The Mother Goose Award
The Mother Goose Award for the most promising newcomer to children’s book illustration is sponsored by Books for Children booksellers.
Chris Powling writes about this year’s winner: Patrick Benson.
In 1984. of all years, a panel of judges needs to specialise in hard looks and searching glances. So we risk the accusation that in our dotage we’ve become misty-eyed rather than beady-eyed when – for at least the third year running – we declare that our entry for the sixth Mother Goose Award was the best ever. How come? A steady upsurge in talent amongst newcomers to British children’s book illustration? More publishers taking a risk on unknowns? Or just the message of Mother Goose slowly getting through? Perhaps we shouldn’t ask but just thank our rising stars while congratulating the lucky ones who reached our final reckoning.
Not that Patrick Benson, our winner, needed any luck at all. From the start we were dazzled by his illustrations for William Mayne’s Hob books (Walker). Mayne is one of our most distinguished writers for children but also one of the quirkiest. Visual interpreters don’t get much help from his texts apart from the biggest help of all: sheer quality. But mightn’t this daunt a young illustrator? Not Patrick Benson. He creates a world for the eye that matches perfectly Mayne’s world for the ear – an in-depth performance which blends a real life-cum-magical setting with characters that range from the warmly recognisable to the frankly grotesque. Hob himself is an inspired creation. Had the pictures come first it would have taken a writer of Mayne’s calibre to come up with a text that was good enough! Patrick Benson seemed to many of us not just a good winner this year but amongst the best of our winners in the past.
Following what’s become an established pattern, our main debate concerned the choice of runners-up. Two factors made this especially difficult. The first was a welcome increase in the number of entries from alternative and out-of-town publishers. Lovely! But it’s not easy to assess accurately a fresh talent that isn’t backed up by all the resources of an established, metropolitan publishing house. Would even Patrick Benson have looked so good without the superb book production he gets from Sebastian Walker? We struggled, nay, contorted ourselves, to be fair. The second complication was a result, we hope, of our constant gripe in previous years about the shortage of non-fiction books submitted to us. For these, 1984 turned out to be a bonanza. Soon we were locked in the complexities of evaluating the potential accomplishments of airbrush and high-tech artistry as compared with lower-tech, more traditional skills. Eventually we’d agreed on two – or is it only one-and-a-half’ – non-fiction runners-up which is something of a Mother Goose breakthrough. Sarah Pooley’s drawings for Skin and Bone (Bodley Head) bring a splendid vitality and humour to a book that might otherwise have been merely informative. Both design and style meet perfectly the needs of a varied and comprehensive-readership. Is Graeme Sims’ Rufus the Fox (Warne) a non-fiction book, though? Even with David Bellamy’s introduction we weren’t sure – though the sensitive simplification of his colour-spreads bring a personal, lyrical interpretation to a natural-history subject that greatly attracted us.
Our other runner-up – Angela Barrett – also showed talent bursting with potential. Her interpretation of Yehudi Menuhin’s The King, the Cat and the Fiddle as a Lehar-rype, turn of the century operetta gives her plenty of scope for richly decorated, meticulously researched interiors as well as the haunting vistas and distances which seem likely to become one of her specialities. The book is a sophisticated treat for any child with an exacting eye for detail and a taste for period charm.
A worthy five-some indeed. Yet we shudder at what we had to leave out. No prize for Naomi Russell’s The Dinosaur Who Wouldn’t Get Up (Methuen) when she hasn’t even started at art-school yet? Or for Bay Athalye who took on the toughest of subjects with Tariq Learns to Swim (Bodley Head) a book welcomed by us all? Or for Clare Roberts’ meticulous and misty impressionism in Oak and Company (Kestrel)? Or for … or for … and so we could go on. If the trend continues, next year will be tougher still. Let’s hope so.
The Red Book of Hob Stories, 0 7445 0120 2.
The Green Book of Hob Stories, 0 7445 0121 0. Both published by Walker Books. £3.95 each. The Yellow and Blue Books will follow later this year.
Skin and Bone from the Your Body series by Dr Gwynne Vevers, Bodley Head. Five more titles in the same series.
