Hoot Owl – Book Review

By Sean Taylor, Illustrated by Jean Jullien

By Sean Taylor illustrated by Jean Jullien

Published by Walker Books     ISBN 978-1-4063-4841-5

Review by Joy Miessi

Children’s book “Hoot Owl”, is a light hearted short story by Sean Taylor, accompanied by illustrations from Jean Jullien. The story follows Hoot Owl, an inquisitive master of disguise, eager for a midnight snack.

The story is bought to life through Jean Jullien’s bold visuals, emphasising on line work and his use of dramatically contrasting colours; the burning orange and red of Hoot Owl against the black of the night make the ideal palette to create the feeling of a night-time quest. With every page turned there’s a building anticipation of what will happen next: Will Hoot Owl be successful in his search for a meal?

Hoot Owl

Each page features humorous illustrations of Hoot Owl in various costumes, with words perfectly integrated into each image: the composition of text and image is exciting and carefully considered on every single page, which flows naturally and easy to read. There’s a clear simplicity between image and text, making it easy for young readers to digest.

As the story progresses, Hoot Owl continues his efforts of disguising himself to lure the prey closer, but with more failed attempts. The story ends on a light-hearted comedic note, but warns that Hoot Owl will return.

Hoot Owl

Being Jean Jullien’s first children’s book, the illustrations presented here really do show the versatility of Jean Jullien’s work and how adaptable  his work is for various audiences.

AOI speaks to illustrator and man of the moment, Jean Jullien on publication of his new book, Hoot Owl.

The storyline features the protagonist Owl, an optimistic and determined little creature – could you explain how the colour and style used in the illustrations convey Hoot Owl’s personality?

I originally tried a few designs where Hoot Owl looked very serious and menacing. But as I re-read it with editors Deirdre and Maria, I realised that Hoot was just a kid playing tough and that he should look anything but menacing! The colours were in mere contrast to the tones of the night and forest, to make him pop out and easy to catch the eye. And there is something ridiculous about a master of disguise in bright red and orange…!

As this is your first children’s book, how did you approach it differently from your commercial work?

I had to, yes. There was a story, recurring characters from page to page, a more cartoony aesthetic and a lot of back and forth. I’m used to working fast, so there was a bit of adaptation and adjustment, but I had a lot of help in the matter.

How did you approach interpreting the text?

It was ‘hand in hand’ work with the editors at Walker, Deirdre McDermott and Maria Tunney. They obviously have a lot of experience in the matter and offered their precious expertise, whilst leaving room for my input. It taught me a lot.

Were there any challenges or limitations you came across in the making of this book?

Challenges certainly: it is for a young audience so everything has to be fairly curated around that. But that’s an interesting challenge as it meant I tried to make everything more legible, easier to identify and read on a page. This is very much what I’d been taught whilst studying design: how to compose an image to maximise its legibility. It was a nice chance to get back to it and is something I’m using in the rest of my work.

Have you always wanted to do a children’s book?

Not at all. I’ve always been reluctant if anything. My work naturally looks quite naive, which I’ve worked towards in order to have a more immediate impact when I create images, so it always seemed like it’d be a mistake to use that faux naivety without any hidden meaning. But there are other challenges that make it very interesting and it’s a complicated process where a lot of thought is given to making things look easy and flowing – very much like designing a poster. I really enjoyed the experience and hope we can do it again!

Hoot Owl, by Sean Taylor, is published 5 March by Walker Books

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