Jez Alborough Biography (1959-)
Jez Alborough's picture books for young children feature rhyming texts and exaggerated drawings of animal characters in humorous scenarios that teach simple lessons to preschoolers. Alborough usually includes silly or ridiculous incidents in his picture books, and critics note that his cartoon-like drawings emphasize the humorous intent of his words, with his use of color, in particular, garnering applause. While Alborough's plots are sometimes faulted as overly conventional, critics invariably find his illustrations apt, vibrant, and appealing to children.
Alborough has published several books with bears as the central character. His first book, Bare Bear, follows a polar bear home, where he strips down to his pink skin after removing sunglasses, boots, and finally his fur coat. The story is told in simple, two-line rhymes, and to convey the arctic setting the artist relies on cool blues, whites, and dark shadows that many reviewers found fitting. A Publishers Weekly critic praised the work for its "peculiar slapstick brand of humor that little kids adore." In Running Bear, a sequel to Bare Bear, Polar Bear decides to lose weight by jogging but slips into the ocean instead and comes home with a cold. Although Janet E. Fricker of School Library Journal found some of Alborough's exaggerated illustrations unpleasant and felt that children unfamiliar with Bare Bear would find this story confusing, she allowed that "Running Bear is colorfully illustrated and sometimes humorous."
Where's My Teddy? is another of the author's self-illustrated picture books to feature a bear. An "irresistible bedtime story," according to Publishers Weekly, Where's My Teddy? tells the story of Eddy, a little boy who ventures into some dark and scary woods to search for his lost teddy bear. While he finds a giant-sized teddy bear that a real bear has lost and mistakes it for his own grown large, a bear finds Eddy's teddy bear and thinks his own toy has shrunk. The two meet, realize their mistakes, exchange teddy bears, and the book ends with each tucked into his own bed with his own stuffed toy. Martha Topol of School Library Journal praised Alborough's rhyming text, adding that "[readers'] fear of the unknown and the ensuing visual absurdity will keep them riveted." A Kirkus Reviews critic focused on the effectiveness of Alborough's illustrations: "The striking, expressive watercolors are just right for this satisfying, nicely symmetrical tale."
The Grass Is Greener, published in the United States as The Grass Is Always Greener, features sheep in a story based on the old adage, "The grass is always greener on the other side." Thomas, the lead sheep, decides that the grass on top of the hill in the next pasture must be fresher than that in his own field, and convinces all the other sheep to go there, except Lincoln Lamb, who cannot be bothered to stop playing. Once the sheep get to the hill, they decide that a beautiful green pasture in the distance must have even better grass, but when they get there, they see Lincoln and realize it is the pasture where they started. While noting that The Grass Is Always Greener is not a particularly original portrayal of the old saw, John Philbrook of School Library Journal praised Alborough's illustrations: "Color is nicely used . . . vivid greens and lighter pastels make the countryside come alive."
Alborough's Beaky explores the theme of identity for preschoolers. In this picture book, a bird's egg falls from a tree and Beaky is hatched, but in the absence of others like him on the forest floor, he does not know who he is. A passing frog helps him until a beautiful song draws Beaky into a tree where he discovers a large version of himself—a bird of paradise. A Publishers Weekly critic commented: "It is an uplifting moment when Beaky discovers his true identity and soars above the treetops."
Cuddly Dudley employs Alborough's signature word-play to tell the story of a penguin who is so cute that his family always wants to hug and kiss him. Dudley finally runs away in an attempt to get some peace but encounters a man who feels the same way about him, so he returns home. Reviewers enjoyed Alborough's action-packed illustrations more than the somewhat conventional story. Christine A. Moesch of School Library Journal thought "the images of lots of snuggly penguins might appeal to children."
Alborough has also earned praise for his entertaining rhymes. In Archibald, the author and illustrator tells of a man inordinately proud of his red hair. However, the man loses it one day and is teased by the friends whom he had earlier slighted. Junior Bookshelf reviewer R. Baines found this "a lively and enjoyable read" that is "enlivened by being told in rhyming couplets." Alborough's book of poems, Shake before Opening, covers such topics of interest to youngsters as body parts, animals, school, and other subjects with humor, rhymes, and sketchy drawings. Alborough "uses rhyme expertly," according to a critic for Junior Bookshelf, who concluded: "If you need a lift, a grin on your lips, then this jumpy, hoppity book will do the business."
Hug is perhaps the easiest book to read that Alborough has written. The entire story is told with just three different words—"hug," "Bobo," and "Mummy"—but "like a wordless book, the story unfolds through a series of expressive pictures rather than language," explained a Publishers Weekly contributor. A tiny chimp named Bobo wanders the jungle forlornly. "HUG," he says as he sees parents and children of various species hugging each other. The pair of elephants tries to help, but Bobo only gets sadder. Then his mother appears to give him a hug of his own, and all is well. "Alborough's simplicity results in another gem," concluded School Library Journal reviewer Gay Lynn Van Vleck.
