'They say the pen is mightier than the sword. But I say that the brush speaks across borders in ways the pen can only dream of. Images need no translation.'
llustrator Jackie Morris has been awarded the prestigious CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal for children’s book illustration, recognising her outstanding work on the The Lost Words. In an extra special turn of events, the 4,500–strong judging panel of children also chose to award her the Shadowers’ Choice Award, as their favourite illustrator.
Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane’s aim with The Lost Words was to restore vocabulary about the natural world to the lives of children and families; and this has expanded into a national ‘cultural phenomenon’ that has inspired countless readers to re-engage with nature. Jackie’s moving speech on presentation of the award highlights the importance of this powerful re-connection.
Upon winning, Jackie Morris said: ‘They say the pen is mightier than the sword. But I say that the brush speaks across borders in ways the pen can only dream of. Images need no translation.
There’s another saying, coined I think by Neil Gaiman, that a library without a librarian is just a room filled with books. I would take this further to say that a book without a reader is just a bundle of paper neatly bound. A book comes alive when the author, illustrator speaks into a reader’s mind and heart.
All books are a collaboration, between author and illustrator in our case. We were lucky enough to have a magnificent publisher in Simon Prosser of Hamish Hamilton, who read our proposal, immediately saw the need and value of the project (and when I say value, I’m not talking about money, but real value). He and Hermione Thompson put our vision – Robert’s and mine, in the central space for creatingThe Lost Words and believed in us every step of the way as we struggled to explain what we hoped to create.
At the heart of our book was a desire for refocus the minds, eyes, hearts of children on the awesome, glorious beauty of the natural world of which humans are but a tiny part. If you like, it was to ‘re-wild the child’, through spells both written and painted, and the magic lies in the space between the two, or maybe where they meet. We wanted to entrance. Never did we imagine how the book would take on such a wild life of its own. The spells are being sung, spoken, by single voices and many, in wild and urban places, learned by heart, shared with young and old, spoken at naming ceremonies and at funerals.
No one begins a book thinking of awards. This book, more than any other I have worked on was a soul song, a desire to share what I hold most treasured in the world: the miracle of life, the spirit of the green. To receive this award with such a history of excellence in publishing is such an honour, and I accept it for myself and for Robert, in a sure and certain understanding of the bond between words and images in picture books. And I also accept it on behalf of all those many people, too numerous to name, who have seen a value in our book, as a tool to reconnect humans and the wild, and who have taken it upon themselves to place a copy of the book in schools from Scotland to Cornwall, from Powys to Suffolk, by organising campaigns to raise money, or by giving pennies, pounds and more. We have grown into quite a community of friends. One of my favourite stories is the little girl who loved her copy so much she sent her pocket money to a crowdfunder, and her mum match funded it, because she wanted more children to be able to share the book.
As a child who comes from a home where there were few books I understand the importance of books in schools, and of school libraries. I’m living proof of how access to books can change lives, open minds, broaden horizons, and I would say, even save lives. We need diverse books, and let’s not forget that diversity spreads beyond the mere human, and many of us have, for years, tried to give voice to the non-human. It’s important to see yourself in books, in the library, and it’s also important to learn about the sanctity of all life, to learn about, respect and celebrate the glorious diversity found in the human species, and in all life on earth. Not merely, only, simply human.