This post was first published at http://www.booktrust.org.uk
I was delighted to be invited to go along to the launch of a fantastic new book from Chicken House, The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable.
The Wolf Princess is an enchanting and magical story, in the style of classic children’s book authors such as Eva Ibbotson.Lonely schoolgirl Sophie has always had a strange yearning to visit Russia, but never expects her dreams to come true, until an encounter with a mysterious visitor to her humdrum boarding school leads to a chance for she and two of her friends to travel their on a school trip.
But on arrival in St Petersburg, the three friends find themselves alone on the wrong train, and are soon lost in an unknown wilderness. They are rescued by the beautiful Princess Anna Volkonskaya, who takes them away to her crumbling yet beautiful winter palace, and intrigues them with tales of lost diamonds and her family’s tragic past. But what is really going on at the winter palace? As wolves howl in the forests outside, Sophie finds herself drawn into a remarkable adventure.
What could be more appropriate then, than to celebrate the new book with a traditional Russian afternoon tea? The beautiful Mari Vanna restaurant in Knightsbridge made the perfect venue for the launch party, organised by Riot Communications.
The restaurant is richly decorated with a wealth of fascinating and idiosyncratic Russian artefacts, from framed photographs to china ornaments to elaborate samovars to beautifully patterned tiles. Chandeliers gleamed everywhere, and tables were spread with an enticing array of Russian delicacies, from tiny squares of black bread served with herring to perfect little honey cakes and fresh raspberry juice.
Tea with jam!
Barry Cunningham, Publisher of Chicken House, introduced the book and its author, describing The Wolf Princess as ‘a book you want to hug’. Cathryn Constable spoke briefly about what motivated her to write the book, citing her long-standing love of Russian folk-tales and literature as her inspiration, before reading a tantalising extract from the book itself, in which the girls first arrive at the winter palace and meet the mysterious Princess Anna Volkonskaya.
Afterwards we were all given the chance to try a Russian speciality – black tea served with jam to stir into it, just as Sophie and her friends drink it in the book!
Thanks Riot Communications and Chicken House for a wonderful celebration.
From a Monster Calls written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay
This interview was first published on the Book Trust website http://www.booktrust.org.uk
A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness and illustrated by Jim Kay, has become the first book ever to win both the CILIP Carnegie and CILIP Kate Greenaway Medals. I spoke to Patrick and Jim about how it feels to share this remarkable honour.
‘One of the defining books of its generation’ is how Rachel Levy, Children’s Library Services Manager for Sutton Libraries, and Chair of the 2012 CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway judging panels, has memorably described A Monster Calls – the first book ever to win both the Carnegie and Greenaway medals.
In winning the Carnegie this year, former Booktrust online writer in residence Patrick Ness also becomes the second author ever to win the award in two consecutive years: he also won the medal in 2011 for the third part of his acclaimed Chaos Walking trilogy, Monsters of Men.
‘Sharing the honour with Jim is great,’ says Patrick. ‘I never expected to win the Carnegie again, but I hoped they might give the Kate Greenaway medal to Jim this year. That was my best case scenario. I never thought they would give both medals to us, so it was a huge surprise.’
Remarkably A Monster Calls is only the second children’s book Jim Kay has illustrated: he credits it with ‘changing my life’. Of winning the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal, he says: ‘It was great to even be shortlisted. To win the award was just fantastic and not at all expected. It’s a wonderful feeling and it still hasn’t really sunk in. For anyone in illustration, this is a big deal. The list of winners is like a “who’s who” in illustration and it’s fantastic to think my name will be on that list alongside people like Michael Foreman.’
Patrick also acknowledges the prestige of winning the Carnegie. ‘It’s the oldest prize. CS Lewis won it, Ransome won it. It has an incredibly august history.’ But for both Patrick and Jim, it’s ultimately the Carnegie and Greenaway judging processes that set these prizes apart. The judging is rooted in the professional expertise of librarians across the country, who nominate titles to be considered for the shortlist. Patrick explains: ‘Children’s librarians are the ones who are right on the frontline, talking to teenagers and children every day about books. They are the real experts.’
The CILIP Carnegie Greenaway shadowing scheme, which sees children and young people in book groups in schools and libraries all over the country read amd discuss the shortlisted books, is also key to the prize. Patrick says the scheme is ‘brilliant: it’s one of my favourite things in the whole world…. Yesterday I spoke to several shadowing groups in Berkshire and there were a couple of hundred kids there, who were all arguing about the books. They’ve read the books – they are are excited about them, they disagree about them. It’s fantastic.’
Jim adds: ‘We’ve spent hours going through the comments on the shadowing website. I don’t have that much direct contact with readers, and what’s really interesting to me is how well they understand the books. And they’re so honest! It’s fantastic to read their comments.’
One young reviewer from the shadowing scheme described A Monster Calls as a book that ‘not only has the ability to break your heart, but to heal it as well’, touching on the emotional power of a book that Rachel Levy has described as ‘outstanding in every way… a book that readers will remember and return to over and over again.’
