Wednesday, 2 July 2014

WHO WEARS THE HAT? – Dianne Hofmeyr

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. 

The blurb on the back cover of the darkly comic book and daring book – THIS IS NOT MY HAT – is its simple premise.
A fish has stolen a hat.
And he’ll probably get away with it.
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.
The first line:
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.

The Greenaway is judged very differently to the Carnegie. It’s not about writers but about artists and outstanding artistic quality and about satisfying a visual experience which leaves a lasting impression. I went back to the guidelines to be sure.

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.’  


Lucy Coats said...

What an interesting post, Di. I hadn't realised that so many winning books had one creator. I think it's right and fair that the Greenaway should be judged along pictorial lines - clearly they take very seriously the adage 'a picture is worth a thousand words'. Jon Klassen is, in my opinion, a genius and I'm so glad he won. However, I don't think us writers will become extinct any time soon. A good illustrator/writer partnership is a wonderful thing, and many illustrators prefer not to do the writing bit. I am deeply grateful to all the wonderful illustrators I've had the privilege to work with. I never cease to be amazed at how another eye can bring my words to life in a way I never could. I can't draw and never will be able to!

C.J.Busby said...

Interesting post! It almost makes you wonder whether the Greenaway medal, for illustration, leaves a similar gap as does the Carnegie. The actual writing of books for both the youngest children and the middle range are relatively left out, a fact masked by fact that mostly the Greenaway award is given to picture books. But of course, last year it went to A Monster Calls - and I suspect that the trend for lavishly beautiful illustrations in older children's fiction may continue (S.F. Said's Phoenix being one recent example)in the bid to provide a counterweight to the growing popularity of e-books. So maybe we'll see not only fewer authors of picture books celebrated, but fewer younger picture books full stop!

adele said...

Yes a very interesting post, Di! Lovely seeming book too!

Heather Dyer said...

Great post, great book. This book is deep enough to spark a philosophical discussion that even adults can't resolve (as it did in one of my classes). Lots of food for thought here - brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Sorry not to be able to reply succinctly. Am in heart of Italian countryside with poor connection... Not sure this will get through.

Anonymous said...

Sorry last comment was me... Dianne.

C.J.Busby said...

Yes, should have added thanks to Di for the analysis of the book which does actually look wonderful, and very clever visually. I don't get to see many picture books now my kids are past that age. Will have to look out for this one!

Stroppy Author said...

I love that book and am so glad it won. Great post, Di. Like Lucy, I don't think authors will die out in the picture book world. I used to teach a bit on the MA in Children's Book Illustration at ARU (not teaching illustration, I hasten to add - helping with the story-telling aspect) and many of the students didn't want to do the writing or weren't capable of it, yet their illustration skills were fantastic. It would be a shame to lose such talented artists because they can't also do the writing. Those that can do both are wonderful, but it's not essential. Like Lucy, I marvel at the extra the illustrator can add. Two brains working on a story bring certain advantages; one brain being able to accomplish both parts brings different advantages.