Described by their creator as “paper relief,” Giles Laroche's intricate cut-paper-collage illustrations are a feature of his original picture books What's Inside? Fascinating Structures around the World and If You Lived Here: Houses of the World, as well as of picture books featuring texts by authors such as Lois Lenski, Dayle Ann Dodds, Philemon Sturges, and Rachel Field. Reviewing April Jones Prince's What Do Wheels Do All Day?, a story geared for young boys, Horn Book critic Lolly Robinson cited Laroche's “impressive bas-relief cut-paper collages” as among the book's strengths, while Ann Fearrington's Who Sees the Lighthouse? was lauded by Booklist critic Ilene Cooper as a “celebration of lighthouses” that is also “a wonder of paper craft.”
Laroche was inspired to begin book illustration while working as an assistant at an architectural firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and he began developing his unique cut-paper technique in his art studios in Salem, Massachusetts, and Washington, New Hampshire during the 1980s. His paper-relief technique involves cutting, painting, and gluing up to seven or eight layers of paper within each image, spacing each layer to create shadows that give his work a dimensional quality. “I had always enjoyed the collage process,” Laroche once told SATA, “and I began creating collages depicting scenes of medieval towns and colonial villages. In time my collages became more dimensional, and I found myself hand-coloring my own cut-out collage elements. Then I remembered children's books, and I thought that perhaps my paper reliefs would lend themselves well as book illustrations if they could be lit and photographed in an interesting and dramatic way.” Reviewers of Laroche's published illustrations have suggested that the artist's cut-paper collages do indeed work well as illustrations for children's books, especially when a three-dimensional effect is desired.
Allowing children an up-close view of over a dozen of the world's most amazing feats of construction engineering, What's Inside? features layered cut-paper images that reproduce buildings both inside and out. As well as depicting structures from the underground tomb of Egypt's King Tutankamun to Sydney, Australia's Opera House and the Georgia Aquarium, Laroche includes specific facts about each structure, such as location, date of completion, materials, and special features. Calling What's Inside? a “beautiful book,” Paula Willey added in School Library Journal that its sculptural images “are depicted with skill and charm” and feature an “intricacy [that] ... will hold readers spellbound.” Featuring a “trademark” style that mixes “drawing, painting, and cut paper,” the artwork in What's Inside? is enhanced by “minute detail [that] celebrates the awe-inspiring constructions,” according to Booklist contributor Hazel Rochman.
Laroche turns his attention homeward in If You Lived Here, which allows readers to experience life inside homes from around the world. In each of the book's sixteen double-page spreads--which span time and place and range from a village pueblo to an eighteenth-century pioneer log home to a rammed-earth “tulou” from Fuji--an intricate collage image reveals “the geography, the inhabitants, and the community, as well as the house itself,” according to Booklist critic Thom Barthelmess. In Horn Book Jonathan Hunt commended the work, writing that Laroche's fact-filled tour of dwellings allow young readers “glimpses into the lives of people who might live very differently” and “also expand and broaden their worldview,” while School Library Journal contributor Kathleen Kelly MacMillan recommended If You Lived Here as an “exemplary” work that will “inspire readers as well as educate them.”
Laroche' knowledge of architecture is also on display in his illustrations for Lee Bennett Hopkins' Ragged Shadows: Poems of Halloween Night, an anthology of fourteen poems featuring costumed children making the rounds trick-or-treating through the streets of Salem, Massachusetts. Laroche's cut-paper collages again capture architectural elements in the pages of Sturges's Bridges Are to Cross and Sacred Places. In the first, Sturges showcases fifteen bridges, from the high-tech splendor of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to a 2,000-year-old Spanish aqueduct, in the process covering a range of styles, technologies, and materials across time and culture. A Publishers Weekly critic, reviewing Bridges Are to Cross, highlighted Laroche's “astonishing 3-D collage illustration,” while School Library Journal reviewer Ronald Jobe remarked that “each bridge ... has a luminescent quality to it, as if the light is radiating from within. What an effect!”
In Sacred Places Sturges offers a brief tour of nearly thirty places across five continents that are considered sacred by some religion. In her review of the work for School Library Journal, Patricia Lothrop-Green remarked that Laroche's illustrations here offer more information than a photograph of the actual sites ever could: his “rich and detailed art balances architectural impact with situation, use, and cultural context as a photograph could never do,” according to the critic. Down to the Sea in Ships marked another collaboration between Sturges and Laroche, and here author and illustrator team up to create what Booklist critic Gillian Engberg described as a “beautifully illustrated” collection of verses honoring boats, from ancient Viking drakars to tall-masted war ships to modern auto ferries. Laroche's “stunning collages” outshine Sturges's text, according to Engberg, while in School Library Journal Teresa Pfeifer wrote of Down to the Sea in Ships that “author and illustrator work wonders together” in crafting the innovative picture book.
Visit Giles online.