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70 Years Celebration


How two rats helped create a prize-winning picture book...

Emily Gravett: CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal Winner 2008

"I was really surprised to win. It was such a strong shortlist that I didn't think I stood a chance, but of course I am absolutely delighted!  It makes me smile every time I think of it". So says illustrator Emily Gravett on winning her second CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal in three years. Her previous win was for her very first picture book, 'Wolves': this year, her fifth book, 'Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears' has been similarly honoured. This is turning into quite a year for Emily: she was official illustrator for World Book Day 2008, and has also selected as one of the 10 Best New Illustrators for Booktrust's Big Picture campaign.

Emily was born in Brighton in 1972, the younger of two daughters. Her father was a printmaker and her mother an art teacher. Her parents split up when she was young, but Emily remained close to her dad with whom she would go out drawing, visiting such places such as The Booth Museum of Natural History where they would sketch bird skeletons together. Emily's favourite picture book when she was young was 'The Giant Jam Sandwich', illustrated by John Vernon Lord.

Education and Formative Years
At the age of 16, Emily left school with an A grade in her GCSE Art, but few other formal qualifications. She spent the next eight years living on the road, travelling in a variety of vehicles, and going to music festivals. She and her fellow travellers spent between a day and 6 months in places all over England, Scotland and Wales. Along the way she met her partner Mik. "When we weren't travelling, we made a living fruit picking, and I sold a few pictures to holidaymakers". Emily and Mik eventually settled in Pembrokeshire in West Wales, where they had a daughter Oleander, and Emily embarked on an Art Foundation course. "After my daughter was born I realised that I wanted a career, and drawing was my only skill".

Brighton University
In 2001, Emily, Mik and Oleander returned to Brighton, where Emily had to fight tooth and nail to convince Brighton University to give her an interview for the degree course in Illustration, despite her lack of A-levels. "I rang every number I could find in the prospectus, and eventually, the head of admissions just happened to be passing and answered it". She began the course in September 2001, and during her second year, entered the Macmillan Prize for the first time, gaining a Highly Commended for her entry. The following summer, during the final term of her course, she entered two books, one of which was 'Wolves'. Her two entries split the judges, who look at the field without knowing who any of the authors are. They were delighted to discover that their top two choices were by the same person. Emily was still working on her final degree assignment when she heard she had won the Prize.

The Genesis of 'Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears'
Emily had the idea for a book of fears a long time ago, and it remained at the back of her mind for several years, although at that stage, it didn't involve a mouse. She knew however that she wanted it to be a sort of self-help guide to phobias. The idea really started to come to life thanks to the family pet rats, Button and Mr Moo and their talent for nibbling. "I decided I wanted the book to look as tatty as possible, and appear as if it had really been chewed".

Her solution was to paint a yoghurt mixture onto sheets of plain paper which she placed in the rats' cage. After Button and Mr Moo had nibbled the edges of the paper, and peed on it as well, Emily scanned the sheets into her PC and used them as the background to the overlays for each page. Emily also borrowed some bird of prey feathers to scan in for the page on Ornithophobia, from her old haunt, the Booth Museum. She admits that her scanner took "quite a hammering".

Away from the rat wee, Emily spent time researching the phobias for the book. All of the twenty phobias mentioned are genuine conditions, apart from "Whereamiophobia", which Emily had to invent. "I was really surprised that there wasn't a term for the fear of getting lost. Especially as, amazingly, there is one for the fear of peanut-butter sticking to the roof of your mouth" (for the record: it's called Arachibutyrophobia).

Emily also talked to other parents about what their children were frightened of, and to her own daughter, Oleander, aged 11. "Olly was frightened of lots of things when she was little, including sharp knives and electricity pylons".

The reactions of the children she meets on school and library visits have also been interesting. "They get quite obsessive about the scary pages, which give them a bit of a thrill too. They get very excited and tell me all about their own fears"

Sadly, rats Button and Mr Moo, who taught Emily "everything I know about nibbling" have now both died, but their owners now have new dog Otto, a rescued Saluki.

Reviews for 'Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears'
"An extraordinary picture book with lift flaps and a fold-out map. It'll quickly become a favourite, and is a great way to get kids talking about their fears and phobias"
Practical Parenting

"The message of this ingenious worrier's guide to phobias is: A Fear Faced is a Fear Defeated".
Sunday Times: Children's Book of the Week

Books by Emily Gravett
Wolves (2005)
Orange Pear Apple Bear (2005)
Meerkat Mail (2006)
Monkey and Me (2007)
Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears (2007)
The Odd Egg (2008)

Awards & Honours
2004: The Macmillan Prize for Illustration
2005: CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal
2005: Nestlé Children's Book Prize (Bronze Award)
2007: Book Trust Early Years Awards (Best Emerging Illustrator)
2008: CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal

What's Next
'Spells' (August 2008)
A book about a lovelorn frog, and some very mixed up spells!

'Dogs' (February 2009)
A book about gorgeous canines of every shape, size and colour!


26 June 2008