What We’re Reading Wednesday:Reading Around the Books – Shackleton’s Journey & The Snowman

This Wednesday we’ve taken a slightly different approach to our What We’re Reading post: It’s not so much the books themselves that we’ve been reading but articles and interviews based around them. Lizzie explains more…

This week I’ve been looking at wintry/icy activities to run with a weekly sketchbook group for teens that takes place in the Library. Inspired by the Five Point Plan outlined by Chris Riddell in his role as Children’s Laureate (which seeks to promote the joy of sketchbooks through daily doodling) we link a drawing/sketching activity to a book each week.

Shackleton's Journey

The need for something wintry, the desire to introduce colour into our thus far monochrome sketchbooks and the necessity of achieving this with limited resources (i.e a box of old pencil crayons!) were all pressing concerns as I began my search. Add to this the fact that we only have a 25 minute slot in which to achieve something meaningful and I was running out of ideas – that is until I happily alighted upon Will Grill’s Greenaway award winning Shackleton’s Journey .

Having shadowed the awards last year, I knew that the book was perfect – wonderful at creating atmosphere and sense of place as well as scale and perspective and with the added bonus of introducing colour and tone through the use of pencil crayons – but I do also like to do a bit of research before each session so I can offer a bit more detail about the techniques used and advice on how to tackle having a go ourselves. In my quest to find out more I ended up stumbling across this wonderful  Books For Keeps ‘Window Into Illustration’ article in which Grill talks about the distinctive quality of colouring pencils.

I wanted the book to have a quiet, soft tone to reflect the otherworldly atmosphere of Antarctica, and the texture and lithograph-like quality of pencil on heavy cartridge paper worked well. Use of white space helped me to give the book a sense of space and stillness – William Grill, Books For Keeps

Grill also namechecks Raymond Briggs in the article. His timeless The Snowman and Father Christmas were natural points of reference for my wintry/icy activity and immediately sent me off on a search for more information about Briggs’s own use of the humble pencil crayon.

The snowman.jpg

I came across two fantastic articles from The Guardian – a 2008 Guardian Bookclub article written by Briggs himself and a 2004 Profile article entitled Bloomin Christmas by Nicholas Wroe.

The usual method is to draw in pencil, then “ink it in”, then colour it. But the inked line is always deader than the pencil line. The feeling has gone out of it. Using pencil crayon, these three stages can merge together. You can draw lightly in colour, then gradually make it sharper, clearer and darker, while colouring it at the same time. Furthermore, for this book, crayon has a softer quality, ideally suited to snow. – Raymond Briggs, 2008, The Guardian Bookclub

Though it’s perhaps a little trite to say it, my reading really has made me look at the books with new eyes and appreciate the craft and thought that has gone into every pencil line, especially in the case of Raymond Briggs whose work I haven’t really revisited since being a child myself (a terrible omission I know!). I definitely would recommend having a read through the articles and as for the sketchbooks activity, well, after introducing Shackleton’s Journey and The Snowman we all had a go using our pencil crayons to illustrate a line or two from the classic Walter de la Mare Snow poem (which of course has already received the picture book treatment from illustrator Carolina Rabei) and are now feeling suitably wintry and ready for the festive season.

Snow - Carolina Rabei

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