We have a special guest post introduced by Sarah Pakenham, Publisher at Scallywag Press and written by Alison Sage.
A very special East-West meeting from which sprang a life-long friendship and two classic children’s picture books.
Lily Takes a Walk and Captain Toby are two vintage Satoshi Kitamura picture books now viewed as modern classics. Created in the 1980s, they are re-issued this year by Scallywag Press in a larger trim size and with additional art. Satoshi talks about the genesis of these books and the art techniques he used in WINDOWS INTO ILLUSTRATION (Books for Keeps no 249), and now here is the other side of the story behind the books as written by the wonderful family who inspired them!
Alison Sage on Satoshi Kitamura and Lily Takes a Walk and Captain Toby.
It seems hard to remember when Satoshi was not a friend and part of my life.
Years ago when I was working as a children’s book editor, a postcard arrived. No words, just wonderful line drawings in ink and bright colours. I think there were fried eggs involved… but I am not sure. I immediately invited the artist in. A shy 23 year old Satoshi arrived, with only a few words of English, but he brought a wonderful calmness into our office. I don’t remember how, but soon he was sitting at a table quietly drawing, and we were glad to have him there.
Unfortunately, our company was going through upheavals and we passed his details on to Andersen Press. And soon there emerged Angry Arthur, the book which won the Mother Goose Award.
Satoshi went on to get another flat in the house where I lived with my husband and two small children and it was a privilege to watch him develop his stories. He would do them incredibly quickly, and when he had finished, he would invite me in to have a look. A whole new world of invention and imagination would be there, very different in its clear colours and child centred logic than anything else I was seeing at work.
At that time, my daughter Lily was eighteen months old and almost impossible to get to sleep. She would doze but then her eyes would open wide ‘ping’ and she would shout and wail if we weren’t ready to get up and play. Nick and I were exhausted – but Satoshi saved the day. Or rather, the night. We would put Lily in her pushchair and wrap her up, and Satoshi would set out on a long walk through the streets until finally, the gentle motion and Satoshi’s calm presence would persuade her to go to sleep. He often worried that he would be stopped on these evening trips by the police. Lily was not old enough to back up his story and it probably would have sounded rather extraordinary.
Maybe that was where Lily Takes a Walk began. The illustrations are of the streets around our flat and yes, maybe Lily did see bats flittering or a dinosaur in the old canal.
One long hot summer, Satoshi came down to the Kent coast to meet my parents. We all had a lot of fun walking on the beach and that evening, a storm blew in and raged around the house as it often did. Maybe that is why Toby’s granny and grandpa are in Captain Toby. They were very fond of Satoshi and always asked after him.
Toby and Lily were very proud to be invited to a real publishing party, aged three and five, and today, Toby has artwork from Captain Toby up in his living room for his own little 3 year old daughter to see. She loves the books and one morning, her mum Lauren was surprised to see her drawing an octopus… Lily went on to become a curator in a contemporary art gallery in London. So maybe Satoshi had more of an effect on my children than I ever understood at the time.
Recently, Nick and I went out to Japan to see Satoshi and his wife, Motoko in Kobe, a port near Tokyo. It was good to find that our friendship is still strong, and I will always feel glad that all those years ago, I answered that postcard with the fried eggs and no words.