Book Trust are an amazing charity who do so much to foster a love of literacy in the UK. This year, at the suggestion of the last Children’s Laureate, Malorie Blackman, they have inaugurated the Lifetime Achievement Award, and the first recipient is Shirley Hughes. You can read about the award here.
This, in my opinion, is well deserved. Hughes is in her 90’s and still going strong. She has, up to now, published over 200 books. She also illustrates other people’s work as well as writing and illustrating her own books. Her books have been cherished by generations of readers growing up, including me.
Probably her best known work is Dogger, which tells the story of Dave’s beloved toy and how it is traumatically lost and beatifically found again. Dogger won the Kate Greenaway medal in 1977 and has been constantly in print ever since. It appears frequently on books you should read lists and lists of the most important, influential and best loved books for children. Rightly so.
Funnily enough, I have no recollection of reading Dogger as a child. My earliest memories of Hughes’ work were for her illustrations of Dorothy Edwards’ My Naughty Little Sister books. These too, remain in print, still accompanied by Hughes’ illustrations.
My next enduring memory of Hughes’ work is through the stories of Alfie and Annie Rose. You can find out all about Alfie on his specially dedicated website. Alfie is a curious little boy whose every day adventures with his mum and dad and his baby sister Annie Rose were similar to my own experiences of growing up, and imbued what up to then I had considered fairly normal, mundane doings with the glamour of being important enough to become stories in a real book. I particularly loved the story where Alfie locks everyone out of the house by mistake, and the simple picture books about splashing in puddles in the park or taking a bath.
My favourite story of all however, is called Sally’s Secret, about a little girl who finds a den in her garden and turns it into a house where she has tea with her friend Rose. I had a den in my own garden where my friends and I used to have tea parties and to me, it seemed as if Shirley Hughes knew all about me, in the best of ways!
Hughes’ output has been prolific and varied. There are reworkings of classic fairy tales and more stories of children like Lucy and Tom growing up and finding out about school. There is her book The Lion and the Unicorn, about a boy who lives through WW2. There are poems and songs, picture books for babies and more sophisticated books for older readers and more recently her collaborations with her daughter Clara Vuillamy about Dixie O’Day, many of which I have reviewed here on Making Them Readers.
The thing I love most about Hughes is her ability to create such a detailed, vivid and real world in her illustrations. As the decades have gone by her images have adapted to reflect the changing times, but I remember being so excited as a child growing up in the Seventies that someone was making realistic pictures about lives like my own, and people who looked like me and my mum and dad and friends.
The detail in the drawings is captivating and there is something lively and appealing about everything Hughes’ makes. The stories are gentle and kind and real, and full of love. These really are books that live in your heart, and images you can return to time and time again and find comfort and joy in.