HuffPost has issued its list of the Best Picture Books of 2017 (Most Touching, Most Charming, Best Surprise, etc.), and the honor of Best History has gone to my collaboration with illustrator Victo Ngai, Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Millbrook Press).
It’s hard to imagine the staid military agreeing to such a plan, but this quirky slice of history is true: in World War I British and U.S. decorated warships in psychedelic patterns to confuse the enemy. A feast for the eyes, this book (much like the ships themselves) is substance cleverly disguised by wondrous art. Even readers who are typically averse to non-fiction will find themselves captivated by this delightfully bizarre moment in history.
Congratulations to the creators of the Honorable Mention books in the Best History category (Margarita Engle, Mike Curato, Monica Clark-Robinson, Frank Morrison, Vashti Harrison, Emma Otheguy, Beatriz Vidal, Debbie Levy, and Gilbert Ford) and to all of the other honored authors and illustrators whose titles are among the Best Picture Books. This gives me quite the to-read list for the next few weeks!
The creation of such lists of honored and recommended new books is a serious undertaking, and the results can be a goldmine for families and educators. I appreciate the efforts that have gone into these, and I’m especially grateful for the inclusion of Dazzle Ships.
The Dilys Evans Founder’s Award, named after The Original Art founder, celebrates the most promising new talent in children’s book illustration. The jury has selected Victo Ngai’s Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Lerner Publishing Group/ Millbrook Press).
The award comes from the Society of Illustrators, whose Museum of Illustration in New York City will feature Victo’s art in for Dazzle Ships its annual Original Art exhibit from November 1 through December 23.
Over at my publisher’s blog, I’ve written about how I came to write my new book, Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, and why I think this niche of World War I history is worth reading about today.
Here’s a bit of what I say in that post.
As with other unconventional subjects that I developed a deep interest in (e.g. how daylight fluorescent colors were created, John Roy Lynch’s ten-year rise from slavery to the U.S. Congress, how The Nutcracker became a holiday tradition, the invention of the Super Soaker water gun), after getting my first taste of dazzle ships, I had a couple of reactions:
1. I’d better hurry up and make a nonfiction picture book about this before somebody else does.
2. How did I not know about this already?
I hope you’ll read the rest, and that you’ll like what I have to say so much that you’ll get yourself a copy of Dazzle Ships from my beloved local independent bookseller, BookPeople.
Paired with Barton’s welcoming language and accessible story, Victo Ngai’s illustrations sparkle. Using mixed analogue and digital media, she re-creates historical map templates and incorporates her own dazzle, creating overlapping and interconnecting patterns with strong lines and bright colors. Ngai’s illustrations are inviting, drawing the reader in and slowing the pace of the narrative, each double-page spread an abundance of color and texture and shape, demanding time and reflection.
“First shown at the Dazzle Weekend at the Museum of Liverpool, November 2014,” explains the band. “We were initially asked to create something visual to accompany Dazzle Ships (Parts I, IV, V & VI) just in case of inclement weather and for those who may struggle to access the ship’s engine room.”
Our interest in Dazzle Ships began in 1983 when artist and sleeve designer Peter Saville showed us a Vorticist painting by Edward Wadsworth entitled ‘Dazzle Ship in dry dock at Liverpool’ and asked if we could write some appropriate music as he wished to create an album sleeve inspired by the fractured imagery. We duly obliged with a record that not only contained a title track Dazzle Ships, but also reflected the dark and fearfully disjointed mentality of early eighties geo-politics.
Here’s hoping that the Dazzle Ships created by Victo and me will be just as appreciated 34 years later as OMD’s “Dazzle Ships” recordings have been.
…today there are two generous posts showing off her illustrations for our book.
Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion will be published next Friday, September 1, by Millbrook Press, which is an imprint of Lerner Publishing. The Lerner blog is featuring 5 Questions for Dazzle Ships illustrator Victo Ngai, a post that includes two full spreads from the book in addition to the one you see here. And you’ll get to hear from Victo herself:
[W]hen I showed an advance copy of the finished book to my friends, most of them thought I’d made up the wild patterns on the ships! I had to show them the historical photos at the end of the book to set them straight.
And at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Julie Danielson treats us to The Art of Victo Ngai — specifically, another three spreads from Dazzle Ships.
Many thanks to Jules, Lerner, and especially Victo.
But don’t take my word for it. Let’s see what readers of advance copies of Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion (Millbrook Press) have had to say about Victo’s illustrations in her first picture book.
[D]on’t let me out of here without performing some kind of obeisance to Victo Ngai — this is her first picture book but her editorial, product, cover, and advertising work demonstrates a breathtaking breadth of skill. I’m thinking of getting a new tattoo.
The illustrations by Victo Ngai are fascinating. I really like the choice of media and although done digitally, it almost looks like it was done in colored pencil. I felt like this spotlighted the artistry of the camouflage.
Visually, Dazzle Ships is stunning, particularly Victo Ngai’s rendering of the dazzle ships themselves. [She] uses a mix of digital and analog media that works particularly well in conveying backgrounds, like the waves of the ocean, and golden skies. A page spread illustrating the concept of camouflage is sure to both entertain and educate young readers, while a futuristic image at the end is inspiring.
Folks in Central Texas can get an up-close look at Victo’s art at BookPeople on Thursday, September 7, at 6:30 p.m. I’ll be reading, discussing, and signing Dazzle Ships — and showing off its magnificent illustrations — and would love to see you there.
I’ve already mentioned the coverage in Kirkus — this review, and this interview — of Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion, written by me, illustrated by Victo Ngai, published by Millbrook Press, and available on September 1.
Now I’m happy as can be to point you toward what some of the other major review publications have had to say about the book.
Ngai’s swirling, art nouveau–style illustrations replicate some of the bold shapes and designs on the so-called “dazzle ships,” and the soft colors and stylized figures nicely soften the wartime theme and focus attention to the ships. Barton adds plenty of historical context, illuminating other naval defense schemes of the period, as well as the role of women in creating dazzle patterns.
“Sometimes desperate times call for dazzling measures,” writes Barton in conclusion, underscoring the importance of creative problem solving. Reflective author and artist notes, a timeline with b&w photographs, and a reading list wrap up a conversational, compelling, and visually arresting story that coincides with the 100th anniversary of its subject.
The well-written, intriguing text is complemented by Ngai’s vibrant and surreal illustrations that skillfully recreate the glittering water and the striking camouflaged vessels. … With the commemoration of the centenary of World War I, this book is a fascinating selection that will captivate readers, especially war story enthusiasts.
Jules: So, what was it like for you to see Victo’s illustrations for the first time?
Chris: My reaction to the first cover sketch my editor shared was (and I have the email to prove it): “Oooooh!!!” And I was at least somewhat prepared for what Victo’s art in this book might look like, because I had seen samples of her work before she was selected as the illustrator. I knew it was going to be a visually fantastic book.
But even then, when I saw the first color art for Dazzle Ships — it was the two-page spread for “Britain, the United States, and their allies turned things around…” — my response was, “[H]oly moly, is that artwork astounding! I’m looking forward more than ever to seeing the rest.”
I had fun chatting with Julie, and I hope you’ll enjoy it, too.
If you like the sound of this book, here are a couple of dates to keep in mind: