Picture Book Snob
The Boys and The Girls: Q&A Tour + Review
Discover Lauren Ace's top tips for young writers and find out why we love The Boys and The Girls, written by Lauren and illustrated by Jenny Løvlie...
We are absolutely thrilled to join the Q&A tour for two magnificent picture books - The Boys and The Girls by Lauren Ace and Jenny Løvlie. Out of all the picture books we own and love, we have probably read The Girls more than any other — and that's really saying something! The Boys arrived a few days ago and we have been just as taken with it. Like its predecessor, it's destined to become a classic. I have a daughter with auburn hair and one with fair hair, just like Lottie and Alice in The Girls, so they always pretend to be those characters when we read the story. I think the reason I was originally drawn to this book was because there was a redhead and a blonde on the cover! One of the first times my girls met their new baby cousin Alice, they insisted on bringing The Girls so that they could show it to her. This story has become part of the fabric of my daughter's childhoods and I know we will all remember it fondly for years to come.
The Girls was published in 2018 by Little Tiger and its companion story, The Boys, released in April 2021. If you're not already familiar with these beautiful books, you can read our review and see some illustrations here. When you have a story as special as The Girls, it must be extremely difficult to create something that compares. Lauren and Jenny have more than managed, however, and The Boys is just as poignant, memorable and magical.
For the Q&A tour in honour of these extraordinary stories, clips of Lauren and Jenny answering a variety of questions have been shared every day this week, with one more to come tomorrow. I've found them all fascinating and am delighted to share our video of Lauren discussing her top tips for young writers:
Don't forget to visit the rest of the stops on Instagram to learn more about these terrific books and their background - see the full list here. Even though The Girls is one of our all-time favourites, I hadn't reviewed it before now. Sometimes the stronger I feel about a story, the harder it is for me to write about it — I can feel a bit intimidated. It hasn't helped that our copy of The Girls is worn and dog-eared, with several creased and crumpled pages and even a few that are torn at the edges!
Our well-worn copy of The Girls and our shiny new hardback of The Boys (which will no doubt grow as loved-looking as The Girls over time)
So, what are these stories about? Each book centres on a group of pals and follows their journeys from childhood to adulthood. Although they are all quite different, they have the same love and respect for each other. As the characters grow, so do their friendships. Despite the many challenges and changes life brings, their friendship remains constant and can always be relied on.
It's never explicitly stated, but The Boys appears to follow on from the events of The Girls. The mothers of the boys seem to be Alice, Leela, Sasha and Sasha's partner from the first book (Lottie must be off adventuring!). That's how we have interpreted it at least, and the book has resonated with us even more as a result.
What can we learn?
Both stories highlight how vital it is to have supportive people in your life. In The Girls, we see how the characters celebrate each other's successes and, crucially, are there for each other when things aren't going well. The Boys demonstrates how important it is to talk about feelings, something that might not come as easily to boys and men.
Each book shows that it's natural for friendships to sometimes be strained and to grow and evolve as much as the people they connect. It demonstrates how these relationships make us stronger regardless of what stage they, or we, are at. Although we might weather many storms, they're only temporary, and are easier to navigate with the help of others who know and understand us.
We see how girls can do anything they set their mind to and should never feel limited by the expectations of others. The Boys embraces a softer side to masculinity which is not often depicted in children's books or in general. Both stories emphasise how it's OK to be yourself, love who you want, reveal your true emotions and lean on others when you need to.
What makes these books stand out? The characters are ordinary people to whom children and their parents can easily relate. They challenge gender stereotypes, promote positive femininity and masculinity, and are incredibly inclusive. At a time when there is a lack of diversity in picture books, it's fantastic how these stories have Black and Asian characters. LGBT protagonists, same-sex marriages and modern families feature prominently. Children in wheelchairs are also represented in both stories.
