• Steven Heller

The Daily Heller: You Don’t Have to Read Dutch to Love These Illustrations

It's all Dutch to me, but fluency of the language is not required to enjoy the new edition of Klaas Verplancke's picture book Ozewiezewoze (with Jan Van Coillie), published in May. Winner of the Bologna Ragazzi Award when originally published 20 years ago, the book suggests the Mid-century Modern verve of children's illustrations by Paul Rand and Saul Bass, with some 21st Century oomph!



Ozewiezewoze (De Eenhoorn) is a collection of 150 children's song classics from Flanders and the Netherlands, a unique, historical songbook for young and old, organized in alphabetic order. This is a brand new edition in two parts, featuring more the 150 new delightfully looney illustrations and a sparkling fresh design for young and old (fluent or not). Part 1, from A to J, is available now. Part 2 (pandemic notwithstanding), from K to Z, is set to be published this autumn. Here, Verplancke tells us more.



What does the title mean?

The nonsensical title is plucked from the lyrics from one of the songs in the collection. This short text is a series of meaningless but good-sounding words. The first registered publication of this text is in a songbook from 1941.



Where did the songs come from? How were they collected?

The original lyrics have been collected from historical sources and publications by professor emeritus Jan Van Coillie. He was the first doctoral student in children's and juvenile literature in the Dutch language area.


What is the timeframe of the songs? What centuries?

Mainly 19 and 20th century.


Is there a prevailing theme?

Based on the long list, the publisher, Jan and I made a selection of 150 songs, divided thematically and alphabetically. There is a handy and comprehensive theme list included in the book so that you can look up the songs by subject.


How did the idea of the book occur?

Children's songs are part of the cultural canon, creative heritage that is passed on generation after generation. But time blurs the source and the original form. At the end of the '90s, the idea arose to collect and bundle the original lyrics and musical notation of the many children's songs that everyone knows and sings, but of which there are sometimes unclear variations.


This was the first version of Ozewiezewoze. It was published in 2000 and became a standard work in Flanders and the Netherlands. What's more, the book won the Bologna Ragazzi Award in 2001, the first Flemish publication ever and to date to be awarded that prize. Since 1966, the Bologna Ragazzi Award has been among the world’s most highly regarded international prizes in the sector of children’s publishing. Aimed at selecting the finest illustrated children’s books, the award honors the best productions in terms of their graphic and editorial qualities, becoming a leading international launchpad for authors and illustrators thanks to the high profile recognition that the winners receive during the fair.



What the Bologna-jury said about the first edition of Ozewiezewoze: "A truly unusual book harking back to the refined graphic tradition of the 1930s, here reproposed to splendid creative effect. A consummate mastery of the art of the poster is distilled with a refined sense of humor whose grotesque traits make it at times almost disquieting as the artist delves into courageous experimentation. Beautifully crafted, this book has been produced according to the highest typographical standards. The harmony of colors and nuance are seldom found today."


So it's been 20 years this year since this successful book was published. That's why I went to the publisher some time ago with the proposal to make an updated publication on the occasion of this jubilee. The original book contained 100 songs. This new edition contains 150 songs and appears in two volumes. The first book was published last spring in the middle of the COVID crisis; the second part will come this winter.


For this double celebration I made around 100 totally new illustrations and Dries Desseyn, designer at the publishing house De Eenhoorn, took care of a fresh contemporary layout.


Is there any other anecdote of interest I should know about the songs or the art? The first edition of Ozewiezewoze was in all senses a milestone in my career in many ways, not only because of the international recognition. It [featured] my first illustrations with a digital coloring and it was the first book that I also designed myself (then still in Quark Express!). I had started from a clear design concept: I wanted to visualize the history and the long time span of the song collection in image and form. A combination of the manual and the digital in the illustration was a symbolic translation of the link between old and new. I intuitively laid the organic middle of this timeline somewhere in the '50s. I only realized afterwards that I finally made a sort of Mid-century book (look, for example, at the color palette and the Futura font), with winks to earlier times (the decorated caps font) and the future (the digital coloring). With hindsight, it's astonishing that this has been translated so accurately in the jury report of the BRAW, including Joost Swarte, who told me afterwards how striking this book was for him. That evaluation made me realize what intuitive choices I had made as a designer and illustrator. For the recent reissue I found it too easy to simply and literally repeat the original concept. It would quickly look like a faint copy. Also, because this time I didn't design the book. Once again I followed my intuition and I tried to preserve the original spirit: conceptual lavish spreads that surrealistically combine several songs in one image, translated into bold, plain color, editorial-like illustrations, in which I play with positive-negative shapes over the gutter. And the Mid-century spirit is visible in the compositions, the style and the colors.





Here is a sneak peak from Part 2 (just between us, mind you):






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