With nominations currently still open for the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals (nominate by clicking here), we talk with 2019 winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal, Jackie Morris about her work, the impact winning has had upon her and the extraordinary book that she and Robert MacFarlane created.
Kate Greenaway winner, ‘The Lost Words’ initially began as a chat with Emily Drabble about producing a web slideshow of images to highlight words that had been dropped from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. The words had fallen from common use and so were no included in the dictionary whose purpose OUP described as being ‘to reflect language as it is used, rather than seeking to prescribe certain words or word usages.’
Recognising the importance of the natural world, several authors, naturalists and broadcasters signed a letter composed by Laurence Rose, conservationist and editor of the Natural Light blog. The letter cited the National Trust’s ‘Natural Childhood’ campaign stating
‘Every child should have the right to connect with nature. To go exploring, sploshing, climbing, and rolling in the outdoors, creating memories that’ll last a lifetime.’
Among those who signed the letter were Margaret Atwood, Nicola Davies, Robert MacFarlane, Michael Morpurgo, Sir Andrew Motion and Jackie Morris. Talking about the removal of the words, Jackie says ‘it highlighted the disconnect between language and nature and was a clear indication that something was wrong.’
Fearing that a slideshow of images would be there and then, like the words in the dictionary, disappear, Jackie began to think about a book and decided to write to co-signatory, Robert MacFarlane to see whether he might be willing to pen an introduction. When the reply came back a couple of weeks later, the suggestion was to collaborate on something more than just an introduction.
‘We started knocking the idea back and forth between the two of us.’ Jackie was clear that she didn’t want children to be in it and wanted it to be wild. ‘The idea of spells clicked in his mind. The first one he wrote was the kingfisher and I painted it against a background of goldleaf’. Taking it to the Hamish Hamilton offices, was the first time Jackie met with Robert and she didn’t meet him again until the project was finished. ‘Everything was done via e-mail, I’d send sketches, he would send spells to be spoken aloud. It was the most collaborative piece of work of all of the things I’ve done.’
Jackie did not create roughs for any of the illustrations, submitting the artwork in batches. Part of the collaborative process involved the work of designer Alison O’Toole. Jackie describes finding ‘The Lost Words’ font as having been key, ‘I was conscious about legibility, but something about the space given to the words means that reluctant readers aren’t intimidated. We’ve had feedback about how well reluctant readers have responded and how they love it and are not put off by the complexity of language because of the relationship with the pictures.’
Hamish Hamilton were extremely trusting and have supported the crowd-funding ideas where copies of the book have been gifted to local . The book has caught the public imagination in an inspiring way. The dynamism of the relationship between written and pictorial language has acted as a catalyst enabling creative responses that have crossed a variety of artistic boundaries with folk songs, exhibitions and even a performance at the 2019 proms.
Talking about this year’s Kate Greenaway win, Jackie explains the impact it has had upon her career. ‘After twenty-eight years working in children’s books, I have a big backlist. For the first time ever there is a plan of my work being taken to Frankfurt Book Fair.’ Her Canadian publisher was also very excited on hearing the news. ‘My work now has a connection with other books that have won and which I love. It has given me a new confidence.’