Wednesday, 19 November 2008

When we were six

I finally got round to watching the second in the BBC4 series Picture Book on BBC iPlayer. This one was entitled When We Were Six and it looked at books for that second stage of childhood - the illustrated chapter book. It's a fascinating series and hard to imagine being made by anyone but the BBC.

I enjoyed hearing Philip Pullman saying 'I don't like them myself' of The Chronicles of Narnia. That must be one of the great understatements of all time. It was nice to have C S Lewis's illustrator - Pauline Baynes - get some attention for a change. What lovely drawings they are. That lamp post in the snowy wood is iconic and is burned into the memory of a generation of adults who read those books as children.

The wonderful Edward Ardizzone was there too, though he was twice described as having a crosshatching technique made up of 'parallel lines' which is a bit of an oxymoron. It also seemed to give the impression that he had somehow invented this technique. He gave it his own particular spin, but crosshatching is a stock technique of copper plate engravers and etchers and artists had been doing it for centuries before Ardizzone ever picked up a pen. Piranesi crosshatched. Rembrandt crosshatched.

My good friend Chris Riddell was there, drawing Tenniel's rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. Not quite sure what that was supposed to show us. Neither Chris nor Tenniel seemed to benefit from the exercise. I hope Chris is going to be featured in his own right on the next programme.

Michael Rosen's Sad Book was featured and what a book that is. I am a huge fan of Quentin Blake and he excels himself in this book. If anyone makes the mistake of thinking Blake's range is limited should look at the Sad Book. The drawing of Rosen feeling wretched and heartbroken is astonishing.

It was an incredibly brave thing of Rosen to do - to allow us all to share in his sadness at the death of his son. This is another book that could and should feature in any library for any age group. It is a high point of the British picture book.

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