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Greg McIndoe examines Simona Ciraolo’s picture books
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Having spent quite some time building (and writing about) my treasured collection of Nobrow and Flying Eye Books titles, choosing my favourite is a very hard decision indeed. However, if there was a gun to my head (an unlikely scenario, I know, but it is always good to be prepared) then Simona Ciraolo’s debut Flying Eye Book Hug Me would have to be my top choice.

Hug Me brings together an unbeatable combination of quirk, humour and heart to tell a story of Felipe, a cactus in search of friendship and, of course, hugs. This adorable starting point alone makes Hug Me a strong contender for the top spot and add in the book’s warm, rustic aesthetic, surprising and hilarious plot twists and heartwarming happy ending and you have, in my opinion, the perfect picture book.

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So we have established I am a fan of Simona’s debut title (I think that is pretty clear, right?) and so it will come as no surprise that when her second Flying Eye Book was released, I was excited to say the least. At this time, knowing there were people like me eagerly awaiting her next title, Simona herself was feeling the pressure.

“You can’t help but fear that there’s perhaps a higher expectation towards your second book: someone who liked the first might draw comparisons between the two and, well, find it disappointing! But really what made working on the first one a lot less daunting was that things moved so quickly I hardly had a chance to dwell over it.”
– Simona Ciraolo

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Whatever Happened to My Sister?, Simona’s second title, looks at a girl’s bemusement at seeing her older sister growing up and is not Hug Me 2 in any way, shape or form. The biggest changes between the two books is aesthetic. Simona’s second book relies more heavily on smoother, watery textures as well as a moodier colour palette to capture the feelings of change and confusion in the air. This noticeable change could be seen as an obvious way of avoiding comparison but it was in fact purely down to the change in subject matter as Whatever Happened to my Sister? was actually in development before Hug Me was created.

Although, I don’t believe in the “a bad sequel can ruin the original” train of thought, I was a little apprehensive as to how Simona could ever top Hug Me. However, thanks to Simona retaining her clever wit and illustrative charm, I was just as impressed with Simona’s second offering. And after much examination, I found the two titles not to be so different after all. Simona may have jumped from succulents to sisters with her main characters but her core themes moving from making friends to drifting apart from family is a much less dramatic leap. In this way, Whatever Happened to my Sister? is Hug Me’s spiritual successor.

And Simona’s next Flying Eye Book takes another natural step to look at ageing and its effect on relationships. The Lines on Nana’s Face sees signs of old age turn into wrinkles of wonder as a little girl learns about the important moments in her grandma’s life. As ever the concept in this new title is prominent. Simona’s illustrative talent is immense – her spontaneous, energetic use of line and texture is almost reminiscent of Quentin Blake and her use of calm colour is warm and uplifting – she believes having a story you need to tell, or a powerful idea, is most important of all.

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“Being a competent artist is a great help to the extent that it makes it easier to create a readable narrative and an object that’s pleasant to look at, but should not in itself be the most important aspect of creating a book. That being said, I do believe there’s an intrinsic value in the beauty of pictures and their striking ability to reach places that are difficult to get to with words alone.”
– Simona Ciraolo

As for what could be next for Simona, the possibilities seem endless. A cacti-led take catching up with a fully grown Felipe (a part of me will always secretly be hoping for this) or something entirely new and different? With each title added to the Ciraolo library, I am more and more confident the next will be a success. Each title seems just as witty, intelligent, emotive and beautiful as the last and I can’t wait to watch as Simona’s glittering career unfolds – a picture book legend in the making I am sure.

This is a guest post from Greg McIndoe who blogs at Headless Greg.