Rob Biddulph is a children’s author and illustrator from London, England. His first picture book Blown Away won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize in 2015 – it’s one you should definitely have in your collection.
GRRRRR! was published by HarperCollins on 27th August 2015. And it’s
GRRRRREAT so much better than great!
Said the Mudwaffler… ‘A woodland delight! And a reminder that sometimes we all get by with a little help from our friends…’
Rob has pulled off a wonderful follow up to Blown Away, in GRRRRR! His distinctive style is as brilliant as ever and the rhyming text is great fun to read. It’s a package of woodland wonder-stuff.
“Each year, for as long as the forest has stood, A contest is held for the bears in the wood.” It’s a ‘Best Bear in the Wood’ contest, and our protagonist – Fred – has won it for three years in a row. He’s the best at everything… “A brilliant Fish-catcher. A fine Hula-hooper, at Scaring-the-humans he’s really quite super…”. But what he’s best known for is his GRRRRR!
But, being the best takes a lot of training, and leaves little time for friends… Fred’s friends are his prizes, medals and trophies. At least that’s what he tells himself.
The story takes a turn when we are introduced to a new character – Boris…
He wants to win the ‘Best Bear in the Wood’ contest this year. He’s much bigger than Fred. Stronger too. And he’s clever. But as it turns out, he’s also a bit of a bad-bear cheater. He so badly wants to win.
Fred wakes up on the day of the contest to a disaster – something is missing… he’s lost his GRRRRR! He wonders through the forest, not really knowing what to do, until he’s spotted by an owl who kindly offers to help him look for his missing GRRRRR! Soon, a whole army of helpful volunteers is on the search, but still they can’t find it.
Time is up. The ‘Best Bear in the Wood’ contest begins and Fred takes his place at the starting line-up. Eugene the owl wishes him good luck, as the search party watches from the sideline. But how will Fred win without his prize-winning GRRRRR!?
Rob has a very distinctive canvas-textured style, which adds a layer of depth to his bold and colourful illustrations. His trees particularly stand out to me – they’re all throughout this book, in oranges, browns, greens, reds, pinks, purples… The colours are really fantastic. The design of each of the bears taking part in the race is something I’m also very fond of. They’re all different sizes, colours, shapes and fashions! The best being Fred, of course, for his head band!
There are lots of little details to spot throughout the book too, linking it nicely to Blown Away…
– a little penguin and seal toy in Fred’s bed on the morning he wakes up without his GRRRRR!
– there’s the lava lamp on Fred’s bedside table – a keen eye will remember Blown Away‘s Penguin Blue also had one on his bedside table in his igloo.
– the red kite from Blown Away is perched upon Fred’s wardrobe.
– Y fronts! In Blown Away there’s a spotty pair on the washing-line kite, in GRRRRR! a stripy pair is looped around a deer’s antler.
– and the no. 72! In Blown Away it is the number on the side on the dingy, in GRRRRR! it’s the number on Fred’s gym bag.
I’m sure there are more that I’ve missed. Keep an eye out for the rabbit too, he’s on almost every page and has his own romance story!
The Mudwaffler enjoyed GRRRRR! so much, he’s already practicing for next years Best Bear in the Wood contest!
Now, it’s WAFFLE time! Rob Biddulph joins us for a Q&A…
What inspired you to make Blown Away and GRRRRR?
I have always been somebody who loves drawing and the creative industry was always the one in which I was going to work. But somewhere along the way I found myself going down the graphic design route as opposed to illustration. However, my passion was re-awoken when my middle daughter was about two and we started reading picture books to her at bedtime. I started buying new ones as well as revisiting some classics from my own childhood and, basically, I had an epiphany. It just seemed so obvious that these were things that I would really enjoy making myself. Whether I could do it or not I wasn’t sure, but once I started writing it just felt like it was a very natural for me to do. Two books in particular really inspired me: The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers and How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss. Oliver’s book is a work of art. It’s just beautiful. It really opened my eyes to how much potential the medium has got. And The Grinch is quite simply my favourite ever children’s text. The rhyme is just SO perfect. It really provided me with something to aspire to from a writing point of view.
What are you currently working on (any sneak peek news!?)?
Well, my second book with HarperCollins, GRRRRR!, is about to come out (August 27) so I’m doing a fair amount of promotion for that. Plus book three is well under way. I’m about halfway through writing it and am really pleased with the way it’s shaping up. It’s got a slightly more urban setting than the other two so I can’t wait to start artworking it. I also have an interesting collaboration project bubbling under that, hopefully, people are really going to enjoy. Am not allowed to say too much about that at the moment though 🙂
What is your favourite thing to draw?
Well, I am a pretty committed phone-doodler. Actually, it’s a subconscious thing and when I get off the phone I can’t ever remember drawing anything. It’s always a surprise to see a full notepad page. Anyway, the really odd thing is that I ALWAYS draw apples. I have no idea why. I also draw apples whenever I’m testing out a new pen. It is my equivalent of playing Stairway to Heaven on a new guitar I guess. So I would have to say that my favourite thing to draw is, erm, apples! Weird, huh?
Who (or what) are your influences?
So, Oliver and Dr Seuss as mentioned before. Richard Scarry, Judith Kerr, Maurice Sendak, Axel Scheffler, David Roberts, Cliff Roberts, Shirley Hughes. All the usual suspects really. Outside the conventional picture book world, I love Saul Bass, René Gruau, Milton Glaser, Christoph Niemann and Paul Rand. Plus I’m a keen gallery-visitor and you might be able to spot echoes of Henri Rousseau, Éduarde Manet and René Magritte in my work too.
Do you have any advice for illustrators and writers who are just starting out?
Draw. It’s that simple. Always carry a sketchbook with you and basically any spare second that you get just sketch whatever you see in front of you. Failing that, just draw some apples! I believe that constant sketching is the only thing that helps you to discover and develop a style of your own. And the more you draw the more you can hone that style.
Also, never give up. You are bound to get a few knock-backs along the way. I certainly did. The picture book industry is a very competitive one so they are inevitable. It’s how you react to them that counts. If you are persistent and believe in yourself then something will eventually happen.
and three for fun…
What are three words that best describe you?
Perfectionist. Determined. Stubborn.
What is your favourite colour?
If you could share a cuppa with anyone (alive or dead), anywhere, who would it be and where would you go?
It would probably be John Lennon. It is Autumn 1965 and the Beatles are halfway through recording Rubber Soul in Studio Two at Abbey Road. John and I are in the canteen next door discussing his lyrics for the third verse of Norwegian Wood over a cuppa. I am telling him that if they are short of quality musicians for the track I would happily step in on tambourine.
Swamp Hugs! Till the next time…