Rufus the Fox, from The Animals of Plashes Wood series, Warne. The King, the Cat and the Fiddle, Yehudi Menuhin and Christopher Hope, Benn.
The GUARDIAN Award
Stephanie Nettell writes about this year’s winning author: Dick King-Smith.
The strands of Dick King-Smith’s life, once alarmingly unravelled, are now plaited together most smoothly. Today he’s doing the three things he enjoys most in the world: visiting local primary schools two or three times a month (something he relishes now he no longer works in one), doing his `poor man’s David Attenborough’ on breakfast television (which is fun and brings in some useful money), and writing very successful children’s books. Looking back, he must see an intriguing pattern to his life, but it was certainly indecipherable at those times when he found himself homeless and unemployed.
During the war, as a young subaltern with the Grenadier Guards inching their way north to Florence, he was hit by a hand grenade and put out of action for over three years. For the next twenty he was a farmer, but of a breed the modern countryside has little time for: good with animals, hopeless with money. In the end the bank manager told them, `Your boat’s sinking – are you going to get out and swim?’ But with no home, no job and his wife ill from the stress of it all, it must have felt like drowning.
Friends hauled them to the surface, found them a cheap cottage, a free flat, a travelling job selling aluminium fire-fighting suits; after three years’ increasing unhappiness in a boot factory, he decided to try a four-year degree course for teaching. Unknown to him, his elder daughter left publishing to do the same thing on the same day, and they both graduated at the same time as his son from Oxford. He was 21, she was 29, Dick King-Smith was 53.
For the next seven years he was `the lowest form of animal life’ (a man) in a village primary school where the Head was the age of his daughter. But school holidays brought the chance to write – very successfully, as it turned out, so he risked leaving. Then, out of the blue, came Anne Wood and TV am’s Rub-a-Dub-Tub looking for a writer who was also a teacher and a farmer – and how many of those can there be in the country? This was surely what the fates had been planning all along.
Now, at sixty-two, with six books that have beguiled children and critics alike, he is tucked up happily in a little seventeenth-century house near Keynsham in Avon, just three miles from his birthplace (from which, except in the war, he has never lived further than eight miles anyway). It’s a picture-book heaven for visiting grandchildren, with rabbits and guinea-pigs, hens, geese, ducks and guinea-fowl, three miniature wire-haired dachshunds (including television-star Dodo), a Jack Russell, and Sam, a magnificent and bouncy German Shepherd who at eight months already tops 90lbs.
It must by now be clear that King-Smith knows animals as accurately as he knows children, which is why he can write about the one for the other with humour and affection and still avoid whimsy. His audience is the under-twelves, but his high spirits and engagingly stylish view of family life (animal or human) has universal appeal. His strongest virtue, however, is the ability to tell a good adventure story, to stack danger and adversity and terrible odds against an unlikely hero and then, to all the jokes and excitement, bring just the right degree of warmth – the mother-baby relationship present in all his animal stories is both loving and funny.
When the judges of the Guardian Award for Children’s Fiction (authors Penelope Lively, K. M. Peyton, Michael Rosen and Geoffrey Trease, and myself) picked Dick King-Smith and The Sheep-Pig for this year’s winner, it was in a sense a double tribute – to an amazingly consistent body of work and to an individual book that seemed to us to balance perfectly in one story the best qualities of all the others.
I have yet to meet anyone who was not captivated by this tale of a piglet, won at a local fair by a sheep-farmer, which realises that the only sensible way to handle sheep is to speak politely to them, and which not only saves the farmer’s flock (and his own bacon) from rustlers but goes on to astound the whole world by winning the Sheep-dog Trials on television. It’s deftly constructed, the animal and human characters are marvellously defined in dialogue, the suspense remains strong and quite unbullied by the joke, and the style is so clean and economic that our hero wins through to a frenzy of cheers without a hint of soppiness. It’s a most skilful piece of storytelling, and seemed to the judges to achieve its own aims as ideally as it’s possible to do. There is no higher praise.
Stephanie Nettell is the Children’s Books Editor of the Guardian.
