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At Sparky Teaching, we love anything that’s a bit out of the ordinary… Anything that makes us smile is good too. Hervé Tullet’s new book, ‘Press Here’ fits both categories and so, when we were invited to interview M. Tullet for the ‘Press Here’ blog tour, we jumped at the chance. We’ve also themed today’s 365 Things question in his honour. In fact, even the current Art Clokey Google doodle has a kind of ‘Press Here’ look to it!

If you’re a regular visitor to the site, you’ll know we also have a vested interest in design and children’s illustration too, so the chance to interview one of the most creative children’s authors and illustrators around was too good to pass up on.

In ‘Press Here’, Hervé Tullet starts with a yellow painted dot, alone on a blank page. The reader is encouraged to press it and turn over. Magically, the single dot becomes two!

Over the course of the book, there are no pictures other than coloured dots and only a couple of lines of text per page. And yet, whatever your age, it’s impossible to resist shaking, tapping, tilting and even blowing the book. This is infectiously interactive stuff.

Hervé Tullet’s handwritten text is full of positive affirmation (WELL DONE! EXCELLENT! NOT BAD! PERFECT!) and we particularly enjoyed its informality. It’s as if the author is sitting alongside us, chatting away, as the magic of the dots does its work.

The real beauty of the book is its simplicity. Is it fair to say that the most beautifully designed objects are often the simplest? Probably. ‘Press Here’ is a swan gliding along a lake — looks simple enough, but we know there’s a lot of effort going on under the surface to get the right effect. It takes a very clever author to take a blue dot, a red dot and a yellow dot and make them page-turningly interesting…

We have a theory which we’d love to test out. We’d like to leave a copy of ‘Press Here’ on a busy commuter train. The first businessman to sit at the table would probably take a casual peek over his Financial Times. But, after a few shifty glances left and right to check no one was looking, we’re pretty confident he’d soon be pressing, tilting, blowing and, most importantly, smiling.

No Sparky Teaching book review is worth its salt without a handful of pointers for use in the classroom, so try these for size:

    - use ‘Press Here’ to inspire pupils to create their own fun cause and effect scenarios. What happens if I press this red block? Can you paint your own ‘Press Here’ story?
    - act out the story both using the book (practising fine motor skills) and using their whole bodies in dance / PE lessons (e.g. “You three are the red, yellow and blue dots. Can you act out what happens if we press the yellow one?”)
    - use with older pupils to consider the development of the written word, from cave paintings to apps and ebooks. Where does ‘Press Here’ fit in? How is it similar to electronic means of communication? How is it different?
    - use with older pupils to explore what makes an effective interactive text for younger children. If readers know what’s on the other side of the page, why do they still want to read it over and over? Get them to write their own texts, remembering to explore the positive language used in the book.

…we’re sure you’ll come up with better suggestions.

Without further ado, here’s what the author himself had to say about his creation (our questions are in red, Hervé’s answers in blue, links added by us)…

A simple question to start with for a beautifully simple book — for those who don’t know, what is Press Here?

A simple question? Perhaps it’s the most difficult… Press Here is a variation on three dots. A blue, a yellow and a red one. Press Here is the pinacle of what I ever dreamed to make — the simplest form of book possible which can create so many different sensations and surprises!

Since I discovered Little Blue and Little Yellow it became my model and inspiration. In this book that was published at the end of the 1950s, Leo Leoni succeeded to create a magical experience with only a few sheets of paper. It opened my mind about what a book could be and it was a great inspiration. I tried (60 books so far) before finding this particular idea — to press a dot and discover what will happen; press a dot and look how a book could be magical just with the power of the imagination.

Every adult I have passed the review copy of Press Here to has done every action the book asks them to do! In an interview on your website, you say “When you’re talking to the youngest child, you’re talking to everyone in a way.” Who is Press Here aimed at?

A children’s book is a book that is going to be read by an adult and a child. My idea is that the book is in the middle where everyone can play, talk, touch and so on… It’s a moment of reading. Press Here will play (I hope) with those who know how to read (the adult) and also those who do not know (the child). It’s a device to inspire and create a moment of sharing… I always try to conceive my books in this way — as another kind of story… a story made by the readers. In this case each reader will have a unique reading experience.

As part of that unique experience, Press Here seems to be all about getting the reader intrigued, thinking “what’s going to happen when the page is turned?” Do all of your books have this sort of aim?

Absolutely! I try to make open books with sensations for the eyes, for the fingers; made of gesture (reading in the dark) made of touch , made of surprise , made of sounds and, I hope, most of all made for the brain / the thinking …
You need to react / to play / to perform / you need to be active to ” read ” them.

