Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Children's Bookshow Tour 2013

Catherine Rayner in Newcastle

Catherine Rayner is not only hugely talented as an illustrator and author but, it turns out, as a performer too.
I was priveleged to witness and assist at Catherine's event at The People's Theatre in Newcastle on 1st October.

The children were completely enthralled by Catherine, just as we knew they would be. Catherine had them in the palm of her hand, listening and watching avidly as she shared her stories and illustrations, chatted about herself, asked them questions, and drew in front of their delighted eyes.

As Catherine added water by fingertip to a watercolour pencil drawing of her iconic tiger, Augustus, (who is eventually reunited with his lost smile), a child behind me breathed in awed tones, "Wwwooowww, that is ... M A G I C!  That's just magic!" 

When Catherine enquired whether the children had brought their smiles with them, hundreds of little beaming faces were her signal to proceed. The presentation, from start to finish, was flawless, just like Catherine's picture books. Confident, funny, and full of heart. In full control of the technology, her space on stage, and the audience themselves, Catherine moved, apparently effortlessly, between each story and activity, keeping a chatty tone and a clear voice. When Catherine asked the auditorium full of 5 and 6 yr olds to roar their loudest, the sound was fantastically ear-splitting but the next moment, Catherine signalled them back to silence for the next page of her story. 

During the hour, the kids were invited to make a wide variety of animal sounds from Catherine's picture books, and several were given the chance to draw on stage with Catherine, to create a collaborative picture of Abigail, the giraffe who stars in Catherine's latest picture book, just published this Autumn.  If you can draw a strawberry, you can draw Abigail, according to Catherine's step-by-step instructions.

The book is a true delight; a story that brings a lump to the throat and illustrations that engulf you.  Abigail is a unique giraffe who loves to count. As she draws her friends in to her fun and they learn and play together, we see just how special Abigail is. 

The inspiration spread beyond just the children; a young usher confided afterwards that he was going go home and try out the techniques Catherine had demonstrated. 

Catherine and I then went on to Chillingford Primary school for the first in a succession of workshops in local primary schools. This chirpy class of Year 2s were very excited to see Catherine again so soon, up close and personal. They were a chatty bunch, and Catherine happily answered their many and varying questions before telling several of her picture book stories, with cries from the children of "more" whenever she finished reading one.

The children then watched as Catherine created a picture for them to keep in their classroom, on "posh paper", this time featuring the gorgeous and endearing dragon, Sylvia, of "Sylvia and Bird." 

They then settled themselves at their tables with paper and pastels, to produce their own, unique dragon, complete with a name and choice of food. 

It was a joy to see the children so confident and comfortable with their drawing as a huge array of different colours and shapes of dragons emerged from their fingertips. 
We all waved a grateful goodbye to Catherine as she went on her way to her following workshops over the next couple of days and I hopped on a train back down to deepest Devon. I am not the only one who will treasure that day and who will always be glad I met the lady who gave Augustus his smile, Sylvia her best friend, injected the mischief into Solomon the Crocodile, and made a book big enough for Ernest the Moose. 


  1. Lovely to read this. Catherine is such an amazing artist. If you're near Dartmouth do come to the Animal Magic private view at Baxters Gallery on 25th Oct from 6-9pm where there will be 10 of Catherine's screenprints!

  2. Thank you Sarah, I will have a look!