'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Guest Post: On Crossing the Line Between Kids and Adults

Cover illustrations by Eleanor Taylor and Kristyna Baczynski
Kids’ Book Review is delighted to welcome Amber Hsu, writer, illustrator, artist and founding Editor and Creative Director of UK-based Tiny Pencil magazine. Amber is sharing her thoughts on the concept behind the latest issue of Tiny Pencil, designed to appeal to both children and adults.

Once upon a time, before the invention of publishing and targeted marketing strategies, we hardly had the luxury of “children’s literature”. Children’s entertainment began in the songs and stories told in the oral tradition by adults—fashioned from an adult world of tales, myths, and folklore and adapted for younger ears.

Nowadays, however, children’s entertainment is more thoroughly quantified and categorized. Marketing teams like knowing what age category and demographic they’re selling to. Most illustrators and writers entering the field of children’s literature need to know what segment of the market they fit in and what to aim for. Is it an under 5 picture book? A 5-7 early reader text? A chapter book of the 7-9 variety? Or the 9-12?

I often find these questions hard to answer. I am generally drawn to things less easily categorized, and so I have become accustomed to not knowing what something is supposed to be. I like that kind of mystery in a page, as much as I like not having to answer to any shortcomings in my definitional inaccuracies.

Illustration by Briony Cloke

But also, I find the question of age appropriateness hard to answer because, in fact, I simply enjoy reading children’s books too much to make an accurate assessment. When I read a picture book like Wolf Erlbruch’s Duck, Death & The Tulip, I close that book nearly certain that author wrote that story with someone just like me in mind—at this particular age and time. I’ve since recommended that book to children, to friends with children, to friends without children. I’m pretty sure anyone who is not a robot will find something tender and beautiful in that book. And certainly that is the mark of something good—something that makes you want to crow to the world and share what you’ve found—regardless of the age or category.

Recently, I had breakfast with a friend who has happened to author several best-selling books for both adults and children. While discussing death, art, and immortality, we discussed which of his stories he thought would survive the longest. If he had to bet he said, it would be one of his children’s stories—because those would be the ones that children would grow up to share with their own children, who would then grow up to share with their own children, and so on and so on.

Illustration by Robert Hae Seng

And so goes on that mark of good art and literature and good ideas. It is, I hope, less about age and demographics, but rather about finding something that brings you some bit of joy in such a way that you feel compelled to share it with the rest of the non-robot world.

That sharing, I think, is also at the heart of creating a collaborative adventure like Tiny Pencil. One of the reasons I wanted to start the project was not only to show off amazing possibilities of a humble tool, but to also create a space for artistic voices less easily categorized. It is also a space to be adventurous and experiment a bit.

So when the idea came about to do a children’s issue, it made sense that the issue not be something too easily categorized either, for the issue to adventure and experiment. At one point there was the idea of making an entirely separate children’s issue, but as I began thinking about what a kidzine could and should be, and what Tiny Pencil was about, it made sense that we move away from that and see if we could create something that was as much for adults as it was for kids. So the challenge became about creating something visually sophisticated and interesting enough to fit the Tiny Pencil spirit, yet still fun and appealing across all ages.

Illustration by John Kilburn

The only brief given to the artists was that each page be interactive and be something kids and adults could get their pencils into and engage with—which meant that every page had to either be a comic, activity or game. The only other remit—that the artists feel free to interpret what they thought was appropriate for children and for adults, leaving them free to create for their own inner kidults, and free to blur the boundaries if they were so inclined to. (In any case, I’ve always felt a crossed line can be an interesting place to be).

Everyone, including my indispensable collaborator Katriona Chapman, had great fun rising to the challenge. Everyone came up with brilliant art and ideas. I must have looked at the pages of this issue more times than anyone on the planet, but I’m still captivated by each and every page!

Above all, I hope (and believe) we’ve achieved what we set out to do—which was to create something different, fun and unique, and something good that can be shared between children, parents, and adults of all ages alike.

Tiny Pencil 2.0 features 3 mini-zines in an illustrated matchbox style package including free dice, stickers, and a mini coloured pencil set by Derwent. Tiny Pencil is available for purchase at the Tiny Pencil website and at selected stockists.You can keep up-to-date with the latest Tiny Pencil news on Facebook and Twitter. You can find out more about Amber Hsu at her blog.