Chris Riddell The Age of the Beautiful Book

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The Philippa Pearce Memorial Lecture 2017 was presented by Chris Riddell, award winning author, illustrator, political cartoonist and Children’s Laureate 2015-2017.

Not many lectures start with a cartoon of the anticipating audience and the back of the presenter’s head on the large screen! An intriguing way of getting the messages across, and amazing to see book characters come to life before your very eyes! Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse, the first in the Goth Girl series, evolved in the screen in front of the audience at Homerton College, Cambridge

Discover Chris’s work on his web site here.

An exploration into the development of the book itself was a joy to listen to, so often we hear of the ideas behind the book but Chris was keen to portray the business of getting the book into print. A meeting with the book development side of the publishers meant that Goth Girl books have plenty of book bling, deep blue, silver foil, varnish effect and above all sprayed edges. At the back of the books is a tiny book in an envelope attached to the back cover; further information about Ishmael the mouse. Brilliant idea! 

The book then travels to the ends of the earth (that may mean China, I suspect!) and back to our country for sale.

The Age of the Beautiful Book was much more than a lecture about illustration in children’s books, but about how that precious book does become beautiful, something to keep and treasure.

Chris talked a little about his own childhood, as the son of a vicar, and how important  books are in exploring new worlds; he talked about finding worlds in wardrobes or indeed down rabbit holes. He has a warm and reassuring tone and when he mentioned that he had, ‘ a vague and reassuring feeling that God doesn’t mind that he doesn’t believe in him’, there were many quiet nods and mmm’s.

This empathy with people is shown throughout his illustrations and he has some ingenious ways of bringing books to life. Now, as he is thoroughly into social media, he has a good way of illustrating characters in all sorts of books and then sending photos to gain many, ‘ little blue thumb likes’! ‘Pictures turbo post words’ he said.

Chris is also an advocate for the real book, the attraction to the senses, tactile, the smell, the sound of turning the pages and being a feast for the eyes. Reading is a pleasurable thing to do and should not be turned into a grammatical exercise only. He  wants children to draw for fun and for expression and we had some amazing cartoons on what would happen if education ever created assessments for drawing; ‘analyse the makeup of the graphite, the ergonomics of pencil sharpening… it would suck the life joy out of it!’

An enthralling lecture, this Philippa Pearce Memorial Lecture on  Friday evening September 8th with Chris Riddell will be remembered for its engagement, fun and how to bring the best in children’s books alive through beautiful books.

Sue Martin

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