Wed 12 Mar 2014
Oliver Jeffers is one of my favorite author/illustrators and it was very kind of him (or the picture book fairies) to publish “It Wasn’t Me,” the second book about his slightly Twinkie-shaped characters, the Hueys. The first episode, “The New Sweater,” (which has a more darling name overseas, “The New Jumper”) introduces the Hueys as a group of content, nearly identical, unremarkable oval characters with stick legs and arms, and what looks like either a cute cowlick or a strangely low widow’s peak. ADORABLE! What could shake up this bunch except maybe a little “differentness”.
Rupert decides to knit himself a hipster, orange sweater and all heck breaks loose. Hueys are not supposed to be individuals! His friend Gillespie doesn’t find Rupert too strange and tries on a new sweater as well (odd that the Hueys seem to be accomplished knitters although they generally parade about in pretty spare outfits) causing the rest of the Hueys to wonder if they should hop on the bandwagon as well. The humor is subtle but clever and the illustrations, though simple, have plenty of personality. So, why not write a second episode?
“It Wasn’t Me” revisits the Hueys in a slightly more evolved form. They have more colorful clothing, and a couple of them are even wearing hoodies. They’ve gotten over one hurdle, what else could go wrong? If a Huey can look different, it stands to reason, a Huey can think different. But when Hueys can’t agree, someone has to intervene and sort things out. Gillespie tries to be the peacemaker but the Hueys can’t agree on who started the argument, let alone remember what the whole thing was about.
Oliver Jeffers’ work is charming and childish in its simplicity; he understands the short attention span of most kids and their tendency to think in literal terms. The minimalist illustrations may look like “something my kid could draw” but don’t be fooled––a lot of work goes into making something look this easy; reminds me of those people who say “anyone can write a picture book.” As a picture book writer I also look at the format for ideas for the layout of a story. Both of these books are self-ended––there are no blank end pages and Jeffers uses the inside covers as more real estate to tell the stories. Tara Lazar, author of “The Monstore,” has a good description of two typical picture book layouts here: http://taralazar.com/2009/02/22/picture-book-construction-know-your-layout/
If you hadn’t heard of Oliver Jeffers until just recently, as the illustrator for “The Day the Crayons Quit,” written by Drew Daywalt, then please look into his collection of author/illustrator works for fun, artful stories.