Lauren Child is a prolific children’s author and illustrator who shot to fame when the BBC children’s television programming arm, CBeebies, began broadcasting an animated version of her already incredibly popular series of picture books about a young boy called Charlie and his younger sister, Lola.
Since then the Charlie and Lola books have been created by authors other than Lauren Child, along with hundreds of Charlie and Lola related products from wellington boots to bed linen. The books that are spin offs of the television series, look fabulous, and mimic some of the techniques and illustrative methods that made Lauren Child such a breath of fresh air in children’s picture book circles, but the story telling quality simply isn’t as good, in my opinion.
My advice, should you be new to Child’s work, is to stick to the books and products that are specifically created by Child herself, and not in homage to her by a global marketing team.
Luckily, for those of us who rate her work, and I do, highly, Lauren Child continues to create and write both picture books and books for older children in various formats, as well as contributing her unique style of illustrations to books such as reissues of Anne of Green Gables and Pippi Longstocking.
Her illustrations are very distinctive and well known for introducing several fresh formats to the world of children’s picture books:
- Font styles that change depending on who in the story is talking.
- Lines of text that twist and turn and become part of the illustration as well as the story.
- A type of collage effect of working, which uses hand drawn illustrations alongside all kinds of mixed media materials from photographs and Polaroids, to wall paper samples and other materials.
- Her narratives also embrace non standard English usage, so that her characters have a distinctive and clearly child like way of speaking, which is, nevertheless not patronising and can be used to create interesting and humorous or poignant moments in the story.
These methods are now widely used across the children’s picture book formats, but Child was one of the innovators of this kind of style, and her work should be appreciated accordingly.
As well as the Charlie and Lola series, she has also produced a series of picture books, and novels about a girl called Clarice Bean, which are intended for an older readership than Charlie and Lola’s readers, and which move readers across a bridge from picture book to novels.
Her novels about Clarice Bean also contain a fair amount of artwork and employ the same textual and narrative techniques that make her picture books so rewarding. These are techniques which have been used to huge success in series like Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney and the Tom Gates series by Liz Pichon.
The Clarice Bean books are aimed at girls, whereas the Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates books both have boy narrators. I would say, as with the Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates books, that all these books are equally popular at my school both with boys and girls, although it can be hard work to get boys to look beyond the cover of the Clarice Bean books as they are rather pretty. Once you’ve read them a chapter (and the chapters are nice and short so this doesn’t take long), they generally tend to accept that they will like them, as the humour and characters are universally likeable.
The Clarice Bean novels have also spawned a series of novels about Ruby Redfort, a teen girl detective who crops up in the Clarice Bean books as the books Clarice likes to read most. Child is on a six book deal with Harper Collins for the Ruby Redfort series. As yet only two of the books have been published, both of which are popular with girls in KS2 who are confident readers, in the school I work in.
Charlie and Lola and Clarice Bean are both series of books, although none of them have to be read in any particular order. There are also lots of standalone picture books including:
Hubert Horatio Bobton Trent
I Want A Pet
Dan’s Angel (a picture book that explores the real world of art appreciation, but in a way children can get to grips with)
Beware of Story Book Wolves
Who Wants To Be A Poodle
and reworkings of classic fairy stories like Goldilocks and The Three Bears and The Princess and the Pea.
Her work is consistently beautifully presented, and her stories are funny and appealing. All three of my children grew up loving Lauren Child, and these are the sort of books that the term modern classics were invented for.
Child has a website which you can access here. It has some interesting activities on it, although it is not updated very regularly.
Charlie and Lola fans can play lots of interactive online games on the CBeebies site, as well as print off colouring sheets etc.
There is also a dedicated Ruby Redfort site which you can access here.