Green Lizards vs Red Rectangles by Steve Antony

War and peace – an ambitious topic for your ‘typical’ picture book audience. Green lizards battle red rectangles, absurd! I love it.

These equally matched armies are at deadlock, neither can conquer the other. One brave individual from the green lizards asks, “What are we fighting for?” But his answer comes in the form of a crushing blow from a red rectangle and he dies a squished martyr of peace.

Following this, there is a tremendous battle, the biggest yet. Then, gallantly, a small red rectangle calls across the battlefield, demanding “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”

Both sides, battle weary and tired, agree to find a solution in which they can coexist peacefully. Steve Antony’s resolution to this is illustrated with a stroke of genius. And quite brilliantly, we (the reader) never discover why they were fighting in the first place.

Steve Antony creates remarkable compositions, using only two colours and two graphic elements, to demonstrate the chaos of war. The juxtaposition of his hand drawn lizards besides the geometrical shapes is an appealing and surreal contrast.

I’m excited to use this in the classroom, as a starting point for discussion with my year 6 students.

I bow down to the brilliance of this book. Speechless!

Betty goes bananas in her pyjamas by Steve Antony

That time of the day that parents both relish and dread simultaneously… bedtime! Or Tantrum o’clock!

Betty does it like a pro! If you’re going to have a meltdown, do it properly.

Betty can think of a summer holidays worth of activities to do before she will willingly get into bed. She wants to paint pictures, play with her toys, make music – but not, definitely NOT, go to bed.

Mr. Toucan, to no avail, does his utmost best to convince Betty that it is time to go to sleep. But Betty is having none of it. There will be feet stamping, screaming and tears before she will get under those covers.

However, eventually a bedtime story lures her to bed. The endurance test is over!

Parents everywhere will relate to this brilliant picture book by Steve Antony. Let’s hope this book will tempt your little terrors into their beds.

Take a deep breath, pull this book of the shelf and think of the glass of wine or healthy splash of something stronger that is waiting for you at the end… and say those dreaded words… bedtime!

Published by Oxford University Press.

Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony

Yet again, Steve has made bold, daring and brilliant stylistic choices that make this picture book stand out on any book shelf. It’s not every day you see a picture book with a grey cover.

Steve school’s children with a lesson in manners!

Mr. Panda, wearing only a small hat, reading ‘Doughnuts’ and a solemn expression on his face, offers different black and white animals a doughnut from his box of brightly-coloured treats. However, one after the other, they forget to say that special, magic word. With his back turned, he dismisses each of them in what I imagine to be a deep monotone voice, saying “No, you cannot have a doughnut. I have changed my mind.”

At this point the child might be thinking, “What a mean panda!”

The final animal, a lemur, asks incredibly politely and ends up with the whole box of doughnuts. Apparently, Mr. Panda doesn’t even like doughnuts!

I think the brilliance of this book, is how Steve has given us the illusion of simplicity. However, I think it is anything but. The subtle expressions, the way he creates meaning in the body language of the characters, the raw illustrations, and the media he uses are all woven together masterfully.

I also believe Steve Antony creates the best characters (you could say I’m biased, as he created my blog’s magpie mascot).The bemused expression on Mr. Panda’s face always reminds me of the Egyptian Panda cheese adverts. Check them out, they’re very funny.

Never say NO to Panda, and always say please!

Betty Goes Bananas by Steve Antony

It gives me great pleasure to be reviewing Steve Antony’s second picture book, for it was Steve who inspired me to take my blog in a new direction and focus it on my passion – picture books.

Steve sent me a copy of his debut book The Queen’s Hat. It was the first picture book I reviewed on Magpie That. Since then the blog has taken on a life of its own & I have been sent some truly wonderful books by some wonderful authors, illustrators and publishers. But it was his picture book that made me realise it was possible.

Steve was also the first person to answer my request for an illustrator to draw me a magpie mascot/logo/avatar for the blog …and what a magpie he is!

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Since then I’ve been sent 48 others from the likes of Peter Brown, Benji Davies, Calef Brown, Jim Field & Steve Light. Again, I have Steve to be thankful for, for believing in my blog & taking time out of his busy day to help me out, he started the ball rolling.

