How does a picture book come about? Do words arrive first? Or images? Or something story-ish bursting to be explored by both? For Michael Foreman’s approach, see his article on page 4. The subject arose when we were discussing his memoir War Boy featured in our January issue. ‘What next?’ I asked him. ‘One World,’ he said. But it was the relief in his voice, as much as the title, that caught my attention. ‘Birth of a Book’, Michael’s account of the slow, unpredictable progress of an idea in search of the right text and illustrations to embody it, brings a rare glimpse of the artistic process described by an insider.
A Picture Book Conspectus
According to Douglas Martin, the modern period in picture books’ can be dated conveniently from the appearance of Brian Wildsmith’s ABC in 1962′. Underpinning what’s distinctive about contemporary publications is technology – the early sixties seeing the replacement of letterpress printing methods by the standard four-colour offset press. In ‘A Designer Looks at Picture Books’ (page 8) Douglas Martin examines the current set-up, looks back at what was replaced, and makes some informed guesses about the future. As a practitioner himself, he’s also able to explore the contribution of that much underestimated figure, the Book Designer. It’s a contribution few illustrators would deny. Hence the remarks of Helen Oxenbury in our Authorgraph (centre-spread) about Amelia Edwards, design director of Walker Books.
In the rest of our May issue. Penny Smith discusses Big Books on page 7, Elaine Moss and Stephanie Nettell assess this year’s winners of the Mother Goose and Guardian Awards (page 31) and Ralph Steadman (on page 25) poses the question all adults working in the world of children’s hooks must ask themselves: What Is a Child’?’ His own answer is distinctly idiosyncratic, humane and – dare I say it – ringbinder – proof.
The same could be said of William Brown, who was described by Richmal Crompton as her ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’. Does 1990 really mark the centenary of her birth – not to mention the sixty-eighth anniversary of William’s first appearance, aged 11, in 1922? It never fails to amaze me that, in chronological terms, William is actually a half-dozen or so years older than that rather different literary image of twentieth-century childhood, Christopher Robin. Both characters were more than a match for their creators. A A Milne was never reconciled to the fame his children’s books diverted from his adult work, while Richmal Crompton once wrote:
‘… for many years I looked on William as “my character”. He was my puppet. I pulled his strings. But gradually the tables have been turned. I am his puppet. He pulls the strings. For he is resolute, indomitable and inclined to be tyrannical… He refuses to co-operate in some plots. He makes fantastic demands on others.’
The quotation comes from Mary Cadogan’s introduction to What’s Wrong with Civilizashun and other important ritings by Just-William (Macmillan, 0333 52656 2, £7.95) which, along with her The William Companion (Macmillan, 0 333 51184 0, £14.95) has just been published to celebrate the Crompton centenary. In support, at a mere £2.99 and also from Macmillan, comes a facsimile edition of the very first William book, Just William (0 333 53408 5), with Thomas Henry’s marvellous and inimitable illustrations. Readers still unconvinced of William’s classic status should buy this as a matter of urgency – and take a look, perhaps, at BfK 28 (September 1984) where the case for William is argued. For my money – and a William book, back in the fifties, was the first I ever spent my money on – the blessed Outlaw is as significant a figure in children’s books as Alice, or Long John Silver, or Toad or Peter Pan.
Mind you, what price my opinion? Every so often at BfK we’re sent a letter which puts us firmly in our place. This, for instance:
In your latest issue you gave a rave review of Super Dooper Jezebel by Tony Ross and panned One Bear in the Picture by Caroline Bucknall, the exact opposite reactions to those of myself and my kids aged 4, 10, 11 and 14, having borrowed both from the library. Jezebel we thought was illogical in its ending while One Bear was satisfying, true to life and tongue in cheek – and I went out and bought a copy, thus putting my money where my mouth is. Are we out of tune with your reviewers?
P E Elias
To which the only appropriate answer is ‘apparently’. Or ‘vice versa, perhaps’. Far be it from us to suggest that BfK reviews, redoubtable though they are, should be treated as the Last Word on a book. That’s why, however short, they’re always signed and sealed with as individual a stamp as space permits. Of course, given the experience of our reviewers – all directly involved with children as well as books – we’re pretty confident of their quality as a First Word. But we’d be horrified at the thought that we left no room for disagreement. So more power to the Elias elbow, say we… especially since, when we spoke to Ms Elias, she told us ‘I always devour BfK cover-to-cover and love it when sometimes I disagree with you!’
A typically personal review can be found on pages 27-30. It’s Jeff Hynds’ round-up of Spring picture hooks. Jeff took the precaution of including first-hand consumer research in his assessment – which is not to say he saw eye-to-eye invariably with his co-opted kids. Both life and books, thank goodness, provoke a more complex and interesting response than that.
Dept of Dropped Clangers
Finally, a word of apology. In BfK 60 (January ’90) we backed up Margaret Lowman’s and Georghia Elinas-Lewis’s recommendation of Curtis, the Hip-Hop Cat (Papermac, £2.95) with a colour-spread from the book … and then forgot to credit the author/illustrator. It was Gini Wade. Sorry Gini!