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Death, tough to explain to kids

Olivir Talec

Illustrating children’s books is as challenging as working on books for adults as some images stay with us throughout life even if we may forget the story

Olivir TalecNew Delhi :Illustrating children’s books is as challenging as working on books for adults as some images stay with us throughout life even if we may forget the story, says French author and illustrator Olivier Tallec.

“Many think children’s books are about inspiring stories but there’s a lot more to it. There are books which deal with sensitive issues like death, sexuality, loneliness coupled with humour,” Tallec told PTI in an interview.

“To illustrate such themes for children’s books is very challenging because these concepts are difficult to explain. As an illustrator and writer, I have to be careful about what to say and how to say it to kids because they can be influenced easily,” he said.

In one of his books “The Scar”, Tallec, through a series of illustrations captures the theme of loneliness through the eyes of a child. The story written by Charlotte Moundlic is about a little boy who wakes up to the news of his mother’s death is overwhelmed with grief, anger and desperation to keep the memories of his mother alive.

Tallec, who has so far illustrated more than seventy children’s books, says the most important aspect of illustration is to create a synergistic relationship between the text and its pictorial depiction.

“The one thing I always ensure while illustrating is to identify and create a unique relationship between text and illustration for each book. The aim is to make it fathomable for children but every illustration has to be new and different. All I do is try and find a graphic sense for the text,” he says.

Tallec, who “happened” to be an illustrator calls his tryst with illustrating children’s books a rather serendipitous one.

“Illustrating children’s books was never on my mind. I studied graphic design, worked for few years in advertising but soon I went door-to-door to meet publishers, showed them my work. It was when a publisher asked me to illustrate children’s books. And I said yes! Projects for children’s books just kept pouring in since then,” he says.

The French illustrator says he likes to work on more than two illustration projects simultaneously. While sometimes a publisher asks him to work on a story previously written by an author, on many other occasions he has also collaborated with writer friends.

“Sometimes I work with authors; sometimes I never meet the writer. At many other occasions, the authors are my friends. It’s more difficult to work with friends but all I ask them to do is to let me work on my own,” says Tallec. Elaborating on his process of illustration, he always tries to work on text which is not too descriptive.

“Descriptive stories are difficult to imagine thus, I try not to work of them. But when I have a story, I read it over and over again and try to forget it. What is important in an illustrative book is that illustration and text must complement each other, fill in spaces for each other,” says the illustrator who finds its imperative to work with the “memory” of the text and not the text itself.

While many say that children’s books entail a “childlike perception of reality”, Tallec doesn’t consider it to be much of a challenge to get himself to think how a child would. “The more we think about being age-appropriate, the harder it gets. I don’t think as an adult and bother about how a child would look at it, I just do it.” he says.

Tallec who is currently working on a Japanese children’s illustrative series, also trains kids on “How to be an Illustrator?” in several book fairs across France. He has organized several illustration workshops for children in Mumbai and Delhi.


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