Bloomsbury illustrators discussed the challenges of conveying important themes about feminism and gender identity in children’s books at an event at the publisher Bloomsbury's offices last night (13th June).
Artists including Tom Percival, Kate Pankhurst and Emily Sutton opened up their sketchbooks to booksellers and press to reveal how their upcoming books will be “resonant”.
Pankhurst, descendant of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, revealed her follow-up to Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World published in 2016 which featured her famous ancestor. Her next book will be published in February and will reveal the lives of other women who have changed the world. She said: “I am thinking about ‘deeds not words’ - there is a friend's relative who slashed a painting in the National Gallery in protest - but it can be challenging in thinking about how to convey these issues to children.” Pankhurst also lamented the loss of independent bookshops. She said: “I used to pass one on the way to school every day and that was my introduction to the world [of books]. I live in Leeds and my local bookshop now is Waterstones."
The six showcasing illustrators: (from left) Tom Percival, Sophy Henn, Kate Pankhurst, Emily Sutton, Alison Brown and Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
Percival has worked on eight picture books and brings much of his design agency and graphic design degree background to his illustration, working purely digitally. He also creates music and animation to accompany his books. He discussed his forthcoming collaboration with social reform charity Joseph Rowntree Foundation and how he hopes to help people through his books. Pervical, who sees himself as a “storyteller” rather than an author or illustrator, said: “I’m doing a collection of stories with JRF about poverty. I lived in a caravan with no money when I was younger. I don’t want to create work that ends up in landfill. I want to reflect the world and create something that is resonant to people including issues around poverty and gender identity. Perfectly Norman [about a boy who grows wings, to be published in August] is about someone who is out place in the world and feels like they can’t be true to themselves.”
Sutton revealed the working behind her forthcoming collaboration with author and Oxford academic Katherine Rundell, One Christmas Wish, which will be published in October and emcompasses scenes from Durham and Sutton’s hometown York. Sutton told The Bookseller she feels like writing children’s books can be underestimated. She said: “I have not experienced that [snobbery around illustration] but often people say, 'why don’t you write your own story?' and people can underestimate what a skill it is to write. I think the skills are quite different.”
Chris Naylor-Ballesteros was inspired to create children’s books after reading them to his own children. However, he said he occasionally gets frustrated with celebrities turning their hand to children's titles. His latest book, I’m Going to Eat an Ant was published last month and follows the exploits of a starving anteater. He said: “You hear about Fergie writing one and also Madonna and you do wonder if they’re any good. It is a bit tiring sometimes. But there is always a element of luck [in getting published], whoever you are,” he said.