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Penny Dale (1954-) - Sidelights

review illustrations rosie angus

Author and illustrator Penny Dale is known for her soft, realistic illustrations in reassuring books for young children. In addition to writing her own self-illustrated titles, Dale has also collaborated on several occasions with author Martin Waddell, including the award-winning Rosie's Babies.

In Rosie's Babies, four-year-old Rosie tells her mother all about her "babies" (two stuffed animals) while Rosie's mother is busy taking care of her real baby. In alternating illustrations, Dale depicts real life in Rosie's household and the life of the teddy bear and rabbit in Rosie's imagination. Dale's artwork earned her a spot on the Kate Greenaway Medal shortlist for her pencil and watercolor illustrations, which, according to a Publishers Weekly reviewer, possess "slightly nostalgic charm and skillful details."

Dale and Waddell also teamed up for Night Night, Cuddly Bear, a book about young Joe's bedtime ritual. Every night, he asks his two older siblings and his parents, "Have you seen Cuddly Bear?," and in response, they offer imaginative scenarios about where the toy might have gone, suggesting that perhaps he went to the fair, or maybe he has climbed a tree. The colored-pencil "illustrations place crowds of teddy bears in humorously fantastic locations," Connie Fletcher wrote in Booklist. Of course, Cuddly Bear is actually safe in Joe's bed, and soon Joe goes to join him.

In six stories for young readers, Jamie and his beloved toy bull Angus enjoy several comical adventures. (From The Jamie and Angus Stories, written by Anne Fine and illustrated by Dale.)

The Jamie and Angus Stories, written by Anne Fine, is a collection of stories intended for children who are making the transition from picture books to chapter books. Angus is a stuffed bull who belongs to a boy named Jamie. In six separate tales, Fine tells about the adventures that the two share, from Angus's bad experience with the washing machine to Jamie's babysitter's wedding. "Dale's pencil illustrations add to the charm of the stories, capturing the feeling and tone to a tee," claimed Cathie Bashaw Morton in School Library Journal. Writing in Kirkus Reviews, a critic found the illustrator's pictures "just right as they highlight the action and the abounding love surrounding the pair."

In her self-illustrated title Princess, Princess, Dale retells the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty, bringing the story down to a preschooler's level by making the main characters children. An unhappy fairy curses Sleeping Beauty because the princess did not invite the fairy to her birthday party. People search for someone to wake the princess with a kiss, but the answer is not the one that readers familiar with the original Sleeping Beauty tale would expect. Instead of a handsome prince, the fairy returns, forgives Sleeping Beauty for her snub, and kisses her. Noting that the illustrations have a "gossamer delicacy," Jennifer Matson commented in Booklist that the author/illustrator's book depicting the rapidly changing dynamics of youngster's interactions "offers a gentle message about friendship."

Dale once told SATA: "Ever since I can remember I have been drawing. When I was very small, I found my parents' folios from a time when they both went to life-drawing classes in London after World War II. I remember being immensely impressed by their drawing and knowing that their work was good, even though I was very young, and wanting to do 'that' myself one day. Although I studied fine art at college later on, I realize that I was illustrating from an early age. We were encouraged to do so in primary school. Every time we wrote something, factual or imaginary, we drew pictures to complement and enhance the words—this I loved and was sad when teachers' enthusiasm waned as I got older. In history class, when I was about thirteen, we were studying Norman castles and were asked to draw a plan. I made a lot of flaps in my book, so you could lift up each layer and see each floor of the castle in turn. My castle included a great hall with set tables, guard rooms, bunk rooms for the troops, even bathrooms and dungeons—an early 'lift the flap' book. Even though the teacher was diverted and slightly amused, the feeling was that I should have grown out of 'that sort of thing' by now and its place was in the art room. But now, thank goodness, I can return to words and pictures without putting any noses out of joint.

"Being an author and illustrator, I tend to think of words and pictures as one. When working on an idea for a book, I work simultaneously on text and illustrations to develop something I hope will work as a whole. In picture books I've written myself, there are only a couple hundred words (I've never counted exactly), so they have to be very carefully crafted and strong enough to move the narrative along and carry the weight of description which is of course in the pictures. The books are aimed at young children, so the images are doing the job that words do later on, such as describing the characters, their expressions, what they are wearing, the setting, and the atmosphere. The challenge is to make the text and illustrations work together as one. The most perfect example of this I know is the beginning of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are.

"When I start work on an idea, I use a large sheet of paper with twelve playing-card-size rectangles drawn on it to represent the twelve double-page spreads of the average picture book. Into these boxes go small phrases or snatches of dialogue, drawings of setting and characters, and also instructions to myself like 'close-up/eyes rolling' to remind me at a later stage that a character is shocked or laughing. This master sheet of ideas, which looks rather like a storyboard for a film, can become incredibly complicated, with layers of extra bits of paper stuck on with corrections or improvements and arrows moving images, words, or even whole scenes to another page. It's usually this rough ideas sheet, or many of them, that my editor has to try to decipher when I show him the new idea.

"Luckily, he's skillful at picking his way through the complicated jungle and finding a path. It's at this stage a text is extracted and typed onto a separate sheet of paper. We usually know then whether or not it will make a book, and this is an exciting moment. Seeing the real text on its own makes it seem somehow more real.

