Monday, October 20, 2014

Mixing It Up With Hervé Tullet!

Take 270 excited fidgety kids, sit them down in a rather small gym in front of large sheets of paper, pots of colorful poster paint, and paint brushes. Add an internationally-popular children's author/illustrator famous for his creative energy. Mix well -- very well.

The result? Another successful hands-on art lesson by Hervé Tullet, the French children's author/illustrator who broke into the American children's book market a couple of years ago with his best-selling picture book, Press Here.

Now Hervé has just released a new children's book, Mix It Up!, published by Chronicle Books, and, as part of a  U.S. tour, he spent a recent morning at the Rollingwood campus of the Lycée Rochambeau, a French school in Washington, D.C., giving a gym-full of children ages 3-8 an energetic lesson in creatively combining colors, all based on Mix It Up!
The result of the art lesson
Using the same playful tone as in Press Here, Hervé's new book invites young readers to "paint" with the book.
On one two-page spread, for example, we see three big blobs of paint: one red, one yellow and one blue on the left-hand side of the page, and a bigger blob of the yellow paint by itself on the right-hand side of the page. The text reads: "With one finger take a little bit of the blue.... and just touch the yellow. Rub it... gently...." Readers then turn page to see the same three blobs of paint (red, yellow, blue) on the left-hand side of the spread, but a big green blob on the right-hand side of the page,  the result of mixing the blue with the yellow.

Another example: further into the book, there's a two-page spread with a big white blob on the left-hand page and a big black blob on the right page. The text reads: "So if you smoosh these two pages together.... (Just close the book quickly!)" Readers then turn the page and-- voila! -- there are two gray dots, one on the left page and one on the right, as the text reads: "... This is what will happen!"

It's a totally ingenious idea to the book itself become an object to play with -- all without any electronics -- and Hervé seems to have infinite ideas of ways to do this. Among his books translated into English are The Game of Light, a book that has holes that readers can shine a flashlight through to create shadows, The Game of Finger Worms, a book with holes that readers can put their fingers through to create characters, and I Am Blop!, a book that uses one simple shape to demonstrate a variety of ideas including up and down, single and plural, etc. (I interviewed Hervé about I Am Blop! a year ago.)

Hervé himself is a ball of energy, and was undaunted by facing a couple of hundred young children in the gym (and an adjacent area outside where some students were moved to make a bit more space). Wearing paint-splattered jeans and a white t-shirt, and walking barefoot through the rows of children, Hervé used a megaphone to call out directions to the young painters, telling them in French (and sometimes French-accented English) to make a circle or to switch paint pots with their neighbors to try a different color, etc. The chaos and din of exuberant and noisy children didn't faze Hervé, who clearly was in his element as he led the large-scale art lesson.

Later, Hervé and the students trooped up some outside steps to a macadam court, where the students sat cross-legged and listened to Hervé read several of his books in his native French. But Hervé doesn't just read his books -- he performs them, moving like a dancer this way and that way, to add yet another layer of fun. Hervé concluded with Press Here, inviting a shy preschooler to "press" the various "buttons" (actually just illustrations) to make things happen within the pages.

It was a perfect way to end an exhausting morning of creativity, and yet another bravura performance from the great Hervé Tullet. I can't wait to see what he gets up to next! Meanwhile, I hope to get to this new exhibit of his work at the Brooklyn Public Library; thanks to Betsy Bird of A Fuse #8 Production for the link.)

End Notes: Thanks to Lara Starr of Chronicle Books for the review copy of Mix It Up!, for inviting me to be part of the Lycée Rochambeau's "paint-in" with Hervé, and for figuring out how to get a photo of me and Hervé with my recalcitrant camera phone. (And high marks to Lara for maintaining her cool in the midst of bad directions and a dead car battery!). Thanks also to Kerri Poore of Politics & Prose for working with me on the event. And, of course, thanks to Hervé himself for the endless creativity and joy that he brings to children's books.


  1. Karen, I loved reading your account of Friday morning's wonderful event with Hervé. Check out mine (in French) at So glad to have met you and become aware of your blog. Keep up your great work. Jane

  2. Jane -- Great to meet you, and thanks for the link to your blog post. It's wonderful! So great to read about Hervé's visit in French. Merci!