Augustine Melanie Watt Slide Show by Ruth Elliott
When Melanie was growing up, she had a pet cat, Duchesse, and wanted to be a veterinarian. She currently shares her home with her husband and a pet parrot, Kiwi (who likes to eat her pencils). All of the books she has written and/or illustrated have been about animals. Melanie looks at photographs of the animals that she includes in her books. She attempts to understand the important features of an animal and tries "to grasp the essence of that animal and reproduce it on paper" (BWI Title Tales, n.d.). Melanie is also inspired by current events, people, her memories of the past, humorous situations, and interesting places. What inspires Melanie Watt?
Melanie loved to draw Garfield when she was growing up. In every new school she attended, students would ask her to draw Garfield on their hands or arms. Melanie spent hours in her room copying pictures. She especially liked to draw portraits.
Now Melanie is invited to draw Scaredy Squirrel on children’s casts. She’s still making friends by drawing on people.
In her younger years, Melanie spent hours drawing Garfield. Do you see any similarities between her childhood obsession and the animal characters she draws now?
Books and Authors who have inspired Melanie Watt (Animals and Humour) Laurie Keller
Style of Illustration Melanie does not really have a defined style of illustration. Each book is about animals so she illustrates animals. The common theme is of characters with issues who deal with the issues internally. In the books that followed Augustine, Melanie’s style became more “visually driven, full of arrows, asides, [with] text wrapped around images and lists”. (Rushowy, 2009). In Augustine, there are only hints of this style.
Summary of Augustine Melanie says that of all the characters she has created, Augustine, the little penguin, is most like her. Melanie moved often as a child because of her father’s job. Augustine moves from the South Pole to the North Pole because of her father’s job. Augustine used art to break the ice at her new school. As she sat alone on the playground, she began to draw her story of moving on little pieces of paper. When the other students come to admire her drawings, she shares her story with them. The students, Augustine’s new friends, become excited about drawing. Their teacher gives them time to be artistic. In the end, they have a class art show. Augustine’s grandparents come all the way from the South Pole in order to attend. They say that the North Pole has brought out the true colours in Augustine. She feels like she belongs.
It uses lots of puns about frost, ice, and cold feet. In the first draft of the book, Melanie wrote: “break the ice with my drawings”. She liked that line so much that she decided to enhance the language by adding many more puns.
It is told from a child’s point of view. Melanie remembers her childhood very clearly and can recreate a child’s thought patterns and uncomplicated communication.
When Melanie chooses to write any book, she first of all wants to appeal to herself. So she writes a book that will interest herself.
Melanie identifies with Augustine because of her experiences of moving.
I realize that I also identify with Augustine since I moved every three or four years as a child.
Melanie uses her characters to help her work through some of her feelings—her own form of therapy.
Teachers are mesmerized by Melanie’s books. Her stories appeal to all levels.
On the left page, there are nine boxes (similar to those below). Each box is coloured and contains a picture (and sometimes words).
On the right page, there is a large picture and the text of the story.
The pictures in the boxes add information to the text.
Although the vignettes in the boxes are viewed chaotically (with no clear beginning and ending point), the center box is always the focal point. This is the picture drawn in childlike style by Augustine (artistry asserted with a large “A”)
This center box is also the picture drawn in the style of a great artist.
On most pages, it is difficult to determine which of the eight small boxed pictures to look at first. This is deliberate since the 8 outer pictures form a circle. The pictures reflect Augustine’s confused feelings about moving.
A few more random thoughts about layout
Life is generally more of a circle, a whirling ball of contradictory emotions and thoughts that swirl around us. It is rarely a linear process.
Augustine moved half-way around the globe (another circle) to her new home.
When she arrived at the North Pole, the pictures are numbered for the page that shows the visits to 8 homes for sale before they purchased the 9th home. That was a linear process.
As I reflected on Augustine with all of her boxes (which are actually quite constraining and rigid despite the lack of clear beginning and end points), I also thought about Chester. Chester (a later creation of Melanie Watt) has exploded out of the box. He cannot be contained.
Reveal the personality and character of Augustine (shy, eyes downcast)
Humour in art: Van Gogh bunny (toy with bandage on ear), whole fish in sandwich
The mosaic of images in the boxes include the ideas from text on the right and add extra concepts. There are layers of meaning.
One reviewer said that there was too much going on and that the illustrations were too ambitious.
