I’ve just heard the delightful news that Grahame Baker-Smith has won the CILIP* Kate Greenaway Medal 2011 for his book, FArTHER, which he both wrote and illustrated. The award was established in 1955 and represents the UK’s most distinguished award for children’s book illustration; previous winners include Janet Ahlberg, Edward Ardizzone, Quentin Blake, Raymond Briggs, Anthony Browne, John Burningham, Lauren Child, Michael Foreman, Shirley Hughes, Helen Oxenbury, Jan Pienkowski, Chris Riddell and Brian Wildsmith. Having known Grahame for several years, I can tell you that he is a total delight. I had the pleasure of commissioning artwork from him in a not-for-profit context, and he was extremely generous with his time and talents. I would even lay a bet that whoever first coined the expression ‘it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy’ had precisely Grahame in mind.
FArTHER is about a man’s dream of attaining flight, the tenacity of that dream, and how the dream is passed down from father to a son. It’s a wistful book, suffused with loss, disappointment, but also hope. Grahame’s illustrations are immensely detailed (the images shown are just small sections of a much bigger spread) and manage at once to capture both the substantial and the ethereal. Grahame’s writing is lyrical too, with lines that Emily Dickinson would have been proud of:
Day and night, he sewed and stitched, and sawed and hammered, and trimmed the feathers of a thousand hopeful wings.
FArTHER also functions as an investigation of the creative drive: the faraway look the son sees in his father’s distracted face (‘I would sit on his lap until he remembered me’ ). The book begs all kinds of questions. How long do you pursue your creative dream? As a parent, do you feel concern when you see that your child is absorbed by the same dream? Do we exercise any meaningful choice over these matters?
FArTHER by Grahame Baker-Smith is published by Templar Publishing. It’s temporarily out of print, but you can read more about it here. Grahame tells me that it will be reissued (with a slightly more elaborate jacket and emblazoned with the Kate Greenaway medal, of course) in September. If that’s farther than you can wait, please borrow it from your local library.
*CILIP: the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals