Illustrating Marvellous Imaginations

The 23rd annual IBBY/NCRCL MA Conference took place on 5 November 2016 at the University of Roehampton. This year’s theme was ‘Marvellous Imaginations – Extending thinking through picture books’. This week on the NCRCL blog, alumni and current NCRCL students will be reporting on various aspects of the conference, including the speakers, panellists and parallel sessions.

Illustrating Marvellous Imaginations

During this conference, people were not just taking notes, asking questions about picturebooks, and discussing marvellous imaginations: Laura Davis and Emma Dunmore were also illustrating the conference proceedings.

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Marvellous Imaginations: A Wonderful Day

The 23rd annual IBBY/NCRCL MA Conference took place on 5 November 2016 at the University of Roehampton. This year’s theme was ‘Marvellous Imaginations – Extending thinking through picture books’. This week on the NCRCL blog, alumni and current NCRCL students will be reporting on various aspects of the conference, including the speakers, panellists and parallel sessions.

Marvellous Imaginations: A Wonderful Day

By Suzanne Curley

On Saturday November 5th Roehampton University once again hosted the annual IBBY/NCRCL Conference. This year’s theme was ‘Marvellous Imaginations: Extending thinking through picture books’.

There was, as always, a plethora of fascinating sessions from academics and leading experts in the field of picture book study and creation.

The day began with a lovely array of tea, coffee, pastries and socialising, with an opportunity to browse the display tables, including the IBBY Collection of Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities, which showcased a range of books representing a variety of disabilities both physical and mental, from board books, right up to young adult fiction.

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A teeming display table

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Marvellous Imaginations: Reflections on the makers and readers of picture books

The 23rd annual IBBY/NCRCL MA Conference took place on 5 November 2016 at the University of Roehampton. This year’s theme was ‘Marvellous Imaginations – Extending thinking through picture books’. This week on the NCRCL blog, alumni and current NCRCL students will be reporting on various aspects of the conference, including the speakers, panellists and parallel sessions.

Marvellous Imaginations: Reflections on the makers and readers of picture books

By Lesley Smith

Martin Salisbury: “The New Picturebook-Makers: Visual Thinker as Author”

Martin Salisbury is Professor of Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University and leads the MA Children’s Book Illustration programme.

Picture books are usually 32 pages, which gives you 12 spreads between the end papers and titles. People think picture books are easy to write but pictures are a language in themselves, not just an extra to the words. Drawing is another way of thinking, a way of reasoning on paper and many people are visual thinkers, working out their ideas through drawing – “I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster and leaves less room for lies” (Le Corbusier).

In picture books for children, it the image used to merely reflected the words, but the authorial side of illustration has come to the fore in recent years and there is often more meaning in the pictures than there is in the text (e.g. There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins). Publishers are, however, still a little nervous about wordless books where all the writing is in the pictures.

In France, picture books are more sophisticated. In China, interest in picturebooks is increasing as entertainment is becoming as important as overt didactism. In Germany, the Wimmelbuch (literally teeming book, like Martin Handford’s Where’s Wally?) is on the rise.

Vivienne Smith: “Playing at Reading? Why picturebooks really matter in the teaching of reading”

Vivienne Smith is a lecturer in Primary Education at the University of Strathclyde. She is particularly interested in reading as a creative and social practice.

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Marvellous Imaginations – Excitement, enthusiasm, and new insights

The 23rd annual IBBY/NCRCL MA Conference took place on 5 November 2016 at the University of Roehampton. This year’s theme was ‘Marvellous Imaginations – Extending thinking through picture books’. This week on the NCRCL blog, alumni and current NCRCL students will be reporting on various aspects of the conference, including the speakers, panellists and parallel sessions.

Marvellous Imaginations – Excitement, enthusiasm, and new insights

By Mark Carter

Somehow I have managed to reach the ripe old age of 37 without ever having attended any type of conference so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect of the IBBY/NCRCL MA ‘Marvellous Imaginations’ conference but I went away full of excitement, enthusiasm and new insights into the world of picture books. One of the final speakers of the day, Jane Davis from The Reader, began her talk by saying that she felt like she was home – all the things she had heard or seen through the day were things that were already in her head or in her heart and I wholeheartedly agree.

