Drawing on his wealth of experience

14th May 1999 at 01:00
Geraldine Brennan reports on the first Children's Laureate - illustrator Quentin Blake

THE JOB of roving ambassador for children's books has gone to the BFG of illustration, Quentin Blake.

The man who told the world Mr Magnolia has only one boot was appointed the first Children's Laureate by the Princess Royal at a ceremony in London this week. The choice of an authorillustrator for the post sends a clear message that in wooing the readers of tomorrow the pictures are as important as the words.

In the course of around 200 books, Mr Blake has had many fruitful collaborations with authors including the late Roald Dahl - for whom he drew the Big Friendly Giant - Russell Hoban, Joan Aiken and Michael Rosen as well as illustrating his own words and compiling collections of nonsense stories and verse. He is one of the most prolific artists working in children's books. He is also an inspirational speaker and recently starred at a Tate Gallery visual literacy conference for teachers.

The Princess Royal said the award was intended to celebrate the best in children's books, "the ones I kept reading after my children had fallen asleep" and also to celebrate a reading renaissance. "Libraries are the access point for a much greater demand for books, especially from younger people. If anything, information technology has reawakened interest in the written word."

Broadcaster James Naughtie chaired a selection panel that took into account the views of children from 24 schools around the country. "Quentin Blake's work has not simply drawn children into the world of adults, but drawn adults into the world of children," he said. Also on the shortlist for the pound;10,000 post, which lasts for two years with a fee of pound;10,000, were the novelists Anne Fine and Peter Dickinson.

The laureateship, initiated by the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, and sponsored by Waterstone's, is primarily an award for outstanding achievement but is also intended to put children's books at the centre of the country's cultural life.

Mr Blake can design his own job - the laureate's own work is not supposed to suffer. He has strong connections with children's publishing outside the UK and is likely to take the "ambassador" element seriously, although he said this week that our home-grown books are "among the world's best . . . books are primers in the development of the emotional, moral and imaginative life - a celebration of what it is like to be a human being.

"People like us take the writing and drawing of children's books seriously because we take writing and drawing seriously. And we can't have a better example in this than the late Poet Laureate."

Mr Blake, 66, was awarded the OBE in 1988. He started drawing for Punch at 16 and published his first children's book, Patrick, in 1968. He has just illustrated Russell Hoban's Trouble on Thunder Mountain, a witty environmental fable published by Faber.

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