The Mother Goose Award 1992
for `the best newcomer to British children’s book illustration’
Charlotte Voake reports on the judges’ verdict
This year’s award goes, unusually, to a non-fiction title.
Inside the Whale and Other Animals, written by Steve Parker and illustrated by Ted Dewan (Dorling Kindersley, 0 86318 813 3, £7.99), is a book about the anatomy of a series of animals: the whale of the title, a gorilla, a starfish and so on. This possibly sounds a bit dry for children. It isn’t; Ted Dewan’s pen line is so lively and exciting that the book is anything but dull. We loved the colour, too; rich plums, pinks, browns, pale blues, greens and yellows, in watercolour washes.
Each animal is assigned a double-page spread and approached with relish. The bat is shown in cross-section in flight looking for insects. To one side is an ingenious diagram of the way its tendons and bones allow it to sleep as it hangs upside down. The whale is an immensely complex drawing with some unhappy-looking fish disappearing. down its throat. There are little drawings of how a rattle snake opens its huge jaws and how a snail’s shell grows to accommodate the size of the body within, all done with the same verve.
It is so difficult to compare one book with another – they all have their own merits – and this was very much the case when it came to deciding on the three runners-up.
Quacky quack-quack! by Ian Whybrow, illustrated by Russell Ayto (Walker, 0 7445 2103 3, £6.99) is the story of a baby who starts eating the ducks’ bread and the fuss that follows. We particularly liked the full and double-page drawings, and thought the book as a whole had style and sureness and was great fun.
Peter O’Donnell’s The Moonlit Journey (ABC, 185406 090 2, £5.95) is about a little boy whose toy bear turns into a huge, friendly, real bear who takes him out into the forest at night. We chose this book because of the atmosphere of the drawings: dark blue skies with stars and deep green shadowy washes for the forest scenes.
No one was surprised to find that Carol Morley had studied textile design, and we chose her A Tale of Two Kings, (ABC, 1 85406123 2, £5.95) because of her exciting use of torn paper and paint to create the stylised illustrations. One of the kings lives in the most vibrant red house; a road flanked by the greenest of green trees leads away from it and winds across both pages, among flowers, bees and fish ponds. We very much liked her cityscape with its little cars and men on bikes.
I thought that many of the entries this year did not look like first books at all; the standard was fairly uniform and accomplished, making selection quite difficult. In the end we felt happy about our collective choice, tinged perhaps with regret that we couldn’t have squeezed just one, or two, or three more onto the list.
The Mother Goose Award is sponsored by Books for Children.
This year’s judges were Bernard Ashley, Nicola Bayley, Patrick Benson, Julia Eccleshare, Sally Grindley, Colin Hawkins and Charlotte Voake.
The Guardian Award by Stephanie Nettell
The 1992 Guardian Children’s Fiction Award celebrated its Silver Jubilee with a joint presentation, dividing £1,000 between two contrasting winners: Paper Faces by RachelAnderson, (Oxford, 0 19 271654 9, £7.95), and The Exiles byHilary McKay, (Gollancz, 0 575 04934 0, £9.99).
Rachel Anderson has long been respected for her perceptive writing and quietly provocative approach to themes that are far removed from conventionally acceptable topics for young readers. Paper Faces, set amid the grey hardship and confusion of London at the close of the Second World War, is neither as bleak (despite its off-putting, curiously sulky, jacket) nor as startling as some of her previous stories, but like them it salutes the ordinary everyday courage needed to face emotional pain. Its practised skill and basic seriousness is a nice foil for the ingenuous frolics of The Exiles, about the holiday mischief wrought by four sparky sisters, written for fun by a young newcomer and posted off into the unknown with only a sceptical £2 in return-stamps.
Paper Faces is a subtle book with parallel viewpoints – that of Dot, a little Londoner of about six or seven, sharp enough but unworldly and persistently excluded from adult knowledge, and that of the older reader (of 11 or more) whose empathy is deepened by their wider experience and authorial clues. It is a period piece lovingly created from an abundance of everyday detail – in the harassed harshness of respectable urban poverty, the attitudes to children and to class, the luxuriant serenity of well-to-do rural life. Sometimes gently funny, often sad, it tells of the undramatic effects of the war, about the problems of the emergent peace, about foolish adult secrets, and accepting people as they are.
Hilary McKay’s The Exiles, on the other hand, is joyously unconcerned to tell us anything important, except perhaps the perils of life without books. When Ruth, Naomi, Rachel and Phoebe (who range from 13 to six) learn that they’re being packed off to Big Grandma for the duration of the summer – Big Grandma who thinks they are spoilt, that they answer back, don’t help enough at home and read too much, who, in sum, intends to reform them – they are outraged.
To no avail. Their grandmother lives in a suitably big house on the Cumbrian coast, and gained her nickname because she is not only tall and muscular, but wears men’s pyjamas and drinks whisky at bedtime. She is certainly a match for the girls, and their battle, both sides exuberantly witty and articulate, is the basis of this most engaging and affectionate comedy of manners. Each character glowers and sparkles with life, and the episodic plot rollicks along with joie de vivre. The Exiles is a delight, itself unpretentiousproof of its own characters’ creed – that reading books is hugely enjoyable.
The judges were the writers Anne Fine, Douglas Hill, Russell Hoban and Ann Pilling, chaired (for the last time) by me*.
* After 14 years as Children’s Books Editor at the Guardian, as one of the most respected, admired and liked critics, Stephanie Nettell has left to concentrate on her freelancework. We’re making her offers she can’t refuse to ensure she continues to grace the pages of BfK! (Ed.)