Wednesday, 24 June 2009

One of my favourite publishers

has branched out, temporarily, into art. Fidra is opening an art gallery for a short time before setting up a new bookshop on the same premises. (This will be The Edinburgh Bookshop for anyone living in that part of the world.)
This temporary art gallery will be given over to the world of children's book illustrations. I wish I could go and look. I am a big kit (in more ways than one) but I still love to look at the books intended for little kits. There is something absolutely and utterly magical about a good picture book for children.
Some of them are so simple - like Meg and Mog - that you think "Why can't I think of something like that?" Some are so real, like the books about Katie Morag, that you just know you would recognise her instantly if you went to visit the little Scottish island she lives on. You can go through the back streets of New York with Ezra Jack Keats or the Lake District with Beatrix Potter's animals. There is the wonderfully atmospheric Charles Keeping and Pienkowski's silhouettes. "The picture has to match the text" we were told when I was supposedly learning about children's literature. Really the lecturer had no idea. It has to merge, marry, become a union. Yes, if it is a counting book there have to be the requisite number of items but that is only part of the story. There has to be something more than that. The words and the pictures have to combine to become something more than both of them. It is hard to do.
Adults do not get books like this. Alice asks, "What is the use of a book without pictures?" She has something there.
I have a vivid memory of the day I, quite by accident, came across a group of children in a London library. They were watching spellbound as Orlando, the Marmalade Cat, appeared in front of them on a piece of plain newsprint. There he was, the real cat. He was coming alive in front of them. This was how the pictures in the books they knew were made.
I want to go and look at the real pictures that have been made into the books I know. I envy those who live in Edinburgh or will be close enough to visit for the short time the gallery is open.


Katy said...

Ooo, the gallery sounds wonderful, Cat. I love children's book illustrations too - and yes, Pienkowski is one of my all-time favourites. My little sister (8 yrs my junior) loved her Meg and Mog books and I loved reading them to her. Also Maurice Sendak, and, of course, the delightful Hungry Caterpillar.

I'm lucky enough to have a couple of illustrations by Peter Firmin - one of Bagpuss and one of Ivor the Engine - if you remember them?

catdownunder said...

Oh yes! Bagpuss!
I was never sure what to make of "Where the wild things are" though - Sendak must have had bad nightmares as a child. Pity Sheerness is such a distance from Edinburgh or you could go and look for me.