Monday, 2 November 2015

You'd like to write a picture book? – 2016 GREENAWAY – Dianne Hofmeyr

The Longlist of the CILIP Kate Greenaway has been announced and the list is truly long. 69 books in total. Is the swell of talent rising every year? Or is the list just too long? Coming from someone who had a title with Piet Grobler’s illustrations nominated on the 2014 Greenaway Longlist, I'm happy the list is long. But in reality how does one choose between 69 books? 

What do the judges look for? In the Greenaway criteria on the website, the sentence that stands out for me is: The whole work should provide pleasure from a stimulating and satisfying visual experience which leaves a lasting impression.

Creative style, medium, consistency, typography, layout, are all part of the criteria but mostly this is beyond the control of the writer unless you're a writer/illustrator. But as far as text goes, there are other criteria that a writer might consider that could put your book in line for a Greenaway:

Are there recurring visual themes or images that enhance the reader's understanding of the book?
How well does the book either offer the reader new experiences or, reflect their pre-existing experiences?
Does the book succeed in working at different levels for different readers?
What is the overall impact of the book on the reader?

CILIP points out that the books don't have to have all these qualities in one book. So if we look back at recent past winners, is there something that strikes us about the illustrations in these picture books?

2011 Graham Baker Smith’s FArTHER, published by Templar, has a dreamlike quality showing dark emotions and a powerful sense of loss. The illustrations depict beautiful machines with delicately spiralling cogs, gilded cages, fluted and folded wings that appear more like paper origami, and finely beaten foil with spines that suggest ancient fishing rods. Mechanical yet at the same time strangely organic. I wrote about his book and the illustrations in a previous ABBA blog

2012 Jim Kay’s A Monster Calls with its absolutely haunting and atmospheric illustrations, published by Walker, totally engages the reader’s experience of the story. The monster with his twig-like extensions, contrasting with the empty way the boy is depicted, seems to encompass the all invasive power of the illness as it threatens to overwhelm the boy. Texture and shadow at its very best. Don't miss this mesmerising video clip of his work which I showed at a workshop at Charney.

2013 Levi Penfold’s illustrations in Black Dog, published by Templar, are a triumph of overcoming fear and facing it head on. He has pushed the boundaries almost beyond the limit with the size of his dog and those dreadful nostrils on the page alongside that small figure in yellow. But then I absolutely loved the visual feast of his debut picture book, The Django, as well. Pity he has moved so far away to Australia.

2014 Canadian Jon Klassen’s work in This is Not my Hat, published by Walker is a rather delicious example of subtle humour with deceptively simple illustration working at different levels for different readers. 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 intentionally doesn’t coincide with what’s happening in the pictures. 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 I wrote about this one in a previous ABBA blog

2015 William Grill’s debut book, Shackleton’s Journey, published by Flying Eye Books, shows coloured pencil work and layering in beautiful spreads of vast, icebound and chilly seas – so atmospheric and wonderful that one can almost feel the crackle of cold in the air – alongside tiny, intricate, detailed drawings that will fascinate any reader. Good to have a non-fiction title in the mix.

Interesting to note that the last five have all been male illustrators and four of the five books are author illustrated. Is this a trend?

How did these books rise to the top of their lists?

If there is one factor that unites them, I would say they are all challenging the norm – all taking illustration one step further. From the simplicity of form and clever page turn in Klassens’ work, to the intricate layering of texture in Baker Smith’s, to the looming black dog in Penfold’s, the pervading dark inkiness of Kay’s, contrasting with the coloured pencilling of Grill’s, there is not one book in that group of five that doesn’t excite. They all offer new experiences and present new ideas in a fresh light, that make the books edgy and different. No nursery food for the modern picture book reader amongst this group!

So which illustrator will be next up from that incredibly long Longlist of nominations for the 2016 Grrenaway?  Is there one title that jumps out for you? Are we placing bets? But first the Short list. Maybe it easier to whittle down to that.

Jane Ray and I will be talking about picture books at the IBBY UK/NCRCL MA Conference on Saturday 14th November under the banner:
STEERING WORDS and PICTURES: how illustrators 'read' and writers 'picture' each others work.
french edition of Zeraffa Giraffa

Top 100 Children's Classics List – THE SUNDAY TIMES, UK

Best Picture Book List 2014 – The Times on Saturday, UK

twitter: @dihofmeyr


Sue Purkiss said...

Thanks for this tour through exciting picture books - the illustrations look extraordinary. What a lovely job - reading through 69 picture books! But an unenviable task to have to choose just a few.

C.J.Busby said...

Really interesting post and what gorgeous books!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Thank you Sue and Celia. I love the 5 works together. Think they are very powerful and would make a wonderful exhibition. Interesting that no one has picked up on the gender thing. Time for a female illustrator to win?