On Thursdays, we read reviews or news stories about art or design and study the language used to describe them. This week we’ll look at a review of illustrator Simon Bartram’s new book, Rufus, from the Association of Illustrators.


Here are the first three paragraphs from AOI, in italics.

What is it that every Monster wants? Answer: to scare a Peopley Person! The only problem is where do you find a Peopley Person? Rufus has read books by experts on the subject and he knows he is ready to watch them squirm with fear. The creator of Man on the Moon (a Day in the Life of Bob) returns with a story about Rufus and his desire to be a tip top scary Monster.

Things for Rufus are not straightforward, and neither is his search. He lives in a wilderness where he fails to spot any Peopley Persons at all. He is an enthusiastic hunter at first, but it all seems in vain.

Bartram infuses his peaceful landscapes with melancholic longing as we feel for Rufus in his search for fulfillment. He scours land, sea and air but all he spies are other smaller monsters and there are quite a lot of those. Bartram’s hand-rendered illustrations are subtle, precise and perfectly realized. Rocks, machines and water are all beautifully controlled.

My comments:

At the beginning of this review, the writer gives us the premise, or the storyline, of this new book in a creative and cute way. (Note that a Peopley Person is a made-up term to amuse children, and not a real phrase we use in English.) At the end of the first paragraph, the writer mentions another book by this author/illustrator and then summarizes what the story is about. He uses the phrase a tip top scary Monster. Normally we hyphenate this (tip-top) and use it to mean very good or excellent. So, a tip-top scary monster would be very good at being scary.

In the next paragraph, we learn about the story in more detail. We see the use of not and neither in the first sentence, which is a way to compare two negative things in English. We also see the phrase fails to spot. Fails means he can’t do something, and spot means see, so this is another way to say he doesn’t see any Peopley Persons. The last sentence uses the phrases at first, which means in the beginning, and in vain, which means without success – failure again.

In the third paragraph, we finally get to a review of the illustrator’s skills. First, the writer talks about Bartram’s peaceful landscapes, which are pictures that show a nature scene. He next talks about the melancholic longing of these scenes that help us to understand how Rufus is feeling. Melancholy means a sad mood or feeling, and longing means a strong desire for something. So a melancholic longing means a sad desire for something. Rufus is sad because he can’t find what he’s looking for. He scours (or searches), but all he spies (sees) are other monsters. We use the word quite to add emphasis to something, and a lot means a large amount, so quite a lot means a very large amount. We learn that this artist draws his illustrations by hand (hand-rendered) and perfectly realized means he achieved his creative goals perfectly. The writer finishes this paragraph by saying that the rocks, machines, and water all look beautifully (controlled) correct.

Illustrators of children’s books have an extra challenge when using English because the words we use when writing for or about children are often different from the way we write for or about adults. It’s important to know how to write for your audience, and choosing the best vocabulary is part of that. A good language coach can help artists and designers write for their audience in the most effective way.

At Artglish, we help artists and designers to describe their work with the best vocabulary and language possible. Every Thursday we study reviews and articles to share useful words and phrases to help you in this quest. If you’d like to learn more about what we offer, click here to get exclusive content, or check out our Courses page.

I’ve chosen 5 words or phrases for you to focus on today. They are in bold. If you don’t know them, look up the meaning, synonyms, antonyms, and other forms of these words. You can find links to Merriam-Webster dictionary sites at the bottom of this page.

To read the full review, written by Karl Andy Foster on March 22, 2018, click the link below: