In the second of a new series for LoveReading4Kids, we take a look at the influence of established artists upon our contemporary children's book illustrators. This month Sally Anne Garland shares her reflections.
"It was only a few years ago that I came to really appreciate the books of author and illustrator Shirley Hughes. A favourite of my son, who used to pour over the intricate details of her illustrations, pointing out things he recognised as like his own world. I remember he would focus on one particular page that featured a swing park simply because he thought it was like our own local play area.
Her words equally had the same level of consistent detail - like a steady, gentle hand that leads you through the everyday stories of her characters - from the smallest experience to the hardest.
In Hughes’ illustration, a child seems not to merely bend down to tie a shoelace but kneels intently, doing something they perhaps have just learnt. Her expressive, energetic drawing creates a world where wellies are being grown in to and shoes grown out of. Coats have been wrongly buttoned, socks lose their elasticity and there is the prevailing sense that shorts and trousers could do with just a little pulling up.
This attention to detail brings her illustration alive making the story relatable and believable. The readers look in at her pictures and see themselves humorously and warmly reflected back so they can share the experience of her characters, - albeit Alfie, Lucy and Tom or Dave with Dogger - to name but a few.
Another writer and illustrator who uses observational detail in an equally beguiling and charming manner is Helen Oxenbury. Perhaps some of her most well-known illustrations are from the book We Are Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen. In the book, Rosen’s rich and rhythmic words are beautifully expressed in the simple, well observed interactions of a young family.
“Oh no! We’ve got to go through it!” and Oxenbury’s illustration helps the reader know just how difficult that is. She depicts long grass too slippery to go down a steep hill without skidding, mud needing to be removed from between toes and a small toddler tugging nervously on the skirt hem of an equally nervous young girl. Believable observation from lived experience, caught with paint and pencil.
My book, The Chalk Garden, is a story expressively about studying detail that begins with the everyday scene of a child drawing with chalks in her concrete garden. It is the small square of earth she discovers after her dad lifts a broken paving slab that is the magical part. Over the course of the year Emma watches it grow and flourish into its own natural ecosystem studying and drawing all its details with her chalks. It is a story I hope young readers are able to relate to and see themselves in.
After all it seems you only have to look in any good playground to see a child somewhere in it doing the same crouch position as Emma on the cover of my book - studiously focused on something on the ground. Children it seems have an almost primeval instinct to dig in dirt.
They are also the ultimate truth seekers and it is important that details in a story match that need so they can imagine themselves in it - playing in inky play parks- “squelch squerching” through painted mud or simply watching a chalk garden grow in to something good."
The Chalk Garden is a gentle exploration of the wonder of nature upon a young girl and includes striking, colourful illustrations. You can read more about the book here and download the first few pages.