Words and Pictures

I’ve always been unsure about whether it’s a good idea to write here about work-related matters. However, I just can’t resist saying a little something about the great event I was involved with organising at the Free Word Centre earlier this week.

Free Word is London’s new international centre for literature, literacy and freedom of expression. To celebrate the launch of this exciting new venue, Free Word is currently playing host to the first ever Free Word Festival, with events being organised by all the founder organisations - Apples and Snakes, Article 19, Booktrust, English PEN, Index on Censorship, The Arvon Foundation, The Literary Consultancy and The Reading Agency.

Words and Pictures was Booktrust’s contribution to the festival, bringing Children’s Laureate Anthony Browne, together with fellow award-winning illustrators Emily Gravett and Catherine Rayner to take part in a discussion about the value of picture books. These are three fantastic illustrators, with very different styles and approaches, and it was fascinating to hear them talking about their attitudes to making picture books.

Children's Laureate Anthony Browne has published over 40 books, and won numerous awards including the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Prize. His celebrated illustrations are strongly influenced by fine art and surrealism in particular. His characters (often his trademark gorillas or chimpanzees) inhabit a finely-detailed world, where visual clues help to convey a hidden meaning or to tell a story that may be only hinted at in the text. My favourite amongst his books is undoubtedly Gorilla, which I have vivid memories of reading as a child.

Anthony Browne, Voices in the Park, published by Random House

Emily Gravett's first book Wolves was published to much acclaim in 2005, winning several awards including the Kate Greenaway Medal. Her subsequent picture books have featured a menagerie of lovely animal characters, all drawn in her distinctive illustrative style, which often incorporates collage techniques. She is especially interested in books as objects that children can engage and interact with - I love her anarchic approach in both Wolves and also her newest book The Rabbit Problem.

Emily Gravett, Wolves, published by Macmillan

Catherine Rayner won this year's Kate Greenaway Medal with her book Harris Finds His Feet. Her beautiful, painterly illustrations of animals have won comparisons with one of my favourite ever children's book illustrators, Brian Wildsmith. I'm intrigued by the way she plays with the use of white space in her books, and experiments with design to compose each page in a unique and interesting way - and I especially love her gorgeous use of colour in Augustus and His Smile.

Catherine Rayner, Augustus and His Smile, published by Little Tiger

The thought-provoking and entertaining discussion that ensued, expertly chaired by Sunday Times journalist Nicolette Jones, covered everything from their favourite childhood picture books, to their individual stories of how they became children's book illustrators, to why they all believe picture books to be one of the most important and influential forms of art. Here's a few videos from the event:

The event finished with all three illustrators playing “the shape game” – a fun, collaborative drawing game that Anthony Browne is promoting as part of his laureateship as a way to encourage children (and adults) to draw, invent stories, and be creative.

Works by all three illustrators will be on display in the hall area of the Free Word Centre until the end of September. Find out more about the Free Word Festival and the other events coming up here.