But for both Jim and Patrick, it’s also the format and illustration of this beautifully-presented book that make A Monster Calls special. Patrick explains: ‘Books for teenagers and older readers rarely get illustrated – almost never. We thought: why not try to break those rules? Illustration isn’t just for picture books, though picture books are glorious things. Illustration is for everyone.’
Jim adds: ‘Walker didn’t limit us to plates… I was allowed to flow in and out of the text, and that’s a hugely liberating thing for an illustrator. It’s a very rare thing – you see it more in graphic novels.’ Both hope that the book will help to set a precedent, encouraging other publishers to be more adventirous with illustrated books for older readers. Jim comments: ‘I hope it does kickstart a bit more freedom in the way that we see illustrated books, and give illustrators the opportunity to do things differently.’
Of Jim’s illustrations, Patrick says: ‘I think the reason they work so well is that they are suggestive. You never see Conor, for example – you only see silhouettes. Jim’s illustrations give you space for imagination. They create an atmosphere but they don’t tell you how to read the book. Instead they provide a landscape in which you can read the book, and that’s an important difference.’
Jim adds: ‘The text gives you a certain degree of ambiguity and the description is quite sparse. It allows the reader to evolve the story in a very personal way. As an illustrator it was great because not every character is completely pinned down. It gives you that manouverability to build a stage set around the characters and that’s really what we were trying to do.’
The book is also particularly special in that Patrick created the story from the final idea of the late children’s writer Siobhan Dowd, who died in 2007, herself a Carnegie Medal winner (posthumously for Bog Child in 2009). Patrick is specific about how he sees the relationship between Siobhan’s original idea and the finished text:
‘I don’t want to suggest that I’m somehow a conduit for Siobhan. I always think of writing as secret. You have to create a really private space to be free to create, that can’t be seen by other people. For me, in the process of writing this book, it was about bringing Siobhan along to that secret place with me.
‘Even for the best reasons, you cannot write a book as tribute… The risk of that is that you write a bad story, which would be the worst tribute. But in the introduction to the book I talk about running with the baton, and I think that’s the spirit of it. I wasn’t trying to guess what Siobhan would do, but just to grow the story as she would have done. In the end, I hope it isn’t a final tribute but something better, because it keeps people talking about her. It keeps people going back to her other books and reading them; it keeps her name in discussion. It’s a living thing, not a memorial.’
One question that many people will now be asking is whether the two have any future plans to work together. Jim explains: ‘We don’t have any concrete plans yet but I would love for us to work together again in future. I would be delighted and honoured. ‘
I’m interrupting my own self-imposed blog hiatus because I can’t resist the opportunity to write a little something about the exhibition I saw this week – Brian Wildsmith: Master of Colour.
I’ve been a huge fan of Brian Wildsmith‘s illustrations for years, so I was excited to see that the Illustration Cupboard, a tiny (in fact, cupboard-sized) gallery, just off Piccadilly, which specialises in children’s book illustrations, was hosting a special exhibition as part of the Wildsmith at 80 celebrations organised by Oxford University Press.
Interestingly, Wildsmith’s work isn’t hugely well-known in the UK (although he is very popular in Japan, where a whole museum is dedicated to his work) although he has certainly been an important influence on other illustrators and writers, from Children’s Laureate Anthony Browne through to younger illustrators like Catherine Rayner. I especially love this quote from Michael Rosen about his childhood memories of Wildsmith’s work “My childhood was full of books, but just as the Sixties burst into life, there seemed to be something similar happening in children’s books. Floors of colour exploding across the pages with a name to match: Wildsmith. He was a wild smith. I remember feeling really envious: why hadn’t I had books as lush and wild as these?”
“Lush and wild” sums it up perfectly, as I found when I went along to the private view on Tuesday night… Although the space was so crammed full of people that getting a really good look at any of the works was more or less impossible, this is an absolutely entrancing little exhibition, exploding with vivid colour. For me, some of Wildsmith’s older works, including these animal and bird illustrations, were an especial highlight:
Wildsmith himself was at the private view, as well as another one of my all-time favourite illustrators, Shirley Hughes (wearing an amazing green hat) and I have to admit to spending most of the evening staring at them in what I can only describe as a stalker-ish fashion.
All of the works in the exhibition are for sale; although sadly even the prints are far out of my price range, I did treat myself to a signed copy of one of my childhood favourites, newly reissued by Oxford University Press to celebrate Wildsmith’s 80th year – Animal Gallery.
There’s a nice piece about Wildsmith and his work in the Independent here.
“Is that you, Rabbit?” said Pooh.
“Let’s pretend it isn’t,” said Rabbit, “and let’s see what happens.”
— A. A.Milne
Seven Stories is absolutely brilliant, by the way. Everyone should go there immediately. You can dress up as Ratty or sit in Mr Toad’s car, except when I went there the horn had broken because too many children had been pooping it. Great stuff.