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Inspiration

Colours of Baltics

travelling-balticsI have an obsession. No, I’m not talking about chocolate (although I am indeed quite passionate about it, too);  I’m talking about photographing buildings. Last year on our trip to Italy I spent a good amount of time taking pictures of charming rainbow-coloured houses. So, when we travelled through Baltics this year, I again found myself pointing the lens of my camera up towards different kinds of buildings.

Here’s a glimpse of the colours of Riga and Vilnius. Both the cities were definitely worth of visiting – they are affordable, full of history and yet to be discovered by the biggest masses of tourists. Especially Riga stole my heart with the many parks, second-hand shops, cafes, market halls and museums.

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Children’s book showcase: The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce the fifth book in my collection of inspiring children’s books. This time it’s going to be one of my personal childhood favourites – a book straight from the 90s!


The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales
Written by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith and designed by Molly Leach

Badge of greatness for the hilariously odd stories and extraordinarily entertaining design



“A long time ago, people used to tell magical stories of wonder and enchantment. Those stories were called Fairy Tales. Those stories are not in this book. The stories in this book are almost Fairy Tales. But not quite. The stories in this book are Fairly Stupid Tales.”

The memory of my dad reading this book to my 7-year-old sister and my 9-year-old self is one of the clearest childhood memories I have about books. The reading experience of this one was quite special for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was written in English, so my parents simultaneously translated it to us. Secondly, the stories were so amusing and the design was so playful that I can still vividly picture us sitting on a bed looking at the graphic details and laughing at them together. This book has been incredibly dear to me ever since – so much so that it’s pretty much impossible to look at it objectively without walking down the memory lane!

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales is a collection of parodies of popular children’s stories. The stories are tied together through some reappearing characters and the narrator Jack, who introduces the stories and deals with the rest of the cast. 

The stories in the book are extremely funny to begin with, but they would not make such a strong impact without the expressive illustrations AND the design. It’s typically said that it’s the combination of text and illustrations that either makes or breaks a children’s book. However, in this case the design plays a key role as well, bringing all the different elements together into an all-around amusing entity. In fact, the author of the book, Jon Scieszka, wrote an insightful article called “Design Matters”, which shows first hand what a difference Molly Leach’s designs made for The Stinky Cheese Man and some other books.

And what about the characters? Well, they exaggerated and very outspoken, both in text and images. There’s dissatisfied, nagging Little Red Hen and a truly crazy-looking Ugly Duckling, just to mention a few. Created by an acknowledged illustrator Lane Smith, the characters show a range of strong emotions from fearful to angry, disappointed, greedy and surprised. It’s very interesting to observe how Lane Smith has translated these feelings into the illustrations using a variety of techniques from painting to collage. And here’s a fun fact: Lane Smith and the book’s designer Molly Leach are actually a couple, who have collaborated on many of the books written by Jon Scieszka. Quite a super trio, I would say! When asked about their working process, Lane answered: “Jon writes a story, gives it to me, I work out the art, give it to Molly, she works out the type then we all get together and tweak stuff. Then we turn it in.” (Quote from www. blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings)

I keep on finding myself drawn to books that are charmingly absurd. This is a realization that has led to some self-reflection: when I am working on my own story ideas (yep, I’ve got a couple!), I tend to be Very Serious about it. Naturally, I want to bring my stories to life in the best way possible, which often leads me to just thinking and doing research instead of actually creating anything. It feels my stories are in danger of becoming watered-down by my over-analytical approach. I should definitely try to keep the process more light-hearted and leave some space for absurdities. After all, I can relate to this thought of Lane Smith:

“I make the kinds of books that I liked as a kid. I don’t like ordinary, middle-of-the-road books. I like funny, odd books that excite and challenge a child. There are enough people doing nice books about manners and feelings and magical unicorns. I do not do those kinds of books.” Quote from www.lanesmithbooks.com

Recently…

It feels like the spring has flown by, and I haven’t really gotten around to sharing any of the things that I’ve drafted in my mind. So, here’s a list of some nice things that I’ve been wanting to tell about:

I spent a week and a half in Finland, visiting family and friends. During the vacation, I got to go for morning walks with my sister and my hairy nephew, who is the best dog in the world (I swear I’m not biased)! I also visited my grandma and ate her homemade blueberry pie, which is the tastiest thing ever (again, certainly not biased!). I caught up with friends, consumed tons of chocolate and laughed so much that I probably got a few new wrinkles of joy on my face. I went for lunch with my grandparents who live up North, read newspapers with them and admired the christmassy view outside their house – yup, it was -13℃ there!

While in Finland, I also discovered the work of illustrator Timo Mänttäri (above). The colour palettes in his postcards are my latest crush!

Illustration-wise, I got commissioned to draw another family portrait, which I really enjoyed creating! I would love to take on more personal portrait commissions, it’s been so nice to illustrate something a bit different like that for a change.Last week, we celebrated King’s Day, which is undoubtedly the best day of the year in the Netherlands. Our celebration contained more home-baked goodies than alcohol, as we spent the day strolling through the so called ‘free markets’, where people sell all kinds of things from self-made apple pie and pancakes to old clothes, books and whatnot. We also stuck with our annual King’s Day tradition by commissioning a young Dutch artist to make a portrait of us. This year our picture was painted by Roya Hes (see above), a very talented young painter who has a wonderful sense of colour!

And last but not least: I’ve been listening to a podcast called Creative Pep Talk a lot recently, so last Sunday I visited a bookshop to order the newly released Creative Pep Talk book. Can’t wait to read it!

That’s all for now, folks!