Costa Children’s Book Award winner Chris Riddell on his fortunate discovery of The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm.
I find it an almost impossible task to choose a children’s book I wish I’d written.The library of my mind palace has shelves stacked with them – The Eagle of the Ninth, The Hobbit, Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, Betsy Byar’s The Eighteen Emergency and of course the comprehensively illustrated Harry Potter books. Instead I’m closing the door quietly, and going down to the basement where there is a cardboard box containing books I will never forget. Aged six and a half, Peter and Jane Book 2B had a profound effect on me. As I struggled to decipher the simple sentences, aided by strange illustrations of what appeared to be the uneventful life of Don Draper’s children, I realised that I was engaged in the difficult, tedious task of learning to read. And then I saw it, on my teacher’s desk, Peter and Jane Book 22c. It was a revelation. Peter and Jane were older, their prosaic adventures described in thrillingly intricate sentences that filled the page. This was it, the summit of Everest, if only I could climb up there…!
That summer I stumbled across The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm, illustrated by William Heath Robinson, in an old vicarage in Scotland and gently, almost effortlessly, I became a reader. I never did get to Peter and Jane Book 22c.
Chris Riddell’s latest book Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse (978-0230759800) is published by Macmillan Children’s Books at £9.99 and won the Costa Children’s Book Award.