IBBY UK/ NCRCL Conference Report – David Lucas

David Lucas – “Drawing, stories, ambiguity and magic”

by Eleanor Hamblen


David Lucas presenting in the portrait room
David Lucas presenting in the portrait room

Children’s writer and illustrator David Lucas rounded off a truly delectable day with a talk entitled Drawing, stories, ambiguity and magic. He began by leading the audience through his recent picture book, Grendel: A Cautionary Tale about Chocolate. Following on from a long tradition of edible worlds in children’s literature, the protagonist’s surroundings are transformed into chocolate by a wish concealed in a chocolate egg with Midas-like consequences. Delighted at first, Grendel comes to comprehend the darker side of this chocoholic’s paradise and the error of his greed.

Lucas went on to discuss the poetic logic of symbolism which enables us to communicate quite opposite meanings simultaneously. Lucas enjoys playing with contrasts, as is apparent his 2008 book The Lying Carpet which features a tiger skin rug who is at once king of the jungle and a doormat, embodying both pride and humility. For Lucas, beauty is found in the union of opposites, combined in a state of high tension and conflict. The visual arts are inherently symbolic since they can only ever stand in for reality. To demonstrate this, Lucas drew a simple star with five interlocking lines which has come to represent a great burning ball of gas millions of miles away.  He explained that all art falls somewhere between pattern (the ideal) and representation (the real). Medieval, folk, and religious art privilege pattern since they are aspiring to an ideal. Lucas’ own interest in pattern is evident in his illustrations which create unreal worlds with crystal clear vision.


Book Review Series: Beauty and the Beast

The NCRCL Book Review Series is a monthly series written by a NCRCL student published on the first Wednesday of every month. The aim of this series is to reflect the diverse research areas of NCRCL’s students and open a dialogue about particular texts, themes, and traditions. 

Beauty and the Beast: Why fairy tales persist.

By Kay Hall

Warren (1995) argues that “the vindication of the Beast has become the chief objective [with] the true lovableness of the Beast the main theme” (p. 316) of the Beauty and Beast tale. Within this frame and focusing on Angela Barrett’s illustrations in a traditional retelling by Max Eilenberg (2010), I asked myself ‘Where does the visual narrative position the reader’s sympathy?’ On the surface the answer is with Beast, as Barrett’s meticulous, evocative images paint Beast, initially as aggressive, then, in Beauty’s presence, as a slumped, impotent, desolate figure, his tail once erect and hostile now limp, apologetic. Intensifying his misery, Beast, framed within dark imagery, is contrasted against the lightness of Beauty enjoying the “delight” and “full glory” of his home.   In the climactic scene his motionless body, cushioned by snow, lies tender, vulnerable, lost.

This sympathetic positioning of the reader masks the subjugation of women and obscures allusions of incest – themes addressed in fairy tale criticism of this story and others. Here, I argue, however, that Angela Barrett’s imaging can be read as “double” – encouraging interrogation and resistance to passive reading.

The metafictive device of the father’s direct gaze at us as his daughters are photographed (observed, objectified by other males) disturbs and fractures. Is his look conspiratorial, one of shared knowing? From the onset Barrett encloses the daughters within frames and the juxtaposition of Beauty with a rose, signals their synonymy. Most telling is Barrett’s image of the rose in Mr Fortune’s breast pocket as he approaches home grief stricken after his bargaining with Beast. For it is symbolic not only of his desire for his daughter, as he “snapped…off” (or “plucked” as more classic narratives have it) the rose that is Beauty. But nestled among the dark textured lips, folds, ridges and creases of his “new suit”, the rose, ripe with the fullness of blood, denotes Beauty’s maturation. Her efflorescent sexuality affords Beauty agency and empowerment, and complicates the source of Mr Fortune’s anguish. It also holds the potential for new life, of images of a swollen pregnant body subverting its “antithesis”, the ideal angelic virgin beauty of male discourse, (Shapira, 2010, p. 52), depicted in the restrained tight waist of the desired Beauty.

Yet, ambiguity and fault lines persist. Beauty’s choice is contained, depicted by recurring images of framing, dislocation and displacement. Beast’s abject self is splintered by his voyeurism and pricked ears that belie his slumped posture. Deceit masquerades further in the carnivalesque nature of his home with its magic mirrors, bizarre creatures and false backdrops.

This ‘reading’ visualizes the tale’s abuse and by centralizing sex and sexuality it reveals these as arenas where this abuse is asserted and played out, unmasking them as the mainstays of patriarchy. This perspective envisions defining concepts such as sexuality as constructs, created to legitimize and uphold male dominance. This in turn, as Queer Theory argues, frees us to worry them and to see concepts that define us as existing on continuums, “fluid”, shifting, “never stable”. This undercuts any claim to hierarchy and dominance and the conceptual rigidity of these constructs dissolve, and dichotomies – that privilege and ‘other’ – collapse. This queering of normative frames does not undercut but celebrates difference, eradicating ‘othering’, inviting heterogeneity and alternatives.

Note about Kay Hall:

Name: Kay Hall: BA/DipTchg (ECE), Complete DipChLit in November 2013.
Research area: A broad conceptualization of ‘sisterhood’ in children’s literature, with an intertextual focus on myth and fairy tales.
Path to Roehampton: Children’s Librarian from N.Z. Aotearoa. Born in England, came home to continue journey with M.A. in Children’s Literature at Roehampton.
Favourite re-read: Red Shift by Alan Garner
Unsung Picture Book: Pirates by C. Drew Lamm
Unsung Young Adult Novel: The Silver Child by Cliff McNish

Series edited by Erica Gillingham


Byatt, A.S. The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye. U.S.:Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2009.

Eilenberg, M. Beauty and the Beast. Illus. Angela Barrett. London: Walker Books, 2010.

Shapira, Y. Hairball Speaks: Margaret Atwood and the Narrative Legacy of the Femail Grotesque. Narrative, Vol. 18, No 1, 2010, pp. 51-72, DOI:10.1353/nar.0.0035.

Warner, M. From the Beast to the Blonde: on fairy tales and their tellers. London: Vintage, 1995.

Opportunity: Paid Internship for NCRCL Graduates

The Department of English and Creative Writing at the University of Roehampton is advertising a fixed term internship for an Events Manager.  The post is open to graduates of the Department of English and Creative Writing, including NCRCL graduates!

This is an exciting opportunity to combine your academic skills with a dynamic events management role contributing to an ambitious departmental events strategy. An English Literature and/or Creative Writing graduate with excellent communication, organisational and interpersonal skills, you will be part of a new departmental employability initiative with particular responsibilities for developing a key programme of events. You will also be responsible for overseeing student employability teams who themselves will be designing two key events for students and working on the departmental print-on-demand press. This is an opportunity for you to put the communication, research, independent and collaborative working skills, and the love of your subject to a very practical use.

Closing date is November 11th so get your application in to Unitemps soon!

Please see details of the post at this link here