On Wednesday afternoon, Hervé Tullet, author of Press Here (2011, Chronicle Books) and the new I Am Blop! (2013, Phaidon Press), gave a presentation here in the Boston area at the Brookline Public Library. He was in NYC earlier this month, so I think he’s traveling around a bit. I strongly recommend going to see him if you can — and bring lots of kids!
If you know his books, you won’t be surprised to hear that he is ageless and playful, effortlessly adapting his presentation to suit individual children in his audience. And while Wednesday’s sparse crowd was mostly made up of adults, he generously included us as well, beginning with an interactive reading from his newest book. It soon became clear that the text in his books is just a suggestion; he rarely read what was written on the page.
Tullet began as a fine artist, then worked as an art director before trying his hand at children’s books in 1994. A recent discovery here in the U.S., he’s something of a celebrity in France. His work plays with the book as an art form while allowing the book as an object to act as a springboard for playful exploration. He relinquishes control over what he wants the book to be and leaves it to children to decide what they want it to be.
It would be easy to see his pre–Press Here titles on a library or bookstore shelf and dismiss them as gimmicky toy books. Most of them have oddly-shaped covers, die cuts, or flaps. I Am Blop! — published in France in 2005 but just released here — has all of these. But take another look. Imagine sharing them with a group of preschoolers or with one specific child, and you may find yourself rethinking that initial reaction.
It was revelatory to watch from the audience as he invited child volunteers to come up and sit next to him as he chose an appropriate book to share one-on-one. By the time I left, signed book in hand, I felt renewed in an almost spiritual way: this is why I love working with children’s books.
Here are the photos I took; I wish I’d taken more. Check out this video of Tullet in action at a school in France. The Children’s Book Shop’s photo album of the event has some great shots of the kids in the audience.