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Windows into Illustration: Hervé Tullet

Hervé Tullet’s much-loved picture books were first published in his native France but are now translated into more than 25 languages. Hervé’s books hit a zanily subversive spot that has immediate child-appeal yet always retains its depth and integrity: there is never a compromise between enjoyment and substance. Hervé has something important to say about curiosity and art and life, but he says it with an intuitive understanding of children and a playful lightness of touch that ensures his books are never dull.


uring his recent artistic residency at Seven Stories - the UK’s national centre for children’s books in Newcastle upon Tyne - Hervé was invited to leave his mark on the building. Working with visitors he directed an ‘art attack’ on the

centre’s gallery walls, as well as sharing his books and workshops with local schools. Since his residency, staff and family visitors have been buzzing with possibilities and nothing will ever be quite the same again – which, for Hervé, is definitely a job well done. More than anything else, Hervé believes his books should have an impact. They should spark something, be the start of a conversation, cause people to think and wonder and begin to change and grow. With the publication of Mix It Up!, the latest picture book on his rapidly-increasing English-language list, Hervé continues to delight his audiences with an exploration of colour. They’re invited to unleash the magic within by tapping the pages and shaking them – even slamming them shut – and as with his other titles, an intuitive and open-hearted approach is the way to get the best out of the book. Mix It Up! follows Press Here, which sets up a similar imaginative conceit in which the reader’s physical interaction with the book causes coloured dots to move and multiply. To harness a child’s understanding of the possibilities of the touchscreen and subvert it in the service of something quite different is pure Tullet, whose early career in advertising gave him insights that, coupled with his naturally improvisational nature and a desire to enter the mind of a child, helped him develop his approach. Advertising also convinced Tullet that nothing could be as important or challenging or necessary as the creation of a picture book for a baby, and when his first son was born he gave up his job as an Art Director to focus his attention on the books that had been, until that point, an engaging hobby. ‘Babies are more intelligent than adults but they don’t tell us,’ jokes Tullet; ‘they’re too modest.’ Interestingly many of his younger titles have a much wider appeal, reinforcing the idea that his books tap into something really quite profound. But

6 Books for Keeps No.208 September 2014

then, babies need ‘creative food’, as Tullet puts it, and so do their adults: something to ‘advance things, change things, surprise things, wake things up.’ Driven by a belief in the importance of really good visual material for developing minds together with a compulsion to take his ideas as far as they will go, Tullet explores colours, shapes and other concepts in ways that challenge fundamental notions of ‘what a book should be.’ From giant sculptures and mirrored pages to shadows playing along a bedroom wall, Tullet’s Game books - and many others - cannot be ‘read’ in the traditional sense of the word, but when he shares his books with an


audience, Tullet just how

powerful such an experience can be. His readings are physical affairs in which books are blown on,

twisted around, dropped on the floor and snapped shut. Children are given cues and conducted in an almost orchestral way throughout the reading and Tullet makes full use of intonation, gesture and the expectant pause. ‘I feel a huge excitement to communicate,’ says Tullet, describing his approach as an attempt to ‘create a dialogue with the audience; a space in which an experience can happen.’

Tullet does not intend an adult to use his books to communicate an idea to a child; rather, he would like them to explore it and make sense

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