Felicity Sly is Merchandise Officer for CBCA Tas Branch and a Teacher Librarian at Don College in Devonport. The artwork of a previous Picture Book of the Year Award winner, Bob Graham, adorns the 2019 Book Week merchandise. Worthy inspiration for this week’s post.
Whilst handling and packaging up the CBCA Book Week Merchandise in recent weeks, I was again charmed by the expression and feeling that Bob Graham can achieve with just a few ink strokes and colour. A young Muslim girl sits reading a book about soccer. She is totally engrossed in what she is doing, we can see that…but her facial expression is a U shaped nose and two elongated dots for eyes…how does Bob do that…how does he achieve so much feeling, with so little detail? The dog Bruno, in Queenie the Bantam, is no more than an oval with two dots for eyes, a few splodges of shaded patches, a triangle nose, and all the personality in the world. PS. I feel I can call him Bob as I manhandled him into his jacket in the rain in Hobart a few Book Weeks ago.
This also got me thinking about the inclusivity of Bob’s stories and artwork. The Disciples of Death in Greetings from Sandy Beach are scary, leather clad and ready to lend a helping hand and join in family fun. There’s the school bus tripper who sticks her tongue out, then becomes a friend. And naturally there is a very cute dog. First impressions may not always be true. Seemingly tough and sporty Crusher is happy to play tea parties with Pete’s little sister Claire (and the stuffed toys Pete has just cleared from his room) in Crusher is Coming. Mr Wintergarten resumes a life in the community because one child, Rose, and her mum were happy to ignore the lore about his meanness, and give him a chance to be kind (Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten). Bob’s mums and dads have nose rings, tattoos, piercings, squidgy bits and men with straggly hair and pony tails. These are not key to the story being told, they just are.
All Bob’s characters are kind. They rescue hens from drowning in ponds, let them take over dog beds and a dog can hatch a clutch of eggs (Queenie the Bantam). They get a pup Dave, but then return for Rosie, the old dog (Let’s get a Pup!). And even when a character isn’t kind to begin with (Mr Wintergarten and the Brigadier in ‘The Trouble with Dogs’…said Dad) they develop kindness.
Bob likes to play in his illustrations. Families sit reading books…books that are Bob Graham books. In the book Buffy: An adventure story, Buffy is the book being read. In Queenie the Bantam, it’s Rose Meets Mr Wintergarten.
Not only is he a gifted illustrator, but Bob’s uses language in the most delicious of ways: In ‘The trouble with dogs’...said Dad, Dave is exuberant. Kate wonders what ‘rough edges’ he has because Dave has ‘nothing but soft and squashy bits’. She tells the Brigadier ‘I think shouting hurts Dave’s feelings and we should always be polite to our dogs’. The real trouble with dogs…is that their ears are so silky (and there is a Bob Graham book on the chair), In Max he is ‘hovering like a summer dragonfly’ and in Jethro Byrde Fairy Child ‘and to whom do we owe the pleasure’. Bob is unconcerned that his words may be too challenging or the idioms too hard to grasp. He knows that children will find ways to understand.
His characters can be so normal whilst not being normal at all. In April Underhill, Tooth Fairy, she phones her mum for advice…on her mobile phone…with one finger in ear against the traffic noise. In Jethro Byrde, Fairy Child mum ‘sees’ the fairies in the garden: ‘We must make them welcome and make them tea,’ but she was looking the wrong way.
I have decided that if I am stranded on a desert island, then I want a selection of Bob Graham’s books to keep me company…but not any that have been printed in such a way that the alligator from Mr Wintergarten’s garden is NOT seen wandering away around the corner, when the fence and cacti come down. I was horrified that in a ‘set’ of Bob Graham books purchased that the alligator got the cut from the final illustration.
Bob has written and/or illustrated more than 70 books. How lucky for us that a batch of ill health, and time off work, resulted in Pete and Roland being written.
Austlit.edu.au. (2019). Bob Graham: (author/organisation) | AustLit: Discover Australian Stories. [online] Available at: https://www.austlit.edu.au/austlit/page/A14858 [Accessed 5 Jul. 2019].
Walkerbooks.com.au. (2019). Bob Graham - Authors & Illustrators - Welcome to Walker Books Australia. [online] Available at: https://www.walkerbooks.com.au/Authors_and_Illustrators/Bob-Graham [Accessed 5 Jul. 2019].Felicity Sly
Editor's note. 2019 Book Week merchandise can be viewed on the CBCA estore at https://store.cbca.org.au/.