On a recent visit to a safari park I noticed that there was a scheme to "adopt" an animal, anything from a tiger to a dung-beetle. So, when the idea of adoption came up during a school visit it seemed quite natural.
After a hectic day telling stories, painting, making a mural and talking to the children about the solitary life of a rural illustrator, far from the glitz of publishers' parties and book launches, I went home, covered in glitter, glue and paint, to find that the children wanted to continue their relationship with me. So they "adopted" me.
The children drew up a certificate, decorated it with their drawings, and declared me to be "the adopted artist for Spittal VC School, 2004".
The certificate was big. They had seen photos of the chaos of books, cats and paints I work in, and did not want it to get lost. With it came a bundle of letters and drawings about my books and the day we had spent working together.
We now keep in regular contact. They have seen edited texts, surprised to find that even grown-ups get their work marked. They have seen thumbnail roughs, original paintings, and the paintings that did not work.
Lord of the Forest was a book that was originally read to them in manuscript form and now they see this in bookshops, which hopefully gives them a sense of connection with this and other books that make up much of their lives in school.
We also have regular contact by email. Often they see what I am working on before the publishers. I am currently working on the idea of a journal as part of my website as a way of keeping them in touch.
I hope that through close contact like this the children feel they have an ownership of their "literature" and that the making of books is in some sense de-mystified and made more personal for them.
I know I benefit greatly from their encouragement and enthusiasm. I was a little worried that my adoption certificate was only for 2004, but maybe they just want to keep me on my toes. So should I point out to them that "an illustrator is for life, not just for one school year", or just keep sending them the paintings and the stories?
Jackie Morris is a children's author illustrator and painter. She has been adopted by Spittal primary school, Haverford west. www.jackiemorris.co.uk