It’s a great pleasure to welcome Beatrice Alemagna and hear about the books that shaped her as a reader and helped make her a creator of unique picture books. Martin Salisbury singles her out for praise in his selection of 100 Great Children’s Picture Books writing that her ‘constant urge to experiment – graphically and conceptually – takes her into ever-changing territories on the borders between commercial art and the book arts.’
My introduction to her work was reading the ‘Bugs in a Blanket‘ series of board books which were created entirely in felt, a perfect book to cuddle up and share with small children.
Then I fell in love all over again with her latest, The Marvellous Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty featuring the unforgettable Eddie, a plucky heroine to rank alongside Eloise and Pippi. And I can’t wait to see what she does with Astrid Lindgren’s other itty bitty favourite Lotta.
Alemagna has said she follows the credo of Tomi Ungerer, ‘children shouldn’t be patronised or sheltered, they should be challenged.’ And that admirable belief is strongly reflected in her choice of books below, ranging from the comforting philosophy of the Moomins to the sordid allure of Ian McEwan’s Cement Garden.
The book that first got me excited about reading:
Favole al Telefono by Gianni Rodari, illustrated by Bruno Munari. It was a book full of linguistic inventions, upside down situations, funny characters.
Everything inside was wrong and strange and this did fascinate me deeply.
The book that my parents read to me:
My mother read every night a novel of Fiabe Italiane by Italo Calvino. I don’t remember a lot of this book, which I’ve never read alone, but which I remember it was the voice of my mother, sitting on the right of my bed, her fingers caressing the paper and the feeling of anticipation I felt every time she turned a page.
The book (by another author) that I most wanted to write / draw:
With any doubt it would be Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. Every time I leaf through it I am hopelessly transported from the pain of the loss of parents.
And the final … Oh that ending is the best ending that a book may have for me. An ending that touches the heart and that says something true and enlightening.
The children’s book I read so much that it fell apart:
Marceline et le Monstre by Mary Lystad and illustrated by Victoria Chess (published in English in 1968 as Millicent the Monster).
This was the first book that showed me I could be fascinated by ugliness and wickedness. And with a strong irony, above all!
The book I read as a teenager that blew my mind:
The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan for the magic and the mystery of the relationship of these two brothers. There is a black dream side to this book that I was carrying. I have always been attracted by the relationship between sisters and brothers, because, as a child, I’ve always dreamed to have a brother, an accomplice, a twin of life.
A classic book that I discovered late in life and which had a profound effect:
The Moomins by Tove Jansson. In Italy, when I was little, nobody shown or talked me about the adventures of Moomin.
Today I love those tender characters full of strength and spirit. And I’m totally fascinated by the magical world in which they evolve.
One of my own books
I’ve always tried to reinvent my way to tell something to the children. Because I feel as I really have something to tell them. Something urgent. And I often used literary forms, not only illustrative forms, to do it. A sort of poetic form asking “What is a child?”
The metaphor with “A Lion in Paris”, the tale with “The five misfits”.
But the first time I use a narrative style adventure to tell the power of ‘imagination’. I think I managed to do this only with”The marvelous Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty”.
The Marvellous Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty is published by Thames and Hudson. Jake Green’s exhibition featuring images of Beatrice and other illustrators in their studios is at House of Illustration until November 2015