EMILY GRAVETT: CILIP KATE GREENAWAY MEDAL WINNER 2005
In 2004, whilst working towards her final degree assignment at Brighton University, Emily Gravett entered a book she had produced during her course for the Macmillan Prize for Illustration. The award, funded by Macmillan Children's Books, was established in 1985 in order to stimulate new work from young illustrators in art school and to help launch their professional careers. Previous winners include Lucy Cousins of Maisy fame.
Wolves won the award hands down, and was immediately accepted for publication by Macmillan. "It was quite obvious who the winner was going to be", commented Suzanne Carnell, Macmillan Children's editorial director. "Emily entered Wolves in a beautiful dummy format, and really we had to do very little work on it before it was published. She's a bookbinder as well as an artist; a real creator of books. So from the production point of view we went all out to make it as special as we could".
Wolves, aimed at children of four and above, went on to be published to huge acclaim, and rights to the book have been sold in five countries.
Education and Formative Years
The Genesis of Wolves
Emily takes up the story. "I knew I wanted to use a wolf again. And I already had the rabbit as well, in the form of a doodle which came out of my Ideas Folder (see below). In the first version of the book, the words came out from behind the rabbit to form the wolf, but this didn't quite work.
"The alternative happy ending was completely accidental. I'd completed the artwork up to the page which ends "They also enjoy smaller mammals like beavers, voles, and rabbits". And then I found I didn't know how to end the book. Then I decided to put the word "rabbit" over on the next page. My partner and daughter wanted me to stop there with this nasty ending but in the end I decided to have an alternative version for the squeamish". Readers will note however that the "happy ending" page is made up of the torn fragments of a book after a ferocious wolf attack.
Emily also studied bookbinding at university, something she really enjoyed. "It was the nicest thing on the course. It's so exciting making a book". For Wolves, Emily made up a red dummy of the book, from book board covered in book cloth. To simulate the impact of the wolf's teeth, she tried to get her dog to chew it but despite being a habitual chewer he just wouldn't get the message. "So eventually I had to chew it myself. It tasted disgusting", laughs Emily.
The result was so accomplished that Macmillan chose to keep Wolves almost as it was when Emily first submitted it. "I was amazed; I thought they'd change everything", says Emily. The endpaper showing the letter-strewn doormat is the only spread which was added afterwards, and Emily admits to having "really good fun" with it.
It's impossible to generalise about how Emily works. Wolves took her 6 weeks, but she produced Orange Pear Apple Bear in 11 hours from start to finish. She had been reading Lynne Truss' book Eats, Shoots and Leaves, and woke up on Mother's Day morning with four words circulating in her head: orange, pear, apple, bear. She stayed in bed listening to The Archers and sketched the whole book out in one go. Meerkat Mail, a much more complicated book, took a lot longer.
Emily does try her books out on her daughter Olly. "She used to be a bit too kind, trying not to hurt my feelings, but nowadays she says what she thinks".
Awards & Reviews
Wolves also received rave reviews in the national press when it was first published in August last year.
First-time illustrator Emily Gravett's spare illustrations and brilliant use of the page create a visually sophisticated story full of entertaining scary stuff
The deserving winner of the Macmillan prize for new illustration, "Wolves" uses a delightful mélange of skilful drawing. . . By the time another delivery of punning post arrives on a doormat in the endpaper, we, too, have been swallowed up by the book and have become very fond of it.
"Wolves" will thrill brave young readers as they follow the unsuspecting rabbit hero. . . into very big trouble.
An irresistible picture book for 3-6s, in which a library book about wolves comes scarily to life
In 2007, Macmillan Children's Books will publish Emily Gravett's fourth and fifth titles, Monkey and Me (March) and Little Mouse's Book of Fears (August). And there are at least two more to come after that!
How She Feels About Winning the CILIP Kate Greenaway
7 July 2006