Betty Goes Bananas

Who would have thought a banana could cause such a drama?

Betty, the toddler gorilla, makes a meal out of eating a banana, pardon the pun.

Toddler tantrums fill me with terror! I look at the cover of this picture book and imagine my twins faces in a years’ time staring out at me with the words Reggie & Chloe go Bananas! Simultaneously!

If you’ve got kids, teach kids, have looked after someone else’s kids, sat on public transport near kids, been in a supermarket and observed kids, you’ll be able to relate to the story. We’ve all witnessed it. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all be guilty of it. Some of us still are, I know I was yesterday, when the postman tried to ram a book through the letter box as I was attempting to open the door. Nothing causes me to have a tantrum quite like a preventable dent in the spine of a new picture book.

The story is packed full of laughs, the colours are bold and the illustrations are gorgeous. Betty oozes personality, her face is full of expression. Expressions that change as quick as the English weather, sunshine to downpour before you can straighten the picnic blanket.

A wonderful book by an exciting new talent.

Steve very kindly agreed to answer a few questions for me. Enjoy!

Your illustration style is beautiful in a way that feels classical yet contemporary. Can you describe the media you use and why?

Thanks! I mainly use soft pencils and graphite sticks. I also use Photoshop to alter colours. I sometimes use Photoshop to create a ‘screen print’ effect by layering drawings.

I almost always stick to a limited palette. I often choose colours that I think will compliment and strengthen the story. In ‘Betty Goes Bananas’ I use colours to emphasise Betty’s emotional roller coaster of ups, downs and somewhere-inbetweens.

My style for each book can sometimes vary too, especially if I feel that a slightly different approach will benefit the story. For example, I experimented with banana paper for the very first time with ‘Betty’, and I drew Betty in a bold, expressive way to match her big personality.

What were the last 5 picture books you bought?

Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown
Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan
Letter of Thanks by Manghanita Kempadoo and Helen Oxonbury
Hilda and the Black Hound by Luke Pearson (though that probably wouldn’t fall under ‘picture books’)
Mr Wuffles by David Wiesner

If you could have a gathering of illustrators, past and present, who would they be and where would you host it? Fictional or non fictional.

I’d love to meet Ezra Jack Keats. I once wrote an essay on his book, The Snowy Day, which was the first mainstream picture book to feature an African American as a main character. He was a trail blazer and a picture book pioneer. I can’t think of anybody else off hand. In which case, I wouldn’t host a party. We could just sit on a park bench, talk and people watch.

The Queen’s Hat by Steve Antony

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The book tells the story of a sudden gust of wind that sets off a marvellous London adventure for the Queen, the Queen’s men and one very special hat. We  follow one determined, daredevil queen through the zoo, over Tower Bridge and up Big Ben… but just where will that hat land?

Steve Antony’s debut picture book is a visual feast from the moment you cast your eyes over the cover. It has a quintessentially British charm. It reminds me of a title sequence for an unmade ‘Carry On film’ or the beginnings of a Monty Python sketch.

It conjures up images of bunting, street parties, royal weddings, afternoon tea, regattas, strawberries and cream, commemorative plates, a village fete, an English country garden.

Open the book and the endpapers alone are reason enough to buy it.

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I find the way Steve Antony has juxtaposed the loose illustrations of the characters, with the precise (architectural blueprint like) illustrations of the iconic London landmarks, especially appealing to the eye.

The typography flows across the page, guiding your line of sight along the Queen’s journey, across, up and around the different buildings and structures she encounters.

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The limited palette reflects the colours of the Union Jack; the use of white space gives the illustrations the space to sing on each page. I also noticed that the outline of the Queen’s men are red; however the outline of the Queen is in blue. Is this done to illustrate her nobility I wonder?

This books demonstrates how good design fosters good reading. Steve Antony has created something original, fresh, funny and beautiful.

I highly reccomend it.

Thank you for sending it to me Steve. It shall be displayed with pride with its cover faced outwards.

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