The winners of the 2014 Carnegie, Kevin Brooks, and the Kate Greenaway, Jon Klassen, are both crowned, adding to a list of illustrious writers and illustrators. Recently C. J. Bushby wrote about how we judge quality in children’s novels and analysed the criteria for judging the Carnegie. Today's blog focuses on how we judge picture books in the Greenaway.
A fish has stolen a hat.
And he’ll probably get away with it.
Probably.Without getting further than the murky end papers, the reader knows something untoward might happen in the dark depths of this book, where the text clearly doesn’t coincide with what’s happening in the pictures.
This hat is not mine. I just stole it… is a startling and daring line for openers in a picture book. Tension on the first page. Solid black page on left with a tiny fish wearing a hat and stark black print on a white page to the right. Even the simple black dot of the fish’s eye suggests apprehension.
How can an artist get tension in a single black dot inside a white orb? But if your name happens to be Jon Klassen anything is possible. And when the little fish announces about the big fish that...
the reader is already saying... uh oh! And when a crab gestures one way and his eyes look another, the reader already knows the crab is a traitor, because that's the brilliance of Jon Klassen.
Apart from the aesthetic qualities, the illustrations must offer the reader either new experiences, or reflect pre-existing experiences. And it should also work at different levels for different readers. The artistic style of the design has also to be integral to the book… cover, endpaper, title page, font, spacing, format, shape and size… often decisions made by an art director but hopefully with the illustrator’s input. And if there is text, there should be synergy between the text and the illustration.
I found the idea of the text being optional, interesting, because of course there is always text for a picture book whether it appears printed or not. It works in the same way that a film can’t exist without a screenplay.
Interestingly I went back to the past 10 years of Greenaway winners – names that include Chris Riddell, Emily Gravett (twice), Mini Grey, Catherine Rayner, Freya Blackwood, Graham Baker Smith, Jim Kay, Levi Penfold and of course now the brilliant Jon Klassen. And out of 10 books only two had separate writers. Perhaps I’ve cheated a bit as I haven’t counted Chris Riddell’s 2004 win with Gulliver’s Travels, having a separate writer because of it being an adaptation Martin Jenkins please forgive me... as a writer I know adaptations are never just adaptions but intricately written, almost new stories.
Even if we bring the figure up to 7 out of 10 as being illustrator written, the balance is still tipped. Does this mean that judges are finding picture books written and illustrated by the same person, to be stronger and more worthy of a Kate Greenaway? Is there more synergy? More artistic merit? Is the book more seamless… more acceptable… more exciting?
So where does this leave the picture book writer? If we only write but don’t illustrate, are we a breed that will be done away with soon? Is this a wordless ending for us?
Dianne Hofmeyr's latest picture book, Zeraffa Giraffa was illustrated by Jane Ray and published by Frances Lincoln
BOOKS FOR KEEPS 5 Star review – ‘A fairytale that just happens to be true. Each spread is a delight, a chapter in itself, with so much to read, observe and wonder at. A very special book indeed.’