Melanie wants readers to add layers of meaning by using the vignettes. She recognizes that children read books over and over. The visual details allow readers to “explore their imagination and bring a new creative level to the story” (BWI Title Tales, n.d.).
Illustrations bring pacing and tension On each two page spread in the book, one page shows nine small boxes filled with pictures. These small pictures drive the story forward.
On one page though, only one box (the center one) has a picture. Augustine has gone out for recess. No one comes to play with her. Instead she draws a picture of the ball the others are playing with and writes: This is not my ball.
After all the life and exuberance of the pictures on all the other pages, the page with one ball picture is so sad. Melanie aims to use details and images to trigger thoughts and feelings.
Warmth and Vitality through Colour
The center drawing within the nine boxes, shows a progression of Augustine’s artistic ability.
Gradually those pictures have more and more colour and detail added to them.
When Augustine is alone on the playground she uses only blue to draw pictures. She calls it her “Blue Recess Period”.
Once she has made friends, her pictures grow more and more colourful.
Her grandparents say that the North Pole has brought out her true colours.
Style of Art is Appropriate to Story
The center box is always a picture drawn by Augustine. Each of these pictures are drawn in the style of a famous artist. Despite this homage, the images are very child-like.
Each of these pictures is signed with a big A, just as a child might indicate ownership of their artwork.
There is a repetition of images. Children tend to draw the same picture repeatedly (especially when there may be turmoil elsewhere in their lives). One of my students repeatedly drew a house, tree, clouds, and sun in perfect balance in a picture. This happy image offset the reality of her dysfunctional home.
Melanie herself repeatedly drew Garfield as a child. Perhaps there is something soothing about constancy in the midst of change.
Melanie hopes with her writing to create books that kids can read over and over with new images to discover. She wants to provide drawings that readers can interpret in their own way.
One of the aspects that adds depth to the artistry of this book is Melanie’s use of the artwork of famous artists.
Melanie drew a picture of a penguin beside a window on Augustine’s plane trip to the North Pole.
Melanie noticed that the penguin resembled a picture by Magritte. She decided to try to include more drawings in homage to great artists. Only later did she stumble upon the idea of having Augustine draw her penguin-esque versions of the great artists’ works.
Melanie wished to introduce children to these great artists. She wanted them to become aware of the many different varieties of artistic talent.
These works of art also add more of those layers of meaning for adults and older children who read this book.
I was surprised and thrilled to uncover more evidence of Melanie Watt’s brilliance as I looked up the originals of each work.
I would encourage you to find your own copy of Augustine and follow along.
I have included a slide for each two page spread in Melanie’s book. The original works are in the same order as the pictures in the book.
The final artist who Watt pays homage to is Henri Matisse. Towards the end of his life, Mattise created collages . He called it “Painting with scissors”. For the last fourteen years of his life, he said he was given a second life and believed that his collages allowed him to create what he had always wanted to create. Many of his collages were published in books with his handwritten thoughts beside them. The story of Icarus is a story of a young man reaching for the stars who tragically flies too close to the sun. The French can be very roughly translated as:In one moment of freedom should we not accomplish a great journey.
Melanie Watt says that she would like to work in collage.
Since the final artist that she pays homage to (since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery) is Henri Matisse, I have to think that she admires him and would like to emulate him. Even after Matisse was confined to a wheelchair and had to rest often, he found new ways to display his creative, artistic nature. He overcame his problems and displayed his artistic genius until his death at 85 years. Melanie Watt identifies with Augustine since she moved often as a child. She used art to express feelings and to cope with feelings. As an author, she uses her characters to work out some of her own emotions: timid Leon the Chameleon, artistic Augustine, insecure ScaredySquirrel , and brash Chester. Her message to children: By taking risks you can find out what you are capable of. The heroine of this story, Augustine, makes a difficult move away from her friends and home. However, in the end, her grandparents tell her that the North Pole has brought out her true colors.
Reference List BWI Title Tales. (n.d.). What's new: Author interview, Melanie Watt. In BWI Title Tales. Online at http://bwibooks.com/articles/melanie-watt.php Lewicki, Bryony. (January 2008). Flying Squirrel. In Quill & Quire. Online at http://www.quillandquire.com/authors/profile.cfm?article_id=9751 Rushowy, Kristin. (March 5, 2009). Scaredy Squirrel author talks to Scarborough students. Online at http://www.parentcentral.ca/parent/article/596667