Piggy, Red and a Big Bad Wolf
My most recent book, The Big Book Adventure by Emily Ford (Silver Dolphin 2018) features two friends, Foxy and Piggy - both avid readers. They spend their days going to the library and reading, then sharing those stories with each other. Dragons, mermaids, fairytales and buried treasure appear in their imaginary worlds - alongside characters from classics including Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan.
One of the joys of illustrating this book was that I was allowed to work in different styles throughout, to help convey the idea that we are joining Foxy and Piggy in their different story books.
I wanted the spread featuring Little Red Riding Hood to have a sense of foreboding and drama (without being so scary as to give a small kid nightmares!). From the start I planned it to be monochromatic, with a large area of solid black - plus a splash of red. I explored thorny backgrounds, as well as the idea shown above - an abstract background with repeats of the letter W (for Wolf).
Illustrating Red and the narrator (Piggy) was a given - but should I show the wolf?
The text reads:
I’m sure I saw a bushy tail | As we ran through the wood.
Piggy only catches a glimpse of it. At least, he thinks he does. So I considered simply hinting at the wolf’s looming presence using warning posters pinned to the trees.
But in the end, I realised I was missing a trick by not revealing the wolf. I’m so glad I did as he was great fun to draw, with teeth collaged from cut paper, looking suitably crisp and sharp (and yes - I seriously did think twice about reinforcing a fairytale stereotype!). Fortunately for Red, we see Piggy leading their escape by lifting the corner of the page. This was intended as a visual aid to remind the reader that the adventure is happening in Piggy’s imagination (after reading the fairy tale) and gives a sense of relief to the drama.
The final image has a bold, graphic feel through the use of flat colours, crisp outlines and the white text against the solid black.
One of my roles as a picture book illustrator is to embellish the written story, taking the author's ideas and building upon them.
So the wolf reappears later in the book in a mash-up with some classic Tenniel art from Alice in Wonderland. He is nonchalantly holding a cup of tea - and one of Alice’s legs! He is licking his chops - and it has begun to snow.
What is going on?!
Has the rest of Alice been eaten?
Did the wolf gate crash the Mad Tea Party - or was he invited?
Is the Mad Hatter running for his life - or to get more sandwiches for the hungry wolf?
Has the cold caused the Dormouse to hibernate?
Suggesting open ended questions like these empower young readers. Because who’s to say what’s the right or wrong answer?
Over to you
Get your imagination going!
Asking questions about the illustrations is a great way to interact with picture books. Use them as a starting point for discussion.
Supports: visual literacy; storytelling skills; conversational skills.
Follow Foxy and Piggy’s lead and practice oral storytelling. Take a familiar story and retell in your own way. Or just make up your own!
Supports: creative thinking; storytelling skills; conversational skills.