Chris Haughton is an award-winning Irish illustrator and author. Among his books are Shh! We Have a Plan and Goodnight Everyone, which are emblematic of Haughton’s particular artistic style—visually pleasing and immediately accessible to children. Still, Haughton’s aesthetic may appear unusual to Russian parents, especially those of older generations. Starting with the cover, every page features an even monochromatic background rich in various shades. This flat background lacks perspective or depth, but serves as a canvas for the characters’ activity. Activity, or better put—movement. Although the movement is implied, the illustration finds ways to convey the centrality of motion within the picture.
In Goodnight Everyone [most recent English edition: Candlewick press, 2021. ISBN 9781536217957], you can almost hear the sleeping animals breathing, making slight noises in their sleep (“Little mice are asleep/they snore”). The mama bear doesn’t just hug her cub, she rocks him gently. In Shh, We Have A Plan [most recent English edition: Walker books, 2015. ISBN 9781406361650], there’s a chase scene so charged with energy that the characters look ready to leap off the page.
The characters’ depictions are large, drawing all the reader’s attention. They’re “assembled” like colored-paper collages—here’s the body, here’s the head stuck onto it. The head is all “face,” the face all eyes. The characters’ eyes are also mini-collages, constructed of circles and semicircles with exaggerated emotions. Even the smallest reader can “read” their expressions.
That, after all, is one the picture book’s primary purposes—allowing a child to read the illustrations.
No less important in Chris Haughton’s books is something he may not have aimed for directly: both books are great for beginning readers. Adults can include children at any reading level into the reading process.
There’s not a lot of text in the book, and the little we have is extremely laconic. What helps the beginning reader is the onomatopoeia in Goodnight, Everyone, which comes across with repeated letters.
Little mice are asleep
The rabbits sleep in much the same way, with the same sounds. So do the deer. What a joy for the little reader! Aside from these clear “sounds,” there are recurring words like “yawn.” The word is extended visually, making it one long yawn: the “Ahhh…” on one page concludes with “…yawn” on the next, a wonderfully original idea.
In fact, that’s a great place to start, with the child reading the animal sounds and the “yawn,” while the adult reads the rest. With each new reading, the child can read more of the words: mice, rabbits, deer, even “goodnight.”
Shh! We Have a Plan consists entirely of these recurring words. The main repeats are “shh” and “we have a plan,” but there is also a generous sprinkling of “one,” “two,” and “three.”
This kind of reading is obviously the purview of whole words reading, which can be a great stepping stone. The child will love being able to finally read a book together!
Translated from the Russian by Alisa Cherkasova
Cover image: chrishaughton.com
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