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Beautiful Books

Recently I got to meet someone who takes up rather a lot of shelf space in our house – the wonderful Chris Riddell. Our whole family love his work and we all have our personal favourites – mine being Ottoline.

He gave a wonderfully entertaining lecture titled ‘The Age of the Beautiful Book’, in which we heard about his early influences and his discovery of social media and how he draws on the pages of his own and other people’s books to bring something new to the text.


He sketched throughout the lecture, the illustrations enriching and expanding his story telling.  


One phrase that really stuck in my mind was when he said ‘ pictures turbo boost words’. And he is absolutely right.

As a writer I assumed I was all about the words and always had been. But recently, when I was going through some of my childhood books at my parents, I realised just how big a part pictures played in my childhood reading. Here are just some of those books whose pictures I loved and can remember as vividly today.

As I ‘oohed and ahhed’ over the books I was rediscovering it wasn’t always the stories that I remembered most and felt such fondness for but the illustrations. (In fact in some cases I couldn’t even remember much about what happened in the story, but I saw the picture and was instantly transported to a memory.)

Given how much time I spent with my head in the Beano or Dandy or Asterix, it shouldn’t really surprise me that pictures played such a big part when it came to reading books. But I don’t think I ever really stopped to recognise that.

I didn’t see them as separate from the book and therefore didn’t really think about looking into the illustrator behind the artwork.

In fact, I feel quite ashamed that it has taken me this long to find out the names of the illustrators I most loved and who had such a profound effect on my reading.

Their names were Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone. And their work was as important in fostering my love of books as the stories I was reading. Here is one of their illustrations from Dean’s Gift Book of Fairy Tales.

But they weren’t alone. I have loved revisiting my childhood books and finding out more about who was behind the wonderful images that have stuck so firmly in my mind.

One of my other favourite books was ‘The Family From One End Street’ written and indeed illustrated by Eve Garnett:

And I loved the illustrations by Edward Ardizzone for ‘Stig of the Dump’.

When Piccadilly Press told me they envisaged my own books being highly illustrated I was thrilled. I was even more thrilled to find out that Sara Ogilvie had agreed to work on them.


The first time I saw the cover for ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ I actually squealed. But who can blame me? Sara has created something really special.  Having just received the final artwork for the book I am even more excited. Her illustrations have such detail and energy and ooze charm. Not only this, the design team have done an amazing job with the layout and adding another level of detail with scorch marks on the pages and ink splodges and claw marks throughout.


The campaign #PicturesMeanBusiness led by Sarah McIntyre couldn’t be more aptly titled. They do mean business. The right cover can make the difference between someone picking your book up or passing it by. And the illustrations inside can do so much to draw in and engage the reader,  as well as enhancing their experience of the text.


As Chris Riddell said, pictures also mean beauty. He spoke about wanting to put beautiful books into the hands of readers.


And I am delighted – and very grateful – that Sara has made ‘The Boy Who Grew Dragons’ so beautiful.

Dragon artwork used on this site courtesy of Sara Ogilvie (illustrator) & Nick Stearn (cover design)
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