Who inspires you?


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 Blake, his website says, has drawn ever since he can remember, and ever since I can remember his name has been on many of the books I want to read.

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?


Picture this


The Big Draw is the world’s biggest celebration of drawing. It has grown into a month-long festival throughout October all over the UK. In this blogpost we celebrate those talented people without whom books would not be the same. 

“Yes, that’s right, children, the illustrator draws the pictures.”

How often is that heard in a primary classroom?  Is that all the illustrator does?

Here at Coventry English HQ we know there’s more to it than that. Good illustrators take words and bring them to visual life, adding their own special idiosyncrasies and quirks. We’ve chosen a few of our favourites to share with you.

Picture books transport us to worlds beyond our imagination. We love illustrators like Satoshi Kitamura, who is able to capture emotions seamlessly in colour and with pace. In Angry Arthur the whirlwind of destruction throws you across the page, while in Millie’s Marvellous Hat the riot of colour and detail invites you to sit, look, stay a while and ponder.  This is what we want in a book, one that excites emotion and gives us something to think about.

Jeannie Baker‘s books use collage to tell their tales. In Window the story of environmental change is told by looking through the same window over a period of 24 years. Written text is minimal – reserved for birthday cards on the window ledge, vehicle signs and advertising hoardings. Two narratives can be read in this text though: the story of a boy growing up and the story of an environment changing over time. In this text images reign – they tell the story, with words used only to fill in any gaps left by the images.

Christian Birmingham’s illustrations work in a more traditional illustrative manner, of supporting the role of words in telling a story. The Impressionist quality of Birmingham’s style makes his drawings ideal companions for traditional tales and children’s classics. Lavish versions of Sleeping Beauty (retold by Adele Geras) and The Snow Queen (retold by Naomi Lewis) owe much of their allure to the stunning artwork produced by Birmingham, which transports the reader to imagined worlds inhabited by witches, princesses, heroes and magic. Our blogpost To Infinity and Beyond features more on Christian Birmingham.

We love to share picture books with children, but we also know that the adult wants some entertainment too. One of our favourite illustrators is the fabulous Emily Gravett.  Her earlier books are particularly good for grown-up giggles, for example Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears. Children love the story, and adults sharing the book will feel just as entertained, as Emily inventively uses everything from the ‘nibbled’ cover to the back pages and even the publisher information to add to the story.  You have to devour every element of the book to get the most out of it, and will want to return again and again to lift flaps and unfold maps. You’ll find something new every time.

In recent years a lot of these picture books have made a long-awaited venture into KS2. Books like Flotsam by David Weisner, Varmints written by Helen Ward and illustrated by Marc Craste, and The Arrival by Shaun Tan, have introduced KS2 children to the world of the beautiful, the unexpected and the strange – visual texts to stimulate thinking and provoke writing. Children move from ‘But there are hardly any words!’ to fascination and real depth of thought.

The amount of thought that goes into an illustration will never be obvious to us readers, and that surely is a measure of its success. How long does it take to choose the right colour, composition, expression? Illustrations don’t just show the author’s narrative but can also interpret their thoughts and feelings. Just think of Michael Rosen’s Sad Book illustrated by Quentin Blake, a masterpiece of empathy. The illustrations hold your hand through the text, giving you more when you need it and leaving it blank when you don’t.

So no, they don’t just draw the pictures.

Take a look at our collections of picture books for Foundation StageKey Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 on Pinterest for lots more beautiful books.

 Originally published on LoveToReadToMyClass.Wordpress.com 12th October, 2012