EMILY GRAVETT must be the most prolific picture book creator in existence. In five years, the 37-year-old Brighton-native has produced 10 books – nine wholly by her, the 10th, a collaboration with Julia Donaldson (author of The Gruffalo and many other much-beloved picture books).
But when I speak to her on the phone, Gravett frets about being unproductive: ‘I don’t think I’ve published that many books,’ she said from Singapore, the final leg of her recent Asian tour to promote Cave Baby, her collaboration with Donaldson. ‘I could be publishing more – I feel a little uneasy whenever I’m between books.’
Gravett is inspired by everyday situations, conversations on the radio, things she overhears in shops and on the bus. She claims to work in a ‘very chaotic’ way.
‘I have a sketch book and I mess about with ideas. A book usually comes together in a bit of a mess. There’s a lot of reorganisation and sorting things out.’
Gravett’s books are either deceptively simple (like Orange Pear Apple Bear, The Odd Egg or Blue Chameleon) or extremely complex, full of subtle jokes, witty asides, and visual gags.
A shorter version of this interview was first published on 27th September, 2009 in The Star.
MOST PEOPLE tend to associate picture books with simple stories, illustrated with simple, brightly coloured pictures. Of course, those with a more intimate knowledge of this medium of storytelling know that there is more to picture books than just pretty pictures that simply offer a visual description of a straightforward, basic text.
Picture books may deal with complex and difficult themes and subject matter, and this may be reflected in either the text or the art, or both.
Shaun Tan is a picture book artist whose work is definitely more complex than what the average person might expect to find in a alphabet or counting book. I know people who started collecting picture books after they read one of Tan’s. The Melbourne-based 35-year-old started his career drawing for science fiction and horror novels. His art appears in picture books written by John Marsden (The Rabbits) and Gary Crew (The Viewer and Memorial) and he also illustrates his own books (The Red Tree, The Arrival, The Lost Thing, Tales from Outer Suburbia).
A FEW years ago when my son was in hospital for surgery, I went shopping for books to cheer him up with. I decided that lift-the-flap and pop-up books would do a great job of distracting him from the pain of his surgical wound and other related woes.
I found some good ones at Kinokuniya Bookstore, including one about butterflies (A Young Naturalist’s Pop-Up Handbook: Butterflies). This was really beautiful and detailed, with pop-up butterflies that looked like they might lift off from the page and fly off in a blur of iridescent wings. At the time, I was not familiar with pop-up books and did not recognise the names on the cover: Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart, whom I now know are two of the most highly respected pop-up book artists (also known as paper engineers) in the world.