A guest post by author and illustrator Steve Antony
Every time I visit my step-dad in Alamogordo, New Mexico I love rifling through old things from my childhood. Once, I returned to the UK with a suitcase full of Star Wars toys that belonged to my older brother. For his 40th surprise birthday I stood all 28 characters around a giant Imperial AT-AT on the dining room table. For added effect I played the iconic Star Wars soundtrack when he opened his eyes. It was amazing.
But what was even more amazing was finding a dusty old box crammed with some of my favourite picture books, which was tucked in the corner of my old bedroom closet. Much to my surprise some of the books were still in pretty good shape. There was Winnie the Pooh, sticker books and soccer annuals.
Squeezed in-between a Cabbage Patch Kid book and a Beano annual (or was it Dandy) was Robot by Jan Pienkowski, one of my all-time favourite pop-up books. Surprisingly, all of the pop-up functions worked without fail. The same couldn’t be said for my older brother’s Tron pop-up book.
Pop-up books were something of a fad back in the 1980’s along with Choose Your Own Adventure Books, Garbage Pail Kids and slap bracelets. I can clearly remember my nan buying me Monster Island by Ron Van Der Meer, another fun pop-up. Raymond Briggs’ Fungus the Bogeyman was another favourite. But it seems to me that pop-up books have never quite reached the very high bar set by the likes of Jan Pienkowski back in the ’70s and ’80s. Robot was Pienkowski’s follow-up to his Haunted House, which won the Kate Greenaway Medal back in 1979. I didn’t know this as a child. In fact, it wasn’t until years later that I realised that Pienkowski also illustrated one of my other favourite titles, the Meg and Mog series, written by Helen Nicoll.
To be honest, I don’t think I ever paid that much attention to the names of authors and Illustrators when I was five or six. I think the only names I could probably cite at that very young age were Roger Hargreaves, Dr Seuss and possibly Richard Scarry.
I was obsessed with the Mr Men and Little Miss books. When my family and I moved to the States I was pretty sad to discover that no one there had heard of them. Years later when we moved back to the UK one of the first things I did was go to WHSmith to buy a Mr Men book. Actually, I’m pretty sure it was Little Miss Twins because I hadn’t seen that one before. I was 16.
Also, at 16 I wrote to Hargreaves to suggest a new, environmentally aware character: Mr Green. I had no idea that Roger Hargreaves had passed away in 1988. His son, Adam, kindly wrote back to say they already had a similar character, but to this day I still don’t know which character he was referring to. I still think they should do a Mr Green.
As a child I didn’t own lots and lots of picture books. Thank goodness for libraries is all I can say! Nowadays I sometimes order out-of-print picture books just for old times’ sake.
I recently won one of my all-time childhood favs on eBay. This may come as a surprise, but it’s an alphabet book. Not any old ABC book though, but a mighty fine example of picture book art at its absolute best, in my humble opinion. What attracted me to this book as a child was the eye-catching, bold and bright colours. As a student I discovered that it too won the Kate Greenaway Medal, in 1962. What can I say? Clearly, I had great taste in books even as a 6-year-old. The book I’m referring to is Wildsmith’s ABC. It was a radical approach to picture books and like nothing anyone had ever seen before. It well and truly elevated the art form.
I also recently won an out-of-print copy of one of Lee J Ames’ Draw 50 books on eBay. I don’t think the Draw 50 books were anywhere near as popular here in the UK as they were in the States, but my list of childhood favourites would be incomplete without them. There were so many! I loved drawing the famous cartoons, like Dagwood, Hagar the Horrible, Scooby Doo and Felix the Cat; and the famous faces of Charlie Chaplin, Muhammad Ali and Elizabeth Talyor. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I honestly don’t think I would have discovered the Draw 50 books if not for Alamogordo Public Library.
Funnily enough, the Draw 50 book I won on eBay turned out to be a reinforced library edition. According to the card inside it was last checked out from the Smith School Library by Luke on Dec 12, 1990. Luke, this is one seriously overdue library book.
This is a guest post by Steve Antony and the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG. Steve’s latest book is Amazing, published by Hachette Children’s Books.