ireland discover an abandoned island with eerie faces carved into the cliffs. There they meet the mysterious man who makes the fog that hovers over the Atlantic!


Fog Island by Tomi Ungerer

With so varied, playful and subversive a body of work, Tomi Ungerer has earned his place among the greatest picture book makers of all time. He has always had a strong cult following, but since the release of the aforementioned documentary and Phaidon’s high-quality reissues of his books, he is getting more of the recognition he deserves in his adopted country. His compassionate outlook is an important one for children to absorb as they grow, and his infectious humour will remind adults what it was like to be a giggly child enjoying the simplicity of its creative freedom.

View our full range of Tomi Ungerer's books here.


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