Tag Archive for Santat Dan

Use Your Imagination


We read and read and read in library club. Sometimes the children read to themselves, and I always read a story to them. But what we like to do most is guess what’s coming next in the story – and to do this we have to use our imaginations. Sometimes our guesses are wildly inaccurate, and sometimes they’re correct. But one book for which there is no correct answer, is Storypath by Madalena Matoso and Kate Baker.

Reminiscent of You Choose, or Just Imagine by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt, Storypath guides the reader to make their own choices about the story they want to read.

Set out in bold illustrations with a vibrant colour palate, the reader chooses their first character from princess, vampire cat, five-legged octopus, space monkey or leopard, and is launched onto the story path. On each page there are things to choose, such as extra characters, settings, gifts, and further questions about the choices made, such as the noise the transport might make and its speed. Wrapped into the story are jokes and humour, such as funny hats and walking elephant teapots, but in essence, it’s still up to the reader to decide how funny they want their story to be. Suffice to say, my library club were rolling on the floor once they had chosen their space robot and his magical banana pencil case.

The book can assist in teaching basic sequences and scaffolding of stories – choosing characters, taking them along a path, meeting another character, facing a problem and resolving it, eventually going back home. It’s up the reader to add in the nuances of how the character might develop from their experiences, but for the youngest reader, this is a fun playtime with storybook princesses, monsters, vampire cats and aliens. The joy, of course, is that each reading is completely different. Reading this aloud to a group of children means that each chooses different twists and turns, and there can be much discussion about the choices they’ve made.

A joy for teachers, and much fun for parents and children, this is a stunning new interactive storybook. You can buy it here.


Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston have come at the idea of imagination in a different way in their new collaboration, using the inspiration of real classic children’s stories to simulate a new story in which the characters ride on the waves of the canon behind them.

A Child of Books tells the simple story of a girl leading a boy on an adventure, up a mountain, through a sea-filled cave and a wood, to escape a monster via a castle, up into space and home again. But each landscape is created by a sea of words. The mountain is illustrated purely by the lines of text from Peter Pan and Wendy, the cave by a mass of words jumbled together from Treasure Island, the trees in the wood are ingeniously portrayed as books standing tall, the monster a mess of words from, yes, Frankenstein. The last pages burst into colour as the girl explains that the world is made from stories, and here there are actual colour illustrations of items, such as a pink cat, a pirate ship, Red Riding Hood, a genie’s lamp, a black horse, a heart, an apple, a kite, and so on.

This is a homage to children’s literature. An attempt to show that each person is constituted in part from the stories or books they consumed as a child.

The boy and girl featured in the story are illustrated as ‘every child’, although the girl, in blue, is slightly ethereal, or ghostlike. It’s certainly a ‘gift’ purchase – the cover is gold-foiled, the overall appearance, that of a piece of treasure rather than the kind of picture book you’d see a toddler gnawing on. In fact, for older readers the artists have posed many questions – does the reader agree that our minds are constituted from stories, what does that mean and how does that affect what we read? What differences are there between those who have read from the canon and those who haven’t? And why have the artists chosen those particular colour images? This is a layered book of depth in meaning and thought, and so appealing to older readers, as well as to adults who like their nostalgic literature. This is a book that makes a large claim on the imagination, an aspirational tome. Buy it here.


In our urban world, one of the best places to use your imagination as a child, is whilst sitting in the backseat of the car. Dan Santat capitalises on this in his latest book, Are We There Yet? With a general concern that children aren’t being allowed to get ‘bored’ enough in today’s overstimulated society, car journeys without ipads are a perfect opportunity to let the mind wander, and Santat uses this oft repeated refrain to frame his picture book.

On a long journey to Grandma’s house for her birthday, a little boy gets bored. Santat even spells this out in the text accompanying the pictures, but then suggests the brain is almost a separate entity, and takes it (quite literally) on a whirl, by turning the pages upside down, and going backwards. The landscape falls back into history too, past the Wild West, a pirate ship, jousting knights, and even Ancient Egypt – the parents transported too (their incredulous expressions moving with the times).

