There’s fierce competition out there, but I think Emily Hughes is the most exciting new artist making picture books today.
Her first book Wild came out in 2013 and became an instant classic. It’s about a feral child who could out-wild Max from Where the Wild Things Are, her home a living, breathing natural world.
Emily grew up in Hawaii but has lived in the UK since she was 17 and her work reflects the two landscapes of her life. The world of her new book, The Little Gardener looks like a fairy tale forest that has been uprooted from the English countryside and is now blooming in the tropical conditions of her own Hawaiian garden.
So what are the books that really matter to a child of Hawaii now grown up and living in London?
The book that first got me excited about reading
The first book I remember reading with pride and excitement was Beverly Cleary’s Henry Huggins. It was the first children’s noveI I read to myself. My Mom helped me pick it out.
It was a copy with the original Louis Darling illustrations (I can’t bear to read the ones by different illustrators). I still love them today. I was crazy about dogs- So Henry and Ribsy’s mischief in their neighbourhood was wonderful. I have a vivid memory of reading the police scene while laying underneath my kitchen table.
The book I most wanted to write / draw
There are loads of books that went through my head, some stronger for writing, some more for drawing. But the first one I feel assured of saying is Fortunately by Remy Charlip. Beautiful to look at, one- It’s an amazing book. Teaches pace with great hilarity and with such a brilliantly simple concept.
For adults, I would easily say Epileptic by David B. can’t get over it, a raw gem.
The children’s book I read and re-read the most
I asked my Mom this question because I wasn’t too sure. I remember children’s novels I’ve read and loved, but picture books are fuzzy- I’ve looked at them always, but my tastes as a child don’t necessarily mirror my tastes now, so I am caught in a weird loophole of wondering what is honest.
My Mother gave it a lot of thought and said Florence Sakade’s Japanese Children’s Favourite Stories. The illustrations by Yoshisuke Kurosaki are iconic for me, gorgeous, and the stories are beautiful- about sacrifice, and generosity of the heart, all with fantastical happenings and creatures. The story, The Old Man who Made Trees Blossom is one I adore.
The book I read as a teenager that blew my mind
I was a bit older than being a teenager- while there were many books that I loved and were huge, few books have been so ‘mind-blowing’ that it had altered my whole way of thinking. I read My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi’s autobiography when I turned 20. He is an incredible person, and writes so humbly of his experiences. It is a kind, but staggering reminder of what you as a human are capable of. I believe it to be a book everyone should read in their lives at least once, maybe twice, probably thrice.
An old book that I discovered late in life and which had a profound effect
Kay Nielsen’s East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Hands down, it had completely changed the path of my practice. Every illustration is absolute magic. Nielsen came from a family of theater, and worked on designing the sets. His illustrations work in that dramatic nature- all presented on a rich stage.
It made me realise the power of the environment, of expression, of space. I took that book out of the library for a solid year while I was living in Hawaii.
One of my own books
This is a hard one, it’s like choosing between two of my children. I definitely will have a soft spot for Wild because it was my first for everything. First book, first time going through the process. The story is something I identify more with as well, so in terms of narrative, I would say Wild.
I am overall happy with the look of my second book- I enjoyed working with that one. I believe my style and understanding had improved. So in terms of imagery, I would say The Little Gardener. Hopefully my favourite book is still out on the horizon waiting to be made!
Wild and The Little Gardener are published by Flying Eye Books.