Friday, 23 February 2018

Books, pictures and memories - a guest post from the Institute Français blog to accompany SKKF 2015

Books, pictures and memories
By Gabby Dawnay


I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t aware of books - logically perhaps because memories often start at around the time a child begins to read. But more than this, there is a special alchemy that occurs in a child’s mind when pages of words and pictures move from shapes on paper, to seeds in the imagination. I have memories of the books from my childhood that are more vivid than much else. When I recall individual illustrations, I remember exactly how they made me feel and think. I could tell you page by page the colour and designs of Cinderella's dresses from the Ladybird 'Well-Loved Tales' series and was fixated by Snow White and Rose Red's perfect black shoes. These picture-book memories are sometimes inextricably bound with more general memories of events and places, changing seasons and outdoor spaces, gardens and dim rooms in the house where I grew up...Whether it was reading The Hobbit in deepening autumn evenings in front of the fire, or climbing into an old wardrobe to see if Narnia lay beyond the musty coats; the books and stories of my childhood fed my hopes and inspired me. Books made me dream and imagine and I remember far more about them than any school lessons.

 Books can be unsettling, if not downright frightening, too. I was given a mighty volume of Alice Through the Looking Glass illustrated by Ralph Steadman, that I refused to keep in my bedroom because of one particularly terrifying image of a beady-eyed black crow. And I’ve never quite recovered from The Tale of Samuel Whiskers with that claustrophobic little vignette of a helpless, startled Tom Kitten being rolled in dough by the wicked rats…

The relationship between words and pictures is one that illustrator Alex Barrow and I like to describe as being akin to a piece of music; a dynamic symmetry between what is said and what is seen. Pictures and text together can be playful, uneasy even, adding extra layers of narrative, humour and meaning; an expression or small detail missed at first, spotted the next time read. The two components work with one another to create a harmonious whole where neither is stronger than the sum of their parts. Alice’s world, drawn by Steadman’s pen, became an even darker interpretation of a curious tale - no benign dream but the stuff of real nightmares.

And perhaps here lies the very heart of the matter; children can adventure safely in books. A child may fly to the moon and back, travel into the jaws of an angry alligator unscathed and reach the heart of the volcano without getting burnt. They can try green eggs and ham – if they are persuaded by the pester-power – and watch a garden grow in the time it takes to reach the end of a story. They might devour the pictures in a book like hungry caterpillars or close their eyes and let the music of words build images in their imagination. Books help children learn accidentally that kindness and bravery are usually rewarded, but not always: that Love conquers all but that life is unpredictable, unfair and sometimes cruel, as the Little Prince and Mermaid will attest to. The potency of books is immeasurable, subtle, stealthy; their magic is intoxicating and addictive. They are an escape and a comfort: a learning tool and a life enhancer. Books make you laugh, cry, believe in possibility because they interpret and communicate reality whist offering a means of escape. Sometimes, a single story is enough to put a child’s world to right. After all, Tom Kitten only lost his coat in the end.

Gabby Dawnay

Ladybird Well-Loved Tales, written by Vera Southgate, Illustrated by Eric Winter
The Tale of Samuel Whiskers illustrated by Beatrix Potter
Alice Through the Looking Glass illustration by Ralph Steadman
The Hobbit illustration by JRR Tolkien


Saturday, 10 February 2018


The current issue of Okido is all about ICE. 

Here's my funny poem illustrated brilliantly by Alex Barrow!

ICE CREAM PLANET © Gabby Dawnay 2018


BACKGROUND information...

My first picture book - called A Possum's Tail - is a collaboration with brilliant illustrator Alex Barrow and came out 6th February 2014. A second book called London Calls! is a whistle-stop tour of London, led by a Pearly grandma and her granddaughter. London Calls! came out on 4th September 2014 and is my second book with Alex Barrow. A Possum's Tail was nominated for the 2015 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal.
Both books are by Tate Publishing.

Please see my AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE or CURRICULUM VITAE for more details & updates.

As well as writing children's books, for children's television and two award-winning children's magazines, I do both private and commercial art commissions, a selection of which you can see here.

The children's shoes are part of an ongoing series of "first shoes", including several cards commissioned by the Almanac Gallery.

Hand-drawn, bespoke invitations, announcements, portraits and menus, such as the examples here are also available upon request..

Any enquiries please email:


I've been a regular contributor to children's art and science magazine OKIDO since 2007. HAPPY 10th BIRTHDAY (WOW) beautiful Okido!

An Okido animated kids tv show, based on characters from the magazine is currently in production with Doodle/Squintopera The original adaptation of the show (co-created/adapted by myself, producer Ceri Barnes and Doodle Productions) was acquired by CBeebies. 52 x 11 minute episodes will be coming to a screen near you soon in 2015.......... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .............................
N E W S F L A S H! MESSY GOES TO OKIDO Series TWO has now finished production, and will be coming to your screens S O O N ...! (Autumn 2018, to be exact)



Cartoon Forum 2011 Okido booklet

Cartoon Forum 2011 Okido booklet
Okido Cartoon Forum 2011

Happy Birthday OKIDO!

Happy Birthday OKIDO!
Okido was 5 years old this issue...the wonderful art and science magazine for kids I've been lucky enough to have worked on for the past - 8 - years now