Being a children’s author and illustrator for the past twenty-five years, there are many subjects I could write about but what really interests me at the moment is the relationship I had with books as a child. I’m keen to discover if there are any links between those books I read and listened to and loved so much as a child, and those I write and illustrate for today’s children.
Looking back, Middleton Primary School near King’s Lynn is one of the first places that come to mind when I reminisce about my childhood books. I was often the ‘new girl’ at school as my father moved around a lot with his work. Every school presented certain challenges to me as I was afflicted with being shy. But… the one single thing that helped me to cope in the early years was the story mat – thankfully, every junior school classroom had one. Here was a place to feel safe, surrounded by other children sitting quietly on our rectangular island, listening to stories and being shown wonderful pictures. As a six year old at school, books came to represent so much more than just a story and pictures.
Illustration by Mandy Stanley from Tom’s Sunflower– Strauss House 2015 written by Hilary Robinson
My grandparents and parents were instrumental in giving me a love for stories told and those written in books. At the table, my grandfather told stories of his adventures on the high seas as a Lowestoft trawlerman, and of being a soldier and railway man. He brought his stories alive by referring to things as being the size of his plate or the salt pot.
|Storyland – Paul Hamlyn 1960|
|Illustration from I Can Fly by Mary Blair|
On Saturdays, my dad took me to the library. He enthusiastically went off to choose his books and left me in the children’s section to discover the books I wanted to borrow. At the checking out desk, I’d meet my father. We both had a stack of books that we wanted to investigate further, at home. The book Folk Tales was one of my favourites as it contained beautiful illustrations and the story The Billy Goats Gruff. The troll, I’m convinced, still lives under the little bridge in the Nicholas Everitt Park, Oulton Broad, Suffolk!
|Folk Tales – Leila Berg. Brockhampton Press|
|The Little Blue Caps – illustration by George Him|
|Troll illustration by George Him - Folk Tales Brockhampton Press|
Along with borrowing books, I have been given books, I’ve swapped books, found books, received handed down books and I have stolen books (mainly from my sister!).
Amongst my collection, I can’t imagine not including two of my best-loved traditional fairy tales: Rumplestiltskin and The Elves and the Shoemaker. These stories inspired, scared and delighted me in equal proportion. Occasionally, even now, I sometimes wish that a couple of elves would come along in the night, while I sleep and finish off my work for me. I know that I would be more than happy to reward them with a new set of miniature clothes.
|The Elves and the
Shoemaker and |
Rumpelstiltskin – Ladybird Books Ltd. 1968
This reminds me… Lettice Rabbit requires a set of ballet clothes in Lettice The Dancing Rabbit – Harper Collins. Although children offer her their clothes to borrow, they are all too big. Luckily she is able to borrow a set of clothes from a ballerina doll. I’m sure the memory of the little elves must have been to the forefront of my mind at this point in my Lettice Rabbit story.
|Lettice, The Dancing
Rabbit by Mandy Stanley. |
Published by Harper Collins
I’m not sure I really know why, but the idea of a small character existing in our world is always appealing to me. Mrs Pepperpot stories by Alf Proysen were always a source of entertainment. The very idea that a human could shrink to be very small…without warning, fires up my imagination.
|Little Old Mrs
by Alf Proysen – Puffin Books
|Lettice, The Fairy Ball – Harper Collins|
So, my Lettice Rabbit series must have been influenced by Mrs Pepperpot stories – Lettice shrinks! She becomes the same size as a fairy. Throughout the series, my interest and inspiration comes from the idea that Lettice is a small character that hops into our big, human world.
Brer Rabbit’s A Rascal by Enid Blyton.
Dean, an imprint of The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd
Another character that fascinated me was Brer Rabbit. My grandmother read this book to me. She had a big feather bed and when I stayed overnight with her, I would take my book and slip into her bed in the morning, once my grandfather had got up to make breakfast, and ask her to read to me. I discovered that Brer Rabbit was indeed a rascal… and very clever… and I loved him for it. Any links with Brer Rabbit and my own work are not apparent at the moment, although I do have an ambition to create a character that manages to escape all sorts of troublesome situations using wit and a daring attitude !
It wasn’t all fairy stories and fluffy rabbits in my eclectic hoard. My father bought and read to me Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and Captain Pugwash by John Ryan. Billy Bones, Long John Silver and Cut Throat Jake – all fabulously intriguing sounding names. Working out new character names in my books is certainly one of the most enjoyable aspects.
|Illustration of Cut Throat Jake by John Ryan – Puffin Books|
Along with remembering stories and images, what does intrigue me is that I also vividly remember the feel and aesthetic of every book. One Christmas morning I unwrapped a colouring book. On the cover, it had red flocking on Santa’s coat, hat and trousers… wonderful!
I also noticed that books’ pages varied in their paper quality – ranging from thick, dry and sturdy, or wafer thin and slippery, delicate and almost transparent. There were paper engineered sections, high gloss effects, metallic foiling… even glitter! All these things added up to make a full sensory experience. Interestingly, I’m often heard to be requesting textural features on my own books today. One of my wishes was granted when Harper Collins added a set of battery operated, twinkling fairy lights on the cover of Lettice, The Fairy Ball.
As an illustrator, I spend much of my time working out colour arrangements and palettes for each project. Recently, while working on a collaborative project with author David Bedford, Roo the Roaring Dinosaur, I realized that, subliminally I was referring to a set of colours for a lagoon scene as Alice in Wonderland blues. The image of Alice swimming in a pool of tears came to mind as a treatment for my illustration featuring Wooly, the mammoth and Roo the dinosaur splashing around in the blue lagoon in dinosaur land.
|Illustration by Mandy
Stanley from Roo The Roaring Dinosaur |
by David Bedford. Published by Simon and Schuster
|Alice in a pool of tears – illustrated by Willy Schermele|
|Alice in Wonderland
by Juvenile Productions Ltd
Other colour references I use regularly include Peter Rabbit blue – (referring to his jacket). Babar green (his suit), and Rupert Bear yellow (his scarf and trousers).
Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit,
Laurent de Brunhoff’s Babar, and
Rupert Bear, created by Mary Tourtel
Spending time, thinking about my childhood, has reinforced my belief that books keep on giving. They stimulate memory and of course, provide comfort and entertainment. As an illustrator, they also provide me with valuable references. I continue to still be inspired by picture books I listened to or read for myself all those years ago.
So the connections are there to be found… it’s fun and satisfying to recognize them. Creating books for children, hoping that some of them may provide a similar level of entertainment and trigger good memories for many years to come is, I think, a significant driving force behind my work.
Mandy Stanley – Children’s author and illustrator.
Mandy Stanley – Children’s author and illustrator.
January 29th is the publication date for Mandy Stanley's latest picture book: Roo the Roaring Dinosaur, a collaborative work with David Bedford – Published by Simon and Schuster.