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Albertine’s drawings are, to put it simply, the type that make everyone smile.
How could you not fall for the chaotic cleverness of the unstable skyscraper in Les Gratte-Ciel or the inquisitive black cat in Le Chat Botté?
That’s precisely the right word to describe her drawings: clever.
Take, for example, her seemingly simple book Ligne 135, depicting a lime-green bullet train racing through ever-more fascinating and unusual settings. Here, it speeds through a forest filled with impossibly tall trees; one can only imagine where the tree tops begin–and what about those mysterious walkways?
Albertine’s dossier (by which I mean the biographical packet assembled for the Hans Christian Andersen Award 2014 Jury) is, amazingly, available online here should you care to read it. If, however, you don’t feel like sifting through the 20-page document, allow me to share the following.
Born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1967, Albertine, like many notable children’s book illustrators, received formal artistic training before embarking on a career in press illustration. After a few years, she met her husband, Germano Zullo, a writer with whom she collaborates on many of her books.
To better understand the clever humor in Albertine’s work, consider this illuminating quote:
“When asked about her work, Albertine immediately refers to the world of games; a serious game, she likes to add. She argues that we all too often forget the extreme importance that games play, namely, to understand the world.” –dossier prepared by the Swiss section of IBBY for the HCA Jury
Her book Les Gratte-Ciel (“The Skyscraper”) is nothing if not a game:
Each page shows two neighbors’ competing skyscrapers growing taller and more complex. The reader instinctively knows that adding all those unnecessary details–like a baffled tiger–will lead to a massive collapse.
But when will the structure collapse? When the drawing reaches the top of the page? And more importantly, what else can be added before then? It’s up to the reader to guess. [Note: “The Skyscraper” has been published in English as “Sky High” and a more complete summary is available here.]
La Rumeur de Venise (“The Rumor of Venice”) is also a witty game, as well as an illustration of the pervasiveness of gossip. Rumors about a giant fish caught by a fisherman float from one dwelling to the next; each re-telling brings an increasingly bizarre description. And will this silly rumor turn out to be true?
In addition to the games and cleverness, there’s also an innate sense of what can only be described as happiness running through Albertine’s work. A whimsical, wonderful happiness that comes in the form of tigers & helicopters, neon-lime trains, and adorable depictions of black cats.
In Le Chat Botté (“The Black Cat”), Albertine draws on the classic Italian-French fairy tale “Puss in Boots.” In her version, the cat is witty, refined, and slightly bourgeois, quite unlike the puffed-up, swashbuckling character that has permeated popular culture thanks to Shrek. Here, the clever kitty gives advice to a young man down on his luck.
I didn’t include as many biographical details in this post, since Albertine is very well-known compared to some of the other illustrators I’ve featured. But if you’d like to see more of her work,
- Brain Pickings shared her thoughts about Albertine’s book Little Bird
- A deeper analysis of Line 135 can be found on the BookDragon blog
- And finally, you can explore Albertine’s cleverly designed website for yourself!
As always, check back next week to see the next illustrator in this series. The Hans Christian Andersen Award winners will be announced in late March, and I still have 5 illustrators whose work I have to share before then! (Click “Children’s Literature” on the right side panel for previous entries). Cheers!