The day began with a talk by Martin Salisbury, who talked about the notion of ‘Visual Thinkers’ and of drawing and image as a form of thought. He showed us some beautiful examples of work from his students and former students who are blurring the lines between author and illustrator, and picked up on Oliver Jeffers’ coining of the term ‘Picture Book Maker’ as a more appropriate term than either author or illustrator. One aspect of David’s talk that I found absolutely fascinating was his discussion of what he called the ‘culture clash between makers and thinkers’. He suggested that the makers and ways of making are too often thought of as being something separate from the scholarly work that is done purely in words and scholarly articles. He gave some excellent examples of people who are beginning to present their research and theory in visual terms, including a PhD student who had presented their academic paper on Wimmelbücher as a Wimmelbuch! (And in case you don’t know (which I didn’t) Wimmelbuch means ‘teeming book’, a book teeming with visual details)

Vivienne Smith from the University of Strathclyde was next with a brilliantly energetic and inspirational talk on reading and play which lamented the fact that all too often play is seen as something different from reading; particularly in the current school system where the aim of reading education is purely about decoding the words on the page. Unfortunately this fails to teach children how to become sophisticated or meaningful readers or to appreciate the great possibilities of literacy – something that can really only be achieved by playing with words and language. The current mode of teaching reading, Smith argued, is incredibly limiting, particularly for children of deprived backgrounds who may not experience opportunities to explore texts outside the classroom. As Smith rightly observed, playing with language is how we learn to control language and the ability to control language is a source of significant power in society. ‘Good books’, she said  ‘help children understand that they are powerful’. Smith illustrated her points wonderfully by reading to us extracts from a number of books, including Claire and Kes Gray’s Oi Dog! and Colin McNaughton’s Don’t Step on the Crack, contrasting their wonderful playful anarchy with the rather unimaginative phonic decoding text of Julia Donaldson’s school reading scheme book, Top Cat.

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Hidden histories of illustration: Parallel session E

The 22nd annual IBBY/NCRCL MA Conference took place on 14 November 2015 at the University of Roehampton. This year’s theme was ‘Steering the Craft: Navigating the process of creating children’s books in the 21st century’. This week on the NCRCL blog, alumni and current NCRCL students will be reporting on various aspects of the conference, including the speakers, panellists and parallel sessions. 

Hidden histories of illustration: Parallel session E

By Lesley Smith

Two speakers talked about the illustration of children’s books, showing lots of examples.

First up was Sarah Lawrance, with her talk “Drawn from the Archive – hidden histories of illustration“.

Sarah works at Seven Stories which is the National Centre for Children’s Books in Newcastle. One important function of the centre is to collect and store book illustrations. They have 35,000 books dated from the 1930s onwards. The material ranges from wood engravings to digital art, sometimes showing the development of a work from original sketches, sometimes showing the life’s work of an artist.

Preserving this material enables researchers to:

  • explore the creative and design processes which have shaped a book
  • trace developments in printing
  • understand how artistic aims sometimes conflict with commercial ones.

Two hundred and fifty authors and illustrators are represented, including Ruth Gervis, Edward Ardizzone, Judith Kerr and Sarah Garland. See the Seven Stories website and blog for more information and plan a trip to Newcastle!

Parallel Session E

Victorian lunatic asylums really did stage tea parties, and Carroll visited one – inspiration for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, explained Franziska E. Kohlt.

Next up was Franziska E. Kohlt, from the University of Oxford, who spoke on “Illustrating Alice, Then and Now: Victorian Visual Culture and the Politics of Modern Children’s Book Illustration and Adaptation”.

Franziska said Alice has proved to be a successful franchise for 150 years. Her adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have been reprinted many times and adapted for stage, screen and video games.

Originally, Lewis Carroll illustrated the story himself, but he was no artist, so employed Tenniel to improve on his efforts. Tenniel worked as a cartoonist for “Punch” and his illustrations reflect his own social/political stance.

Their relationship was not smooth, but some collaboration occurred: Carroll scrapped a scene featuring wasps when Tenniel refused to draw them. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is less fantastical than we might think – lunatic asylums did stage tea parties and Carroll had visited one.

Franziska displayed many different examples of artwork but made the point that few illustrators have managed to completely break free from Tenniel’s influence, even though Alice has experienced sex, drugs and rock-and-roll in the 1960s and travelled as far as Japan!

In conclusion: Alice is a scary book – it makes abstract ideas visible and, as society changes, so does Alice.

Lesley Smith is a distance learning student on the MA Children’s Literature programme at Roehampton University.