The Sheep-pig is published by Gollancz (0 575 03375 4, £5.50).
The runner-up for the Guardian Award was Summer of the Zeppelin, by Elsie McCutcheon (Dent, 0 466 06133 X. £5.95).
The Children’s Book Award
Winner: The Saga of Erik the Viking, by Terry Jones with pictures by Michael Foreman.
This is the fourth year for this award which has now established itself as a significant landmark in the children’s book world scene. Terry Jones, Michael Foreman and Pavilion books were all delighted at the news; Terry Jones it is reported was heard shouting `I’ve won, I’ve won’ to his assembled family when he took the call. They might well celebrate for this is the only award in which children play a part in deciding the winner.
Throughout the year members of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups all over the country try out books with children in families, playgroups, schools and libraries and collect their responses. From all this testing an overall winner emerges, backed by a Top Ten selected from across the age range (0-14) which the award covers. The prize’ for the winner comes in the form of a book filled with messages, comments, pictures from the children who have enjoyed the book. Jones and Foreman join previous winners: Quentin Blake, Leon Garfield and Margaret Chamberlain, and Roald Dahl.
Pat Thomson, co-ordinator of the award reports on this year’s winner.
Erik and his comrades set forth on a great adventure. They face many trials, confront many monsters but never lose faith and come safely home again to their families.
The story is told in a series of short episodes well within the concentration span of younger children but packed with exciting incident which held older readers. The illustrations make a real and independent contribution which adds powerfully to the story as well as being beautiful to look at.
A book enjoyed by children drawn from all age ranges but especially by under 11’s.
The Top Ten runners-up are:
You and MeMe
Peter Curry, World’s Work, 0 437 32952 6, £3.95
Teddy is touched and turned and the impression is that the reader is `working’ the book. The youngest really loved this one 0+
Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy
Lynley Dodd, Spindlewood, 0 907349 50 1, £3.95
A traditionally shaped rhyming tale – and they all joined in. Real fun. 2+
Ten in a Bed
Allan Ahlberg, Granada, 0 246 1151 3, £3.95
Imagine a fairy tale character in your bed demanding a story every night. Lively idea, amusingly executed. 4+
Anthony Browne, Julia MacRae, 0 86203 104 4, £4.95
Very strong impact. A child fantasises about a kindly, protective gorilla in the absence of her father’s attention. Striking art work. 5+
Chris Winn, Gollancz, 0 575 03096 8, £4.95
The pictures generated enormous interest and speculation. A troop of tumblers meet all kinds of contingencies by forming a series of living shapes. 6+
Dick King-Smith, Gollancz, 0 575 03375 4, £5.50
Satisfying young novel about a courteous pig who becomes a successful sheep dog! A gift to read aloud. 6+
The Trouble with Mum
Babette Cole, Kaye and Ward, 0 7182 1986, £3.95
Mum is a witch and this tends to liven up occasions like PTA meetings. Very funny, bold pictures. 7+
Fireside Tales of the Traveller Children
Duncan Williamson, Canongate,
0 86241 047 9, £5.95 (hbk)
0 86241 952 5, £2.50 (pbk)
Fresh, alive stories. Magic read aloud. Part of our heritage and the children responded. 8+
Here Tomorrow, Gone Today
Tim Kennemore, Faber, 0 571 13011 9, £5.50
Teenagers liked these short stories, finding them both witty and worrying as well as highly enjoyable. 12+
Meredith Ann Pierce, Collins, 0 00 184149 1, £5.95
Fantasy of traditional lines with something to say about the relationship between good and evil. Totally absorbing. For older readers. 14+
A poster designed by Michael Foreman, featuring the winning book and the Top Ten, plus a Pick of the Year book list which includes over 40 recommendations, is available from the Federation.
Write to: Children’s Book Award Poster, 3 Martin Close, Daws Heath, Benfleet, Essex, SS7 2TW, after June 1st. Cost: 75p including p&p. (Cheques and POs to FCBG).
The Saga of Erik the Viking is published by Pavilion Books, 0 907516 23 8, £6.95