Nina…. what makes her mad will make you smile….
Nina in “That Makes Me Mad!”
By Hilary Knight, based on a text by Steven Kroll
The latest Toon Books, those beautiful little hardbacks designed for much younger readers (and beloved in the school library I must add), is a little bit of a classic…. in both senses of the word.
First of all, it’s based on a story by veteran children’s-book writer Steven Kroll and is illustrated by Hilary Knight – the artist behind that much loved American classic Eloise. Sadly, the book opens with the news that Kroll died earlier this year. But that moment of sadness is the very last you’ll feel until you put the book down.
As you’d expect from a Toon Book, this is a lovely little hardcover, perfectly sized for little hands, and just as perfectly written and drawn for little minds.
It’s funny all the way through as well, with Kroll’s text utilising repitition throughout, a frustration is observed and identified and Nina lets us readers know, in no uncertain terms, just why this or that makes her mad. And each scenario plays out over a double page spread – left hand side full page near title piece, right hand side the comic payoff.
Children will obviously recognise so much, all these silly little frustrations and annoyances are anything but silly when you are a child. And whether it’s mom and dad getting things wrong, getting blamed for things she didn’t do, a lack of interest from friends, or simply getting stuff wrong, Nina speaks for children all over and let’s us and them know just how annoyed she can get.
But what makes Nina an absolute delight isn’t the story (although that is a lovely thing) it’s the artwork, the beautiful, inspired, absolutely utterly gorgeous retro style artwork by Knight.
Before getting this book, I had no idea who Hilary Knight was, none at all. I have a feeling some folks reading this are slack jawed in amazement at that, but how would I? Knight was made famous by the few Eloise books – the adventures of a fantastically precocious 6-year old living on the top floor of the New York Plaza, that were published in the 50s, went out of print in the mid 60s (the writer, Kay Thompson’s decision) and were only republished after her death in the new millennia. But then again, I know and adore Ronald Searle and St. Trinians – and you’d have thought something or someone would have pointed me in the direction of Eloise? After all, there’s a lot in common with the styles of Searle and Knight here.
But more than anything else Knight’s art looks and feels like 1950s or 60s America -it helps of course that everything here IS based in 50s/60s USA – TVs, wallpaper, ice-cream sellers, cars – it’s all very much of its time. And it is all, every single page, absolutely, utterly, amazingly beautiful…..
Okay, I’m off to buy some Eloise books. I can’t believe you people didn’t tell me about them.