"Once an outline text exists, I work on a more detailed dummy, deciding which words go on which pages and working out the illustrations in sketch form. This stage can take weeks to get right, and even once the artwork begins, text can still change.

"Illustration research continues through the early stages; often I use real children and adults as models. I make drawings, take photos, and use videos, although when it's time to do the illustrations, I tend not to refer directly to the source material but use it occasionally to get difficult anatomical elements right."

Talking about the process of illustrating specific books, Dale told SATA: "Anne Fine's such an excellent writer that as soon as I read The Jamie and Angus Stories I could see pictures, and was scribbling tiny little thumbnails of possible illustrations onto the sheets of text. The hardest part was visualizing Angus himself—I didn't think I'd ever seen a bull or cow toy. The nearest I found in my daughter's collection of toys from when she was little was a stuffed reindeer, which had a similarity to a bull's face, but in the end I had to invent him, just as Anne had done in the writing. The great thing about Jamie and Angus is that they are a double act, nearly always together and reacting to situations and each other. I enjoyed especially the first pictures for each chapter, where they are often mirroring each other's body language, which is of course a sign of compatibility and friendship.

" Princess Princess took several months to develop and went through quite a few versions before it resolved into its final form. It was always my intention to rework the traditional story of Sleeping Beauty so that the central characters were all children—even the fairies, in the way that children playing a game, based on a story, often change it as they go along, and make it their own. It started out with illustrations showing children 'playing' a game based on Sleeping Beauty, where dressing up clothes and cardboard boxes transform into real costumes and scenery. There was even a prince at one stage, when the story was closer to the original, but the cross little fairy losing her temper, then thinking better of it and feeling sorry, took over from the traditional ending. I think this interpretation can relate to more children's experiences of friendship. Little girls make and break friendships quite often, and I hope the reader will recognize some of these feelings explored in the story.

"From an illustration point of view, it was wonderful to have a story where I could draw castles, spooky woods, fairies and magic spells. And although most of the characters are imagined, the princess is based on my daughter aged around five years old, and the naughty fairy on my niece—who was also the model for Rosie in Rosie's Babies."

Biographical and Critical Sources

BOOKS

St. James Guide to Children's Writers, fifth edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Waddell, Martin, Night Night, Cuddly Bear, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.

PERIODICALS

Belles Lettres, winter, 1993, Bettina Berch, review of All about Alice, pp. 54-55.

Booklist, June 1, 1993, Stephanie Zvirin, review of All about Alice, p. 1854; July, 1995, Julie Yates Walton, review of The Mushroom Hunt, p. 1881; August, 1995, Annie Ayres, review of When the Teddy Bears Came, p. 1957; September 15, 1997, Hazel Rochman, review of Big Brother, Little Brother, p. 242; November 1, 1999, Carolyn Phelan, review of My Shadow, p. 536; November 15, 2000, Connie Fletcher, review of Night Night, Cuddly Bear, p. 651; November 15, 2002, Julie Cummins, review of The Jamie and Angus Stories, pp. 609-610; November 1, 2003, Jennifer Matson, review of Princess, Princess, p. 500.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2002, review of The Jamie and Angus Stories, p. 1128.

Publishers Weekly, December 12, 1986, review of The Stopwatch, p. 52; February 22, 1999, review of Rosie's Babies, p. 93.

School Library Journal, May, 1988, Corrine Camarata, review of Bet You Can't, p. 82; December, 1989, Anna Biagioni Hart, review of Once There Were Giants, pp. 90-91; October, 1991, Gail C. Ross, review of The Elephant Tree, p. 88; October, 1992, Anne Connor, review of Wake Up, Mr. B!, p. 85; July, 1993, Ann Stell, review of All about Alice, p. 59; June, 1995, Carol Schene, review of When the Teddy Bears Came, p. 97; July, 1995, Sharon Levin, review of The Mushroom Hunt, p. 72; February, 1996, Janet M. Bair, review of Daisy Rabbit's Tree House: A Story from the Village of Sandy Edge, p. 82; November, 1997, Lisa Marie Gangemi, review of Big Brother, Little Brother, p. 79; August, 1998, Dawn Amsberry, review of Stories for Me!: A Read-Aloud Treasury for Young Children, p. 146; January, 1999, Martha Link, review of Ten Play Hide-and-Seek, p. 86; March, 1999, Shelley Woods, review of Rosie's Babies, pp. 187-188; November, 2000, Melinda Schroeter, review of Night Night, Cuddly Bear, p. 136; September, 2002, Cathie Bashaw Morton, review of The Jamie and Angus Stories, p. 190.

Times Educational Supplement, June 29, 1990, John Lawrence, review of Rosie's Babies and Once There Were Giants, p. 34.

ONLINE

Illustration Cupboard Web site, http://www.illustrationcupboard.com/ (June 2, 2004).

Images of Delight Web site, http://www.imagesofdelight.com/ (June 2, 2004).

Penny Dale Home Page, http://www.pennydale.co.uk/ (June 2, 2004).

Walker Books Web site, http://www.walkerbooks.co.uk/ (June 2, 2004).

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9 months ago

I really liked her book All About Alice when I was about 6.