If you had asked a young version of me what I would love to be when I grew up there would have been two possible answers: A mum or an illustrator. I (obviously) was blessed enough to become a mum and absolutely love my big family, but sadly I never became an illustrator and most likely never will. With this secret dream in mind I was so excited to discover this beautiful Walker Books release:
As soon as I laid eyes on Helen Oxenbury: A Life in Illustration (RRP $49.99) I knew I was in for a treat. Across 288 pages this impressive hardcover edition covers all the ins and out of Helen’s personality, her childhood, her inspirations and her career as an illustrator. Get ready to take a peek inside the mind of this incredibly talented artist and be amazed.
Leonard St. Marcus has managed to capture the life and work of Helen Oxenbury in a beautiful and detailed way. It is lovely to see how Helen’s every day life inspired specific titles or how certain events impacted her work approach. The personal facts and notes are very sweet and in a way make you feel like an insider. When a 9-month pregnant Helen was first approached by publicist Sebastian Walker (Walker Books) she declined his offer for an advance payment and casually told him to just pay her once he started making money. Did you know that in the early days Helen used crayons for her illustrations (instead of water colour) because being a busy mum they were easier and quicker to pack up before meal time?
Helen’s eye for detail is a rarity and her illustrations are filled with small details that you may not notice at first or second glance, yet when you study her work you realise how much thought has gone into each picture. Subconsciously it’s those little details that make Helen’s books relatable to readers of all ages. Have you ever seen the support bandage around the piano teacher’s leg, spotted the stubble on the farmer’s face and even the few hairs on his back or seen how the pregnant mama kicked off her shoes as she sat down beside the bed? Helen once said: I think that children like mishaps, especially when they occur to the grown-ups’, and I think she is absolutely right!
While Helen Oxenbury: A Life in Illustration is not a book one reads quickly from cover to cover (you can easily snuggle up on the couch for hours and settle in for a long thorough read), you can definitely enjoy a short browse, a flick of the pages and a little look at some of the gorgeous illustrations too. I have found myself grabbing for the book often, just a few minutes of admiring Helen’s work with a warm cuppa in my hand is still very relaxing and rewarding. This makes it a fantastic coffee table book for waiting rooms and a great gift idea of (art) teachers, librarians, artists or anyone with a soft spots for precious picture books.
To find out more about Walker Books and to take a look at Helen Oxenbury’s bibliography visit www.walkerbooks.com.au.