In the clip shared by Emily of @BooksB4Bedtime on Monday, Lauren talks about what inspired her to write The Girls. Although she saw lots of children's books about remarkable women and their impressive achievements, there wasn't anything focusing on ordinary girls and the friendships that sustain them. In the video hosted by Andrea of @educa8wirral, Lauren mentions that people don't always associate strong friendships with men even though they have lifelong relationships with other males that are just as essential. So, she and Jenny wanted to acknowledge this and show boys being just as loving and gentle with each other as girls.
Why we love these books...
As I've already mentioned, The Boys and The Girls defy gender stereotypes, and it's one of the things I love most about them. Although marriage and parenthood are a part of each story, they're never seen as the end goal for either gender. Just like lots of women I know, Lottie is more interested in climbing mountains than changing nappies, while Leela balances motherhood with a busy career. It's fantastic how all the boys find "different ways of expressing themselves" which are not necessarily typically male activities. And it's brilliant to see them being so involved when they do become fathers, and being unafraid to show obvious affection for each other too.
Books and films that span a number of years have always intrigued me, and my own kids love watching the girls and boys mature as each page is turned. When we see the characters grow up, we feel even more connected to them and more involved in their stories. It's amazing how much happens and how both the protagonists and the readers experience a wide range of emotions in just a few pages. These are exceptionally powerful and moving stories; I always have tears in my eyes and a wobbly voice as we reach the end of each book. I also love how The Girls uses an apple tree to bring all the characters together while The Boys uses the sea and the changing tides as a metaphor. Both stories have a comforting, circular narrative, featuring the tree and the beach at the beginning and end respectively. And the illustrations are absolutely stunning.
About the illustrations... WE LOVE THE ILLUSTRATIONS SO MUCH! From the colour palette to all the little details, they are just so striking and attractive, with a gentle and friendly quality that suits the tone of the stories so well. Lauren's words and Jenny's images work in perfect harmony. The illustrations fill many gaps in the narrative while simultaneously leaving lots of room for the imaginations of little readers. We tend to spend lots of time looking at and discussing each page before moving on to the next one. My kids were very excited to spot The Girls make a cameo appearance, as Nattie reads it to his own family. While watching the clip shared by Lucy of @the_little_bookcase, I was fascinated to learn that publisher Little Tiger found Jenny on Instagram. I assumed she was tied to the project from the start. In the same clip, Lauren mentions that Jenny depicted the cast of The Girls exactly as she'd imagined them! Her artwork is spectacular and she makes these wonderful characters even more lovable and causes the story to tug even harder at the heartstrings. I find the image of the girls holding (tiny) hands under the tree at the start of The Girls particularly moving as well as the scene showing the next generation at the end of The Boys.
Why you need these books...
The Girls and The Boys are stories in which every reader can see themselves reflected. The text and the concept is simple enough even for babies and toddlers to enjoy, while the story and the illustrations will engage older children. These stories encourage girls to be who they want and help boys be more open about their feelings, and they are absolutely gorgeous to look at. These are books you will find yourself buying again and again as gifts for other children, and perhaps even for a few grown-ups too!
About the author:
Lauren Ace is from south Wales, studied Drama at the University of Exeter and now lives in London, where she has worked in publishing for ten years. An award-winning publicist, Lauren looked after Julia Donaldson during her tenure as Children’s Laureate and has managed campaigns for World Book Day and the announcement of Chris Riddell as Children’s Laureate.
About the illustrator:
Jenny Løvlie is an illustrator and bird enthusiast from Ekkerøy in northern Norway. Drawing was always her favourite pastime and after graduating with a BA in illustration and animation from Kingston University 2014, is now also her job! Jenny's style is bright and colourful with lots of texture, plants and animals. She draws a lot of inspiration from the Arctic landscape, flora and fauna. Jenny is based in Cardiff. You can see more of Jenny's work on her website.
Thanks so much to the lovely people in Little Tiger for inviting us on the tour for The Boys and The Girls, and for sharing The Boys with us. All opinions expressd are our own. ~ Don't forget to watch all the other Q&A clips on Instagram:
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