Thursday, 24 February 2011
A Little Rant about Picture Books Meg Harper
I’m preparing for a library workshop on Friday – the theme is Cops and Robbers because my latest book, an early reader, is called ‘Stop, Thief!’ So we’re going to bring it to life with props and hopefully no actual theft and read other Cops and Robbers stories and make board games and the like. Hence, I have been re-reading wonderful old ‘Cops and Robbers’ and ‘Burglar Bill’ by Janet and Allan Ahlberg – and once again I am thinking, ‘What’s happened to picture books with subtle, delicate pictures and rich, satisfying texts of more than a few words?’ Ones that feature people rather than cutesie blob-like animals in garish colours? What’s happened to books like the ‘Church Mice’ series by Graham Oakley or classics like ‘Dogger’ by Shirley Hughes or wonderful, satisfying cartoon picture books like those of Philippe Dupasquier and Posie Simmonds? To the gentle pastel palettes of Helen Oxenbury or John Burningham? I support my wonderful local independent bookshop Warwick Books which though marvellous is tiny so maybe I should be visiting a bigger store – but the impression I get is that the vast majority of picture books now feature brash illustrations and minimal text. Some of that text is excellent, of course, and we’re seeing some wonderfully quirky exceptions such as the work Emily Gravett, but my over-riding impression is that the richness and diversity of picture books is diminishing. Picture books are a wonderful source of ideas for drama with young people but I’m struggling to find new ones these days. I leapt with glee on ‘Library Lion’ by Michelle Knudsen illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, the other day. Here we have delicate, evocative touching pictures and a ‘proper story’ which held me gripped and I know children will love – and it even has a wonderful, thought-provoking message embedded.
I don’t think I’m being an old fuddie duddie who can’t move with the times here. I know children are bombarded with technicolour TV and so perhaps publishers think that they need to compete with all that brightness and bittiness. I’m not suggesting we dump delightful Nick Sharratt or eschew Elmer. I’m just asking for more substantial stories in picture books and more variety in characters and styles. I’m quite happy with anthropomorphosis at its best – who can forget Jill Murphy’s hilarious Large family of elephants or Mick Inkpen’s Penguin Small who meets the Neverwasanocerous? But I’m fed up with endless blobby creatures with unmemorable characters and only a passing resemblance to the animals they’re supposed to be, especially when nothing much happens to them anyway!
Perhaps publishers could take a look at some of the work coming out of the Cambridge MA in illustration from which SAS member Sue Ferraby is just graduating. www.cambridgemashow.com
Those are her pictures, heading this blog. I’ve been a fan for years.
Do take a look at the web-site above. Haunting pictures and the hint of enthralling stories to go with them. I wish!