Neal (Andrew) Layton (1971-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1971, in Chichester, England; Education: University of Nothumbria at Newcastle, B.A. (with honors), 1994; Central St. Martin's College of Art and Design, M.A. (with distinction), 1998.
Agent—Arena, 11 King's Ridge Rd., Long Valley, NJ 07853.
Freelance writer and illustrator, 1997—. Epsom Art College, tutor, 2000. Work has been included in exhibitions in London and other British cities, and at the Society of Illustrators Museum of American Illustration, New York, NY.
Bronze award, Nestle Smarties Book Prize, 2002, for Oscar and Arabella.
The Photo, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1998, published as Smile If You're Human, Dial Books for Young Readers (New York, NY), 1999.
Oscar and Arabella, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 2002.
The Sunday Blues: A Book for Schoolchildren, Schoolteachers, and Anybody Else Who Dreads Monday Mornings, Candlewick (Cambridge, MA), 2001.
Oscar and Arabella: Hot, Hot, Hot (sequel to Oscar and Arabella), Candlewick (Cambridge, MA), 2004.
Also author of Emily's Animals.
Susan McPadden, Baked Beans, Bananas, and Tomato Sauce, Tango (London, England), 1998.
Michael Rosen, Rover, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1999.
Lucy Coates, Neil's Numberless World, Dorling Kindersley (New York, NY), 2000.
Francesca Simon, Three Cheers for Ostrich, David & Charles (London, England), 2000.
Frieda Wishinsky, Nothing Scares Us, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2000.
Herbie Brennan, Zartog's Remote, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2000, Carolrhoda (Minneapolis, MN), 2001.
Mandy Ross, Alphapets, Ladybird (London, England), 2001.
Gwen Grant, Race Day, Orchard (London, England), 2001.
Jamie Rix, One Hot Penguin, Young Corgi (London, England), 2001.
Brian Moses, Elephants Can't Jump and Other Poems about Animals, Belitha (London, England), 2001.
Sally Grindley, Mucky Duck, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2002, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2003.
Roger McGough, Wicked Poems, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2002.
Jamie Rix, Mr. Mumble's Famous Flybrows, Corgi (London, England), 2002.
Frieda Wishinsky, Jennifer Jones Won't Leave Me Alone, Carolrhoda (Minneapolis, MN), 2003.
Jack Gantos, What Would Joey Do?, Corgi (London, England), 2003.
Nicola Davies, Poop: A Natural History of the Unmentionable, Candlewick (Cambridge, MA), 2004.
Brian P. Cleary, Rainbow Soup: Adventures in Poetry, Carolrhoda (Minneapolis, MN), 2004.
Michael Rose, Howler, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor of illustrations to other books. Contributor to periodicals, including Nickelodeon, Sunday Express, Human Resources, and 20/20 Vision.
"TOTALLY TOM" SERIES, ILLUSTRATOR
Jenny Oldfield, Tell Me the Truth, Tom, Hodder Children's (London, England), 2002.
Jenny Oldfield, Watch out, Wayne, Hodder Children's (London, England), 2002.
Jenny Oldfield, Get Lost, Lola, Hodder Children's (London, England), 2002.
Jenny Oldfield, Keep the Noise down, Kingsley, Hodder Children's (London, England), 2002.
Jenny Oldfield, Drop Dead, Daniel, Hodder Children's (London, England), 2002.
Jenny Oldfield, Don't Make Me Laugh, Liam, Hodder Children's (London, England), 2002.
When Neal Layton was growing up, he didn't expect to become an illustrator—he wanted to be an astronomer. After thinking it over, he decided to become an artist instead; after studying art in college and earning his master's degree in illustration, his first books were published in 1998. One of these, The Photo, he wrote and illustrated himself. Though much of his work is done in conjunction with another author, Layton's self-illustrated works have garnered much critical praise; in 2002, his book Oscar and Arabella was awarded the Bronze Nestle Smarties Book Prize.
The Photo, which has also been published as Smile If You're Human, is the story of an alien family that has come to Earth to seek out the strange species said to reside there: humans. The family lands in a zoo that is closed for the day; mistaking the zoo for the whole planet, they identify the animals and are disappointed in not finding any humans. At last, the young alien thinks he has discovered one and snaps a picture of it; young readers will identify the "human" as, in fact, a gorilla. "Young Earthlings will surely giggle at these peaceful, flash-happy tourists," commented a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Marilyn Bousquin of Horn Book praised the book, noting that "Layton's artistic style is the epitome of simplicity," while Lauren Peterson, in a review for Booklist, noted, "Layton's clever writing and zany cartoon illustrations set this extraterrestrial tale apart."
Layton once told SATA about creating his first book. "Smile If You're Human was the first picture storybook I both wrote and illustrated. It began life as a project for my degree at the University of Northumbria, and after further development it was published in England, the United States, Germany, and Japan. I have always been interested in animals and space travel. The idea of combining the two came about after discovering an essay I had written as a child, 'What I Did at the Weekend.' One of the key points in the story was to make an alien family actually look alien. After experimenting with various green, bug-eyed creatures, and other clichés, I eventually found the inspiration I sought in a cubist painting by Picasso."
Layton's next solo effort, Oscar and Arabella, features prehistoric characters rather than extraterrestrials. Oscar and Arabella are two woolly mammoths—Oscar is chocolate colored and Arabella is caramel—who like to paint, snack, and explore. When they happen upon a caveman, they run away, for although they like to meet new people, they prefer to stay away from dangerous ones. "Layton scribbles his naive drawings in ink and crayon," noted a reviewer in Publishers Weekly, who called the story a "nutty comedy." Oscar and Arabella return in their own sequel: Oscar and Arabella: Hot, Hot, Hot. When summer comes around, the two mammoths find their wool too warm, and their solution is to cut it all off. Julia Eccleshare, writing for the Guardian Unlimited, called the "boldly drawn animals" and "dramatic ice-age landscape … charming."
Another of Layton's self-illustrated books, The Sunday Blues: A Book for Schoolchildren, Schoolteachers, and Anybody Else Who Dreads Monday Mornings, tells the story of Steve, who hates Mondays because it means having to go back to school. Though all the things he and his family do on Sundays are fun, Steve can't help but think that Monday is only overnight. When he finally arrives at school on the dreaded Monday morning, he sees his friends and remembers what fun school can be. Lauren Peterson, in her Booklist review, wrote that "Layton uses wonderfully exaggerated facial expressions and body language" in his illustrations. A critic for Kirkus Reviews commented that the author/illustrator's technique, "incorporating crayon, collage, and lots of computer-generated backgrounds" are "sources of fun and hilarity."
Layton has worked with several writers producing books for young readers. He and Frieda Wishinsky worked together on two titles: Nothing Scares Us and Jennifer Jones Won't Leave Me Alone. In the first, Lucy and Lenny are the best of friends, both brave and fearless. When Lucy discovers she's afraid of a monster on the television, she's not sure how to tell Lenny. When she finally does admit her fear, Lenny reveals that he has a fear of spiders. A critic for Publishers Weekly noted that Layton's "childlike technique lets him enlarge important details," such as the smile on Lenny's spider or the eight arms on Lucy's monster. Sheilah Kosco of School Library Journal claimed that Nothing Scares Us "will appeal to both the brave and the timid alike." In Jennifer Jones Won't Leave Me Alone, the two main characters are anything but best friends. Percy is constantly being pestered by his classmate Jennifer and wishes she would just go away. When her family ends up moving to Europe, Percy finds himself missing Jennifer, and he is overjoyed when she writes to tell him that she is coming back. A Publishers Weekly reviewer praised Layton's "pleasingly dizzying cartoons," and noted that his illustrations add a "comic spontaneity and edginess" to the story.
Together with Sally Grindley, Layton introduces readers to a duck who can't help but be messy in Mucky Duck. Oliver Dunkley has a duck living in his backyard. The pair find ways to get grubby all day long, whether through baking, painting, or playing soccer. At the end of the day, Oliver's parents give them both a bath, but they find a way to get messy even on their way to bed, spilling their goodnight snacks. "Layton's illustrations are frenetic and fun," wrote Lisa Dennis in School Library Journal. A critic for Publishers Weekly commented, "Grindley and Layton can rely on their simple repetition to generate giggles."
Layton once told SATA: "I like my work to be funny and stupid and nonsensical and meaningful and sensical all at the same time. Humor is a very powerful and multifaceted thing—and it's fun, too!
"I don't specifically think of myself as drawing or writing exclusively for children. I think that a good book can appeal, amuse, and have meaning for people of all ages."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, April 1, 1999, Lauren Peterson, review of Smile If You're Human, p. 1421; July, 1999, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Rover, p. 1953; September 15, 2002, Lauren Peterson, review of The Sunday Blues: A Book for Schoolchildren, Schoolteachers, and Anybody Else Who Dreads Monday Mornings, p. 241.
Horn Book Magazine, March, 1999, Marilyn Bousquin, review of Smile If You're Human, p. 195.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2001, review of Three Cheers for Ostrich, p. 1493; June 15, 2002, review of The Sunday Blues, p. 884.
Publishers Weekly, March 29, 1999, review of Smile If You're Human, p. 102; February 8, 1999, "Spring 1999 Children's Books," p. 111; November 6, 2000, review of Nothing Scares Us, p. 90; April 2, 2001, review of Zartog's Remote, p. 64; December 2, 2002, review of Jennifer Jones Won't Leave Me Alone, p. 51; December 23, 2002, review of Oscar and Arabella, p. 68; May 19, 2003, review of Mucky Duck, p. 72.
School Library Journal, April, 1999, Marianne Saccardi, review of Smile If You're Human, p. 101; June, 1999, Carol Ann Wilson, review of Rover, p. 106; November, 2000, Sheilah Kosco, review of Nothing Scares Us, p. 138; December, 2000, Linda M. Kenton, review of Neil's Numberless World, p. 104; April, 2001, Alison Grant, review of Zartog's Remote, p. 99; December, 2002, Marian Drabkin, review of The Sunday Blues, p. 100; February, 2003, Susan Marie Pitard, review of Jennifer Jones Won't Leave Me Alone, p. 124; July, 2003, Lisa Dennis, review of Mucky Duck, p. 96.
Sunday Telegraph, July 19, 1998, review of The Photo.
Book Trusted Web site, http://www.booktrusted.co.uk/ (March 31, 2004), interview with Layton.
Guardian Unlimited, http://www.books.guardian.co.uk/ (November 22, 2003), Julia Eccleshare, "Animal Magic."
Illustrators on the Net, http://www.illustrator.org.uk/ (March 31, 2004), profile of Layton.
Jubilee Books.co, http://www.jubileebooks.co.uk/ (December, 2002), profile of Layton.*
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