Brain fodder… I guess it’s multi-sensory books like this that we teachers are often on the look-out for. As I read your book, I tried to come up with ways in which it could be used in the classroom. Practising basic actions and developing motor skills sprung to mind immediately. How do you think Press Here should be used with a classful of children?

In a way it’s the most classical book I have ever created: it’s just reading! Some of my other books are maybe more easier and accessible to work with in a classroom than Press Here, but the reading is quite fun and I have had some wonderful experiences while touring the book.

One time a few teachers invited me to their school and when I arrived there was a trail made of dots. I had to press the right dot to open a door and at the end of the trail I found myself in a room full of blue yellow and red balloons! I read some books there… it was amazing … I love to go into schools and discover what the teachers and children have done with my books. They have such elaborate and endearing imaginations!

Great stuff! I love the dotty trail idea. Continuing with the theme of creativity, I’ve taken a look at your website. Activities such as the Colouring Book on there are great interactive tools to have fun, but also to encourage children to click things, simply to see what they do. How do you encourage this experimental, hands-on attitude with your books?

At the beginning I didn’t want to make a drawing book for children. I felt it was a failure (too easy just to say let’s draw!) I wanted them to think, to find ideas with me then I would discover how to play with scribbles. The material is very simple: a scribble, a dot, a stain, a splotch, but it’s what we dream up with the material that I find most interesting. I like to stimulate the brain rather than escape in a story with bears that are talking to rabbits, it is just my preference to play with real life.

There are some books I’ve read that I wish I’d written myself. Press Here is one of them. It’s such a simply illustrated book, but absolutely brilliant in concept. Did it take you long to come up with the idea behind the dots?

It took one second to find the idea — the incredible second when you feel you have something in your mind. You do not know all the details but you KNOW that there is something worth striving for! After this moment you need to work, to spend time to flesh it all out. The technical part of creating!
In the same instance it took me 18 years thinking of children books where I only had one objective: it had to be interactive and I wanted to surprise! I can say that all of my books have this element to them and thinking of this retrospectively I find it’ s strange because at the beginning I did not realise what I was doing. Now I understand more and more!

At Sparky Teaching, we try to encourage creativity in the classroom. There is an innate creativity children have that seems to diminish as they get older. It’s like that Picasso quote — “every child is an artist, the problem is how to remain an artist”. How do you think we can keep children creative?

I’m not sure. I just know that books can be very important for the whole life. “Does / can a book change a life?” I believe that discovering books at 18 years old changed my life. Perhaps that is why I try to make books innovative – to shake the brain into action.

The original title of Press Here in French is un livre (a book). All my work centres around the idea of what a book is and what will happen when you turn the page. I hope that children will keep their creativity as they grow and while they are here on earth try to change something. Usually great artists express this idea — they must be innovative! I like the artists who try to give a new light to our world (Picasso, Melies, Tati, Chaplin, Frangelico, Miles Davis and so on). I do hope that children go on thinking in a creative way their whole life. (That is my ideal utopia!)

Books like Press Here are an inspiration to illustrators such as myself. It makes me smile every time I pick it up. What inspires you?

Music! Music! Music! And everything else! Being in a tube, being in Japan, walking on a beach, or in my home. Looking at the walls or the windows, silent movies and let’s not forget museums of course. Schools (where I visit a lot), child-care centres, jails, BOOKS and Miles Davis always!

Thank you for taking the time to pay us a visit at Sparky Teaching. What’s next for Hervé Tullet?!

Books, books, books! I’ve also created apps based on Press Here. If you do take a look I hope you find it is innovative. It is not a duplication of the book, it’s more a variation with the three dots.

With grateful thanks to Hervé Tullet for his time and inspiration and the good folks of Abrams & Chronicle Books for setting up the blog tour…

Incidentally, it’s interesting that M. Tullet has developed an app based on the book, as ‘Press Here’ almost flies in the face of the barrage of ‘CLICK HERE’ commands we receive every day. But for all the apps, websites and even electronic children’s toys encouraging us to click things, drag things and drop things, they’re not half as fun as pressing a yellow painted dot and turning the page of a book! Why on earth has no one thought of it before?

The last page asks the reader “Want to do it all over again?” and you just know that’s exactly what they’ll do.



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So, what do you think?

  1. […] Catch a new interview w/ him here. Hello — it looks like this is your first time here — you might want to subscribe to the RSS feed or click here to find out more about me. Thanks for visiting […]

    Hervé Tullet Interview | David Maybury | Blog
    9:51 am on October 13th, 2011

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