Before long the book turns into a comic strip, and the images mesh together, the pages righting themselves, as Santat plays with the idea of how we experience time, (fast or slow) and moving forward into the distant future.

By the end, the brain’s exhausted from its travels, but the boy sprightly runs into his grandmother’s arms.

There’s much fun to be had with the time play, but also with the illustrations of the people within, from the parents in the car to the family gathering at grandma- as well as the gift given to her for her birthday.

There are many nice touches, from the speech bubbles of the characters to the second person narrative that pulls the reader into the story. But for me, it was the colour palate and illustrations that dominate – the car driving into a jousting ring, lighting it up with headlights, and the contrast of modernity and history. The dreamlike colour palate, the comic strip elements. If you can’t wait, buy it now in hardback, otherwise it’s out in the UK in paperback next spring. Let your imagination soar here.

Please note that the review of Are We There Yet? was based on a proof copy of the book, in which the text and illustrations may not have been final.


The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat


You know how you wait for a bus, and then two come along at once? Or even three? The Adventures of Beekle was published last year in the States, and went on to win the Caldecott Medal (most distinguished American picture book). Dan Santat, when interviewed, mentioned that he wanted to tell the story of the imaginary friend from the imaginary friend’s point of view rather than the child.

The book is published in the UK this week, pipped to the post by Imaginary Fred by Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers (see here for my review) and Confessions of an Imaginary Friend by Michelle Cuevas (review here), both of which also tell stories from the imaginary friend’s point of view.

But Beekle stands out for me, and the Caledcott judges, for more than its premise. From the cover illustration onwards, the prominent feature of the title is the artwork, and the colour.

Looking almost like a Pixar movie, each spread is magical not just for the detail imagined, or the extensive colour palate, or the depiction of urban reality versus the imaginary world, but for the mood it projects. Rarely have I seen a picture book that instils a sensory experience just through its pictures – I think Shaun Tan is the other artist who manages this – particularly in Rules of Summer.

Beekle is an imaginary friend who hasn’t been picked yet by a human child, and so, having given up on waiting to be picked, sets off from the world of the imagination to the real world to find its child friend itself.

For children, there is much to adore. Beekle is a cute white blob, reminiscent in texture of the marshmallow man, although simpler and likeable, rather than destructive. His adventure from the imaginary world into the real world takes courage, and means being active not passive. But above all it leads to friendship.

For a young reader, the step-by-step double spread feature of making a friend is winning. Beekle and the little girl are unsure, and then talk, and then laugh, and finally through various facial expression and body language postures, hug and become friends.

The older reader will savour different touches. The first view of the ‘real world’, dull in tone, large and expansive and imposing. The muted palette and wry text explaining that this was a place where “no children were eating cake”, and the depiction of the underground train where “everyone needed a nap.” Dan Santat pointing out that adults aren’t looking around enough – aren’t appreciating the colour and music in the world. It takes an outsider to see what they’re missing.

Beekle doesn’t find his friend easily – and settles into a tree, where the leaves are portrayed as red falling stars. These few pages are dreamy in their simplicity and their beauty – but what they carry with them, as the rest of the book, is the mood – solitude, melancholy – an underlying sadness.

Even on positive pages, showing imagination and friendship, Dan Santat carefully uses shadows to impose a slightly sinister air, a slight expectation that things could go wrong. It’s masterfully rendered and makes each page resonate in a different way.

So I think I understand why it won the Caldecott – not for the premise, which is not as unique as it could be – but for the execution, which appeals on so many levels – to the young child with its rainbow of colours and surprises – to the older child who will question each page and each detail, and to the adult – who will be surprised that a picture book could capture a mood so acutely. You can purchase it here.



With thanks to Andersen Press – please note this book was reviewed from a proof copy only.