Hervé Tullet pops in on Princeton

The usual silence at Princeton Public Library was interrupted with peeling laughter from a large group of little ones and their parents. A man’s heavy French accent was heard animating the crowd, whose echoes bounced back and forth to the man swinging a book above his head.

The man was tall with peppery wild hair. He wore Birkenstocks, which he tossed aside midway through the reading, round glasses and jeans splattered by rainbows. The man is a world renown children’s book author and artist who, in addition to making the New York Times Bestselling list, leads art workshops for kids from African villages to the Museum of Modern Art. His name is Hervé Tullet and, last Monday, he hopped the train to Princeton to read a few stories.

“Hellooooooo,” Tullet shouted to the room.

“Hellooooo,” the room shouted back, more timid than he.

Tullet gestured his hand in encouragement: “Hellooooo.”

“Hellooooo,” the group said.

Some shouted, some screamed, all were encouraged.

In a matter of moments, Tullet had invited every person in the room to leap into his world of creativity, freedom and silliness. Even the high school guys laying back in the corner on laptops had moments of childhood flash before them as their eyes wandered over.

Each of Tullet’s books – he has published more than 70 – engage his readers in a way that entices them to interact.

“He has done something so magical,” said Dean Smith, co-owner of JaZams toy store in Princeton, who lined up with a handful of Tullet’s books to be signed. “There is nothing else like it. It gets both children and adults involved.”

“Mix It Up,” for example, shows its readers how to mix together paint. In it, Tullet’s conductor-like presence instructs the reader to dip his or her finger in the blue paint on one page and the yellow on another. The next page shows green. Then the reader gets to shake the book as hard as they can and the big blocks of color on both pages splatter together. It provides everything wonderful about art without actually getting the paint out.

Some of his other works include “The Game of Light,” “The Game of Shadow, “The Big Book of Light,” the New York Times bestseller “Press Here” and, most recently, “My Stencil Kit.”

“I consider ‘Press Here’ a modern classic,” said PPL librarian Katie Bruce before Tullet took the floor. “He changed some of the landscape of picture books that interact with you as you go on. He is more well known in Europe, but since Princeton is such an international community, a lot of people were excited about today.”

Tullet discovered his click as an illustrator, author and workshop leader while working with underprivileged children and saw how useful it was to create such interaction.

“It is something new and innovative inside me – something that makes me move forward,” Tullet said.

After his reading, Tullet sat down at a library table to sign books. He did not scribble a quick signature to catch his 6:51 train, but took time spilling out a bag of paint pens and signing every name individually as its own work of art. Needless to say, many returned to the bookseller for more.

“My work is to find things to go from this side to this side,” Tullet told his audience earlier, “from one page to another.”

About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida