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Shirley Hughes, Britain’s best known illustrator of children’s books

On 26th June, Shirley Hughes CBE, was guest editor on BBC Woman’s Hour. She talked with enormous warmth about illustrating books for young children; how she started illustrating with a  notebook always in her hand or bag, then to her roughs, her working colleagues Andrea MacDonald, Education Director for Penguin Random House and her love of hats.

A woman of character and depth who would not be drawn in to any signs of weakness in women’s role in society, Shirley Hughes is the winner of many,many awards.

Undoubtedly her most famous book is Dogger. The story of a little, brown, soft toy dog, with one ear up and one ear down, who was lost at the Jumble sale. Dogger was actually her son’s dog and had so much love that although he started off with both ears down, he was cuddled closely for so long with one ear up, it just stayed that way.

Other early books  were Lucy and Tom’s Day and Alfie, which started her in the delightful and highly memorable books about everyday life. These were  stories which all could relate to, stories which children loved to read and to look at over and over again.

Shirley talked about visual literacy and  her thoughts on; how to help children to look at pictures and share a book together, use some physical closeness as you journey through a picture book and explore the world from the safety of a comfy chair. Children will learn to look and search for details and become visually literate.

A keen supporter of galleries, Shirley talked with Gill Hart of the National Gallery about taking children to look at paintings. Her advice was, "to go to the gallery, look at one or two paintings, have a delicious tea, buy a postcard, go home, and stick the postcard on the wall or the fridge. Children will remember them."

On looking at too many paintings, Shirley said, ‘You can get indigestion quite quickly!’

Libraries are a favourite of Shirley’s and she is extremely supportive of the free library systems. In her childhood, growing up in the Second World War libraries had special meaning and gave a wealth of books to read and explore. Shirley talked about the Edinburgh Central Library as a brilliant example of an excellent library

Finally, after talking with her son Ed Vulliamy, a journalist and the proud owner of Dogger, Shirley went on to talk about her passion on wearing hats.

A lady of character and charm, intelligence and warmth, with much more to give in her books for children and adults too.

In the near future there will be a release of a new Alfie book about  a day in the nursery. Alfie, who will always be known for his time spent on one side of the door, with his Mum and Baby Rose, on the other side.

For me,on this damp Friday evening,  I am going to find all the Shirley Hughes books on the shelf, immerse myself in a comfy sofa and a cup of tea.

Sue Martin

Dolphin Books is part of SmithMartin LLP

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