of the Center for Children's Books:
|Each month we offer a focus on a particular
author or artist. Sometimes we use this space to discuss a rising new talent
or an established star, but we also like to celebrate those who now live
on only in the rich legacy of their books. See the archive
for focus pieces from previous months.
Bob Graham has been a hit in his home country of Australia for almost 20 years, but only recently have Graham's picture books garnered much deserved attention in the United States. Graham's gentle domestic humor, both visual and textual, amuses on several levels, as all the best books for young people do, engaging both young children and the adults reading to them with accurate and humorous depictions of daily events in cozy home settings. With his text and illustrations, Graham consistently creates a warm and somewhat idealized world for young viewers. Then again, some of his adoring parents sport tattoos and nose rings, which only goes to show that comfort can come in all shapes, sizes, and styles.
Part of Graham's particular efficacy is his ability to capture childlike perspectives with pithy language. In the book Where is Sarah?, John is looking for lost sibling Sarah in a backyard jungle, and the moment she is found, John goes back to his intense absorption with the age-appropriate task at hand: "John pokes grass into his [plastic] crocodile." Graham's writing also resonates with older sibling and adult perspectives, as in the book Has Anyone Here Seen William?, which tells a familiar tale of the perennial trouble that families have keeping up with their toddlers. William learns to walk ("Now that William was walking, he was just like his bear. Wind him up and off he would go") and although his busy family occasionally loses track of him (hence the refrain "Has anyone here seen William?"), they always find him in the end. The illustrations show two frantic parents and a gaggle of siblings losing and locating the busy toddler, sweeping him back up into their adoring arms. In this book and many others, realistic childhood situations are presented with just enough tension to keep young readers turning pages, and problems are met with reassuring solutions.
Not all Graham's books are completely realistic, however. Max tells the story of a young superhero born to a family of superheroes. The other members of his family all know how to fly, but Max, despite his family-issue cape and tights, is a slow bloomer. Despite the fantastic premise, Max's dilemma is as real as any child's, wondering when he will grow big enough to do the things that other people do and worrying about not fitting in with his (extraordinary) family. Graham's illustrations show Max stuck on the ground when everyone, even his grandparents, can fly through the air. Then, as Max swoops to rescue a falling baby bird, he suddenly claims the gift of flight, and final spreads show him with his family floating high in the clear blue sky.
In his recently lauded book "Let's Get a PUP!" Said Kate (2002 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Winner for Picture Book category), Graham complements larger spreads with spot art that captures the excitement of the family as they contemplate a new canine addition. Below text reading "With their breakfast uneaten, they dressed and left immediately," Graham shows a small picture of a bouncing red family station wagon zipping off to the shelter to pick a pup. Although the tattoo-adorned parents who choose puppy Dave initially resist the charms of an older dog, Rosy, they later go back to rescue the sturdily loveable Rosy from the pound as well, taking two dogs home to love.
In his many picture books, Graham shines by showing the everyday enthusiasm of children and families, whether they are adopting stray animals or simply celebrating a birthday together. We can only hope that Graham will continue to create picture books, so that we can all "adopt" them into our homes and our library collections with similar enthusiasm.
Selected Bibliography of Books Written and Illustrated by Bob Graham: