But what’s so important about illustration anyway? And why give a prize to a newcomer? Chris Powling, one of the judges, explains.
The first question is easily answered. At their best pictures are far more than mere spoonsful of sugar to help the words go down: their concern is no less than the quality of our seeing as we grow up. The first time art (in both senses) a child is likely to encounter may well be the work of a Burningham, a Sendak or an Ungerer. Unlike other prizes, though, the Mother Goose Award aims to encourage artists at the outset of their career – also to encourage publishers to invest in them. Here lies the answer to the second question: the panel of judges is on the look-out for the Burninghams, Sendaks and Ungerers of tomorrow.
The non-starters, of course, are easy to spot: illustrations that are merely a pro job … the sort of letraset cartoonery that anticipates art-by-silicon-chip; illustrations that trade on the cute-cum-cosy (and glory be to Holly Hobby); illustrations that bow, scrape and tug their forelocks to existing picture-book superstars.
In contrast, what distinguishes the front-runners is their unexpectedness. Who could have anticipated Michelle Cartlidge’s exquisite, crowded landscape in Pippin and Pod, peopled by sturdy, clump-about mice which look halfway between a vole and a valentine?
Who wouldn’t be surprised as well as delighted by the artwork of Reg Cartwright in Mr Potter’s Pigeon – an archetypal grandad in a world like an archetypal Eden spruced up by Douanier-Rousseau. Each in their different way drips freshness, hums with warmth .. . and makes you eager for more. Good illustration, like good writing, keeps you turning the page.
Recently, the publisher Tom Maschler predicted a renaissance in children’s book illustration and remarked, `if there are 25 outstanding artists now I hope and expect that in five years there will be 200.’ Is this army of eye-catching illustrators to come from a recycling of existing talent or a recruiting of new talent? The Mother Goose money – not to mention its bronze egg – is on the latter.
The Mother Goose Award is given by Books for Your Children – Booksellers.
Mr Potter’s Pigeon, Reg Cartwright, written by Patrick Kinmonth, Hutchinson, 0 09 139450 3, £3.50
I Believe in Unicorns, Elizabeth Falconer, written by Adam Munthe, Chatto & Windus, 0 7011 2437 7, £3.50
Sybil and the Blue Rabbit, Jane Johnson, Benn, 0 510 22523 3, £3.50
Abbey Lubbers, Banshees and Boggarts: A Who’s Who of Fairies, Yvonne Gilbert, written by Katherine Briggs, Kestrel, 0 7226 5537 1, £5.95
Pippin and Pod, Michelle Cartlidge, Heinemann, 0 434 93140 3, £2.75
Mother, grandmother, teacher and specialist children’s bookseller, Dorothy Butler of Auckland, New Zealand, received the Eleanor Farjeon Award for 1979 for ‘outstanding services to children’s literature’.
Dorothy Butler first became interested in the subject of children and reading while teaching English at a secondary school. Her interest was focused on the pre-school years when her own children were small, and she became involved in the Play Centre Association in New Zealand. As her children grew up, she started her own business from home, selling children’s books and providing an advisory service for parents. This expanded so rapidly that she was soon forced to move to larger premises, and the business has flourished ever since. She lectures, runs a remedial reading service, manages to enjoy the time spent with her eight children and ten grandchildren, and has recently turned author. She believes passionately that `books should play a prominent part in children’s lives, from babyhood: that access to books, through parents and other adults, greatly increases a child’s chances of becoming a happy and involved human being.’
This belief shines out clearly in her writing. Her practical advice and warm enthusiasm make Cushla and her Books (Hodder & Stoughton, 1979, 0 340 22768 0, £3.95), reviewed in Books for Keeps 2, and Babies Need Books (Bodley Head, 1980, 0 370 30151 X, £4.95) essential reading for all parents and teachers.
Babies Need Books is just out. There is a section for each year from 0-6 and an extensive annotated booklist for each age. Excellent value.
Later this year Kestrel will publish her The Magpies Said – a collection of New Zealand stories.