Oliver Jeffers special feature
This month we shine the spotlight on children’s picture book artist and writer, Mr. Oliver Jeffers. I first fell in love with his work when I heard Stuck read out at a storytelling session by Monsters Under the Bed trainer Louise Lim. I felt the warm buzz of childlike enthusiasm bubbling up in my chest. I was amused and intrigued at the same time. The adult part of my brain was trying to deconstruct what made this simple book so exciting, and the childlike part of my brain was laughing at the increasingly ridiculous situations that the protagonist got himself into. When Louise turned to the last page of the story, I was disappointed. Disappointed because the story had ended and I wanted more. I didn’t mind if she read the story all over again.
And that’s the hallmark of a good book.
Jeffers has garnered positive reviews and multiple awards since debuting in 2004. He was born in Australia but grew up in Ireland where storytelling is deep set in Irish culture. His parents are prolific storytellers and he remembers an advice his dad gave him as a kid - “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
His debut book How to Catch a Star came about as a result of a day dreaming moment by a pier in Sydney. He was looking at the reflection of the night sky in the water and wondered how it would be like to reach out and touch the stars. Initially, Jeffers intended to paint a series of images to illustrate this story but soon realized that his sketches, when placed in sequence, were perfect for a children’s book. And that was the start of a wonderful career in children’s literature.
Jeffers enjoys writing books about the protagonist going on incredible adventures attempting amazing and humorous feats that tickle our imagination. Two of his works - The Incredible Book Eating Boy and Stuck – make for excellent icebreakers for new students joining my pre-school programmes.
The beautiful thing about picture books, according to Jeffers, is that it allows him to tell a story in two parts - the words and the pictures. Both elements work in tandem to lead the reader into conjuring a world of possibilities beyond the pages of the book. On the surface, it’s easy to write off picture books as an easy read for kids, but Jeffers argues that there is both science and art in the creation of a good picture book. So which is more important? The illustrations or the words? Which comes first?
Jeffers says, “As I write and illustrate my books, I have the ability to let my pictures inform my words rather than exclusively the other way round. It’s always a balance, though. I direct the image based around the structure of the few sparse words that will be there, enough to tie the story together, and I write the words in order to emphasize the emotion of the image. That’s why they must happen at the same time.”
A tip he offers to children who want to know where ideas come from: Ideas are everywhere. The best ones come when you’re not paying attention. Look at the world around you and look for things that out of the ordinary; some small wonder that may be overlooked by very busy people. There are stories everywhere you look. The trick is to be quiet and patient enough to spot them.
Written by Eugene Tay, founder of Brain & Butter and Monsters Under the Bed.
When Eugene was a young boy, he wanted to be an astronaut. When that didn't take off, he decided that he was going to be like Indiana Jones and explore the world as an archaeologist. Eventually, he figured out how he can do both. That's when he became a writer.
Co-Written by Grace Chai, mother of a newborn baby boy.
Grace is a new mom and currently undergoing intensive On-The-Job Training for her new role. Between pumping milk, changing diapers and taking selfies with her baby, Grace manages stress by writing about her motherhood experience for ParentTown.