This year for the very first time at the Coventry Inspiration Book Awards, as part of Literally Coventry Book Festival, we awarded a Lifetime Inspiration Award. A few weeks ago we had confirmation Sir Quentin Blake was coming to town to accept! I was asked by Joy Court to do the honours and present his award. What a task! I thought, I wrote, I scribbled, screwed it up and started again. About 5 times. Most of it came to me in the night, well, 3am actually, and was written onto my kindle.
Meeting Sir Quentin has certainly been a highlight of what has been both a physically and mentally demanding week. I have been tweeting, facebooking and blogging daily for the festival, as well as stewarding events. It’s been a privilege and if we have only encouraged one person to pick up a book and read then we have done a good job. What an amazing city we live in, a reading city that values libraries and books. If you haven’t been involved in the festival this year then do get involved next year!
Here’s my thanks to Sir Quentin:
‘Sir Quentin Blake illustrated my childhood. In fact, I’ve never really grown out of the books he has written and illustrated. They have become my ‘read and read agains’, the books I still enjoy, the books I want to share with the children I know. Through my 16 years as a teacher, Sir Quentin Blake has always been there. My classes have all grown to love them too. His illustrations are an inspiration.
When tasked with this speech, I didn’t know where to start when talking about someone with such a phenomenal career and back catalogue, so I have thought about those books and illustrations that mean the most to me.
Predominantly, the illustrations that stick in my mind are those Sir Quentin created for Roald Dahl’s books. Growing up, I read mild-mannered Famous Five books until one day in 1980 when my very own chocolate factory came to our village in the shape of the library bus. I picked up a book because of its cover, a yellow cover. I read that book because of the cover. I picked it up to inspect further the revolting looking couple staring out at me. Flicking through the book now, I remember the joy of seeing illustrations. It was these illustrations that made me pick the book up.
They perfectly captured the glee in Mrs Twit’s glass eye as she watched Mr Twit eat the wormy spaghetti. The book came to life through the illustrations, they animated it as Mrs Twit stamped her feet and clapped as she told Mr Twit what he had eaten. I can only imagine those conversations that resulted in the illustrations. As a keen young artist, forgive me Sir Quentin, your illustrations stopped me worrying about the right way to draw hands and to just draw. Your illustrations spoke to me, they simply worked.
Fast forward a few years to my days as a newly qualified teacher and you would find me sharing Mrs Armitage with my class, a veritable Miss Marple/James Bond hybrid of a woman. My class loved to dissect the illustrations – what else could she fit on that bicycle? She was way ahead of her time. Who knew we would end up with so many gadgets on cars in real life? And the book has the perfect rhythm for reading aloud. Mrs Armitage inspired another generation to read, draw and write.
As a consultant working in schools I worked with Joy Court to encourage schools to shadow the Greenaway Award and came across a book that has stayed with me. The Sad Book by Michael Rosen, illustrated beautifully by Sir Quentin. A haunting story of a personal and very real bereavement and how it can leave you in turn angry, sad but also happy with memories. Sir Quentin’s illustrations yet again capture the emotions perfectly, simple portrayals of family life, snapshots of expressive and uncomfortable emotions, when sometimes no illustration is just right. A brave book.
Sir Quentin has had a long career, a teacher at the Royal College of Art, curating exhibitions, writing and illustrating his own books and those of others. He has won numerous prestigious awards such as the Greenaway Award and in 2005 was given a CBE. Earlier this year, Quentin became Sir Quentin when given a much deserved knighthood for services to illustration. Today we honour him as a city with an award of high accolade, a Lifetime Inspiration award, our first ever awarded. We thank you as a city of readers for your work to entertain and encourage young and old to pick up a book and read and sometimes laugh and always enjoy. Thank you.’
Charlotte Reed – Primary English Consultant
So, who is your literary inspiration?