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One of my own books, for instance, is called Cockatoos.It’s about a not very bright gentleman called Professor Dupont who has a collection of cockatoos.I think my observations will be true to a greater or lesser extent of illustration by all kinds of artists.However, I hope you will understand that the reactions that I can report are mostly about my own work, and so I apologise straightaway if that tends to make these observations self-centered, and I hope this doesn’t seem too much like an ego-trip. To begin with, for instance, there was the retired junior schoolteacher who came up to me a few months ago in the Royal Academy to say how much she had made use in her teaching of books that I had illustrated.You will understand why I attach particular value to the words of a young photographer in the north of England a few years ago, when he said to me: “My daughter could read at four years old before she went to school.Largely thanks to you.” A little later it’s possible to do things to stimulate and complicate that motivation.So she sends for Captain Najork and his Hired Sportsmen, and Tom has to play them at Womble, Muck and Sneedball.Needless to say his fooling around has given him real skills, and he wins them all.
I can’t talk about that without immediate reference to Matilda.
But Dahl is the master of a whole gallery of memorable characters; such as The Twits.
It may seem surprising but I’m not sure that they haven’t been equally effective in the cause of literacy. I remember an encounter with a group of difficult young teenagers, who recognised the Twits and felt at home with them immediately. The relationship between text and illustration can on occasion be quite complex, but what illustration can first of all do is to welcome you to the book.
She wore an iron hat, and took no nonsense from anyone.
Where she walked the flowers dropped, and when she sang the trees all shivered.” Tom spends a lot of time fooling around on planks, and ladders, and bridges, and barrels in alleys and his aunt decides that fooling around looks too much like playing.For the very young reader the visual language is more immediately and easily available, and we must all have had the experience of seeing a child “reading” the text of a picture book of which they are not yet able to read the words.