Sunday, December 5, 2010

Top That! Publishing - Cybils Nominations Reviews

I'm going to start with something a little different in the way of reviews today. Top That! is a small UK publisher that's been in business since 1999. They publish books primarily for preschoolers and emphasize educational nonfiction. They also seem to be integrating well into the ebook market, with apps and ebooks readily available. They are on facebook and twitter and seem to be hooked into their local community.

6 of Top That's new fiction picture books for preschoolers were nominated for Cybils and I'm going to look at them all at once here today. The publisher sent very high-class pdfs for us to review, but I think my computer couldn't handle the fonts, so the fonts probably look different in the real book. Just fyi.

Just to give the whole show away, I basically want to know why this press has great illustrations...and generally bland, even lousy text.

So, first book. Baby Bear and the Big Wide World by Ellie Patterson, illustrated by Dubravka Kolanovik. A baby bear wakes up at night and slips out into the snowy world. He is scared by the vastness and silence, until he meets a little seal. Together they explore the big, wide world from on top of an iceberg and realize that it's not so scary when you have a friend. The illustrations are a uniform white and blue, until one of the final spreads which has a sunrise washing the world in pinks. The colors are gentle pastels and the baby bear is very cute. The uniform palette does get a little bland after a few pages and the baby seal and baby bear are hard to distinguish. But the illustrations are perfectly acceptable. The text is a reasonable length for the picturebook and has a simple but pleasant plot, but it is presented badly, especially the dialogue.

For example, this illustration is half of the spread where the baby seal meets the baby bear (the text disappeared when I copied the image to post). Their meeting dialogue is: "Suddenly there was a splash, then there was a sniffle, and then a small creature flopped onto the rock beside Baby Bear. ‘Who are you?’ asked the small creature, looking curiously at Baby Bear. ‘I’m Baby Bear,’ said Baby Bear. ‘Who are you?’ ‘I’m Sammy Seal,’ said Sammy Seal." The repetition and bland text aren't attractive and are overshadowed by the illustrations which are really rather sweet.

Cub's first winter by Rebecca Elliott. In a series of questions, a little cub learns from his mother all the fun ways there are to experience fall and winter, until they finally curl up together, warm and snug in their burrow. This is my favorite of Top That!'s nominated titles. Elliott's scratchy art is fuzzy and vibrant at the same time, keeping the warm snugglies that seem so prevalent in this publisher's line will still being robust and attractive. [at this point, blogger DELETED the rest of my review and all the reviews following. Allow me a brief scream of frustration before I reconstruct]

So. This is a sample of one of the spreads (again my computer won't hold text in the images, don't know why - probably something to do with Top That!'s really advanced pdfs) The accompanying text reads "

Hiku by Nicole Snitselaar and Coralie Saudo is my second favorite of the offerings from this publisher. A cute little penguin with a heart-shaped tummy can't stand all the noise and fussing when his family comes to visit, plus they all laugh at his name, so he sulks in a snow hole. Until he remembers how much fun they have, when he emerges just in time for a family photo. The text is mediocre; Hiku's complaints about his family don't really ring true but most of the book is taken up by descriptions of various family activities. There is a certain sameness to the illustrations in each spread, but how many different ways can you display snow and penguins? The shapes are nicely displayed and children will have fun hunting for Hiku in each picture.
Toucan Toucan't is a silly opposites story, comparing and contrasting the various things that two toucans can and can't do. The text is only two words on each page, but the activities described range from the logical to the wildly silly. The illustrations were a bit cartoonish for my taste, but there was lots of bright, bold color that will appeal to young children.

I might have gotten a bad reading from the pdf I received for Said the Kitty to the Cat. The illustrations of the cat and kitten were so fussy they seemed out of focus while the backgrounds and human legs and arms at the edge of the pictures were startlingly sleek and polished. The text for this is basically a rhyming tongue twister, telling the story of two cats who want to open a present.

I thought When I dream of ABC was the weakest offering from this publisher. Each spread consists of an illustration of a fantasy creature or concept and an accompanying, badly written, description. These would make fun greeting cards, but they're not the quality I'd expect in a picturebook.
Sigh. I had said some really interesting things. Honest! Before blogger ATE them. Anyways, to sum up...and sorry I didn't rewrite everything, but I've still got a cold and lots more reviews to write and dishes to do know. Anyways. First, I'm confused that Top That! seems to be hiding their illustrators. They're not listed on the book cover, only in small type on the title page. But their illustrators are, in my opinion, their strongest point. Although Cub's First Winter and Hiku show promise in their authors, they still need work on their craft while the illustrations of most of these are professional and have definite styles that will appeal to children and parents alike. I'd like to see more from Rebecca Elliott, both illustrations and writing (I'm assuming she's the illustrator as well) and more from whichever name listed is the illustrator of Hiku. I think they show definite promise.


Playing by the book said...

Hi Jennifer,

Just wanted to invite you to submit a post to the next I can read carnival, which I’m hosting from Dec 8-12th. Would be lovely to have you take part.

Jennifer said...

thanks for reminding me! I have some graphic novel reviews for beginning readers from last December that should do nicely.