Alborough began a new series in 2000 with the publication of Duck in the Truck. In this and subsequent tales, Alborough again makes good use of rhyme and of his signature cartoon style. Throughout the series, the hapless Duck drags his long-suffering barnyard friends Goat, Sheep, and Frog through various adventures. In Duck in the Truck, Duck crashes his truck, and the others have to help push him out of the mud. Fix-It Duck finds Duck destroying Sheep's home as he tries to fix a leak that is not really a leak: Duck's bath is just overflowing. Then, in Captain Duck, Duck accidentally sails off in Goat's boat, dragging Frog along behind. "The animals burst out of the boisterous, colorful pictures," wrote Bina Williams about Captain Duck in School Library Journal, while a Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Duck in the Truck's "infectious, hard-hitting beat with more than a few rhythmic surprises."
Alborough once commented: "I write to awaken and realize the child in myself, and hopefully to do so in those who read my books. To me, 'the child' is that part of oneself which is still innocent, heartful, mindless, and unaffected by upbringing and the conditioning of society. When I see some people read my books, I can see the child shining through, and I am happy."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Alborough, Jez, Hug, Walker Books (London, England), Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.
Booklist, October 1, 1992, Deborah Abbott, review of Where's My Teddy?, p. 333; September 1, 1997, Julie Corsaro, review of Watch Out! Big Bro's Coming!, p. 131; January 1, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of My Friend Bear, p. 883; December 15, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of Duck in the Truck, p. 788; April 1, 2002, Ellen Mandel, review of Fix-It Duck, p. 1331.
Christian Science Monitor, November 6, 1992, Heather Vogel Frederick, review of Where's My Teddy?, p. 11.
Horn Book, January-February, 1989, Ethel R. Twichell, review of Martin's Mice, pp. 71-72.
Junior Bookshelf, December, 1987, p. 267; August, 1990, p. 164; October, 1991, R. Baines, review of Archibald, p. 200; December, 1991, review of Shake before Opening, p. 247; April, 1993, p. 56.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1987, p. 1569; July 1, 1992, review of Where's My Teddy?, p. 845; March 1, 2002, review of Fix-It Duck, p. 328.
Publishers Weekly, August 17, 1984, review of Bare Bear, p. 59; December 9, 1988, review of Martin's Mice, p. 65; July 27, 1990, review of Beaky, p. 231; July 6, 1992, review of Where's My Teddy?, p. 54; April 12, 1993, review of Cuddly Dudley, p. 61; November 21, 1994, review of It's the Bear!, p. 76; November 16, 1998, review of My Friend Bear, p. 73; January 10, 2000, review of Duck in the Truck, p. 66; November 20, 2000, review of Hug, p. 67; January 22, 2001, review of My Friend Bear, p. 326; December 3, 2001, review of Hug, pp. 62-63; March 18, 2002, review of Fix-It Duck, pp. 105-106; April 8, 2002, review of Duck in the Truck, p. 230; May 5, 2003, review of Captain Duck, p. 224.
School Librarian, May, 1990, p. 58; February, 1993, p. 14; May, 1995, p. 57.
School Library Journal, January 1, 1985, review of Bare Bear, p. 62; October, 1986, Janet E. Fricker, review of Running Bear, p. 154; November, 1987, John Philbrook, review of The Grass Is Always Greener, pp. 85-86; January, 1989, Anne Connor, review of Martin's Mice, p. 78; October, 1990, Heide Piehler, review of Beaky, p. 84; August, 1992, Martha Topol, review of Where's My Teddy?, p. 132; April, 1993, Christine A. Moesch, review of Cuddly Dudley, p. 90; February, 1995, Rosanne Cerny, review of It's the Bear!, p. 72; January, 1997, review of Martin's Mice, p. 37; August, 1997, Sally R. Dow, review of Watch Out! Big Bro's Coming!, p. 128; December, 1998, Kit Vaughan, review of My Friend Bear, p. 75; December, 2000, Gay Lynn Van Vleck, review of Hug, p. 94; May, 2002, Laurie von Mehren, review of Fix-It Duck, p. 104; July, 2003, Bina Williams, review of Captain Duck, p. 86; December, 2003, Mary Elam, review of Some Dogs Do, p. 102.
Times Educational Supplement, September 16, 1988, p. 32; March 30, 1990, p. B10; June 8, 1990, William Feaver, review of Beaky, p. B14; March 29, 1991, p. 23; October 26, 2001, review of Fix-It Duck, p. 22; December 21, 2001, interview with Alborough, p. 28.
Times Literary Supplement, September 30, 1988, Linda Taylor, review of Martin's Mice, p. 1081.
Book Trusted Online, http://www.booktrusted.com/(November 3, 2003), "Jez Alborough."
World Book Day Web Site, http://www.worldbookdayfestival.com/(November 3, 2003), interview with Alborough.*
Brief BiographiesBiographies: (Hugo) Alvar (Henrik) Aalto (1898–1976) Biography to Miguel Angel Asturias (1899–1974) BiographyJez Alborough (1959-) Biography - Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Adaptations, Sidelights