Rediscovering the 'Me' in 'Mumeeeeeee'

'I have always thought that there is no more fruitful source of family discontent than a housewife’s badly-cooked dinners and untidy ways'. (Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1861)

October 15, 2010

A Bit Lost

I love this book!

'A Bit Lost' written by Chris Haughton is a 14 double-page picture book. The story is very simple: a baby owl falls out of the nest 'Oh-uh' and needs to find his mummy. Helped by a squirrel and a frog, he is finally reunited with his mummy and heads back to the nest for some biscuits but......

What makes this book really special is Chris's wonderful illustrations, for which he won Gold at the 'Best of British Illustration Awards 2010'. The images look more like something you'd see in a contemporary art gallery than on the pages of a child's picture book; vivid, bold and very different to most other picture books, they made me laugh and completely captivated my 3 year old. The text, although simple, is witty and the last page makes everyone giggle. I recently interviewed Chris about his work as an illustrator.

How did you get involved with children's books?
I had been working for the past 10 years as an illustrator, mainly for advertising and magazines. All that time I was mainly working with other people's ideas and articles so I had always wanted to do something of my own from start to finish.

What is it about this genre which inspires your illustrations and how have you developed your personal style?
Through working on commercial jobs I have had to bend my illustration style to many different purposes. I have made repeat textile patterns for hand-bags and dresses but on the other hand I have designed animations and adverts that have to be simple and clear and tell a story. I think the style I have ended up with reflects some of that. My style uses some decorative elements in it as well as bold shapes to tell a simple narrative.

How long does it take you to illustrate a book such as 'A Bit Lost'?
'A Bit Lost' took three times as long as I predicted it would. I didnt realise how much craft is involved in reducing a story down to so few pages. There is a huge amount of work that I hadn't thought about – such as trying to set up the pagination so that the 'surprise' page falls on the turned page. Small details like that take a long time of shuffling and re-shuffling to get right. Right at the very end of the project I had to edit out the last few pages which was quite painful as I had worked on them for months. The illustration alone after I had settled on the story took took ten and a half months, it's the longest I have ever worked on anything.

How does it feel to be involved in children's books right now; a market which is thriving and producing a number of influential Irish authors and illustrators?
Illustration and particularly picture book illustration is a very exciting area now. Ireland does seem to be exploding with creative talent. Although we were always well known for our literary output I think its pretty safe to say we were never a country known for illustration or design. That has really turned around in the last few years. The recent annual Offset design festival in particular has put Ireland firmly on the world design and illustration map.

How do the type of stories, characters and illustrations which the current generation of children enjoy, differ from the classics?
There seems to be a lot more childrens books these days, its overwhelming the sheer volume of them, I think it takes a lot of wading through all the new publications to find the gems that can compare to the real classics, but great books are certainly still being made right now. I'm a huge fan of contemporary continental European picture books, in particular France. The publishing industry there gets support from the government and their strong culture of picture books has made it one of the best known in the world. If you walk into a good french bookstore you will be overwhelmed by the quality of the illustrations and writing. I think it's really important to show children quality books from the very start to develop a love of reading and an awareness of what good books can be. Beatrice Alemagna and Olivier Douzou's work are two of my world favourites. In Ireland there are lots of amazing talent right now from Oliver Jeffers to Niamh Sharkey. I think Kevin Waldron's work is outstanding, his excellent first book 'Mr Peek and the Misunderstanding at the Zoo' won the coveted Opera Prima award in Bologna.

From an illustration point of view, digital production has really made life a lot easier for producing images. It can help illustrators to further refine their work and control every detail from the art desk to the printed page and in very little time. It has been a huge leap forward for the industry.

For further insight into the work of Chris Haughton, click here or visit

Check out Children's Books Ireland for details of events and activities taking place around Ireland during October as part of the Children's Book Festival.

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading this, looks just like my sort of kids books. I am a sucker for good illustrations and will def check this one out. Thanks!


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