Shirley Hughes, beloved English children’s author, dies at 94
While other beloved children’s authors wrote about talking animals, magical spells or dreamlike adventures in faraway lands, Ms. Hughes focused on all the real things experienced by children, including drama pint-sized that adults sometimes seemed to miss. “They’re learning more at this point than any other, grappling with these big things: Are my boots on the right feet? Can I put down my safety blanket safely? You have to tap into what they feel about these things,” she said. the Times of London.
Honored by Queen Elizabeth II as well as by the British BookTrust reading association, which gave her her first life achievement award as of 2015, Ms. Hughes has written over 50 books which have collectively sold over 11 million copies. She started out illustrating other people’s books before writing and drawing her own stories in the 1960s, while raising three children in the Notting Hill section of west London.
Traveling through the city with a sketchbook, she recorded scenes that inspired her work. “I walk around parks and playgrounds with a sketchbook and observe what I see: the way little children move when they play, how they stand when they’re not sure what to do. ‘themselves, or crouch down to examine something minutely and then take off like a flock of birds,’ she told the Guardian in 2017. “Then I go home and make it all up.”
While its themes were universal, its settings – Victorian terraced houses, birthday tea parties – were inevitably English. “Oh Shirley,” she recalled editors telling her, “you’re so middle class, so English, you’ll never sell overseas.”
Yet Mrs Hughes gained a wide readership with ‘Dogger’ (1977), which she called ‘the most quintessentially English book you could imagine’. Set during a school sports day, the picture book told the story of a boy who loses his beloved stuffed dog: “One of his ears was pointing up and the another fell. His fur was worn in places because he was quite old. It belonged to Dave.
Translated into more than a dozen languages, “Dogger” won the Kate Greenaway Medal, a major British accolade for illustrated children’s books, and was voted People’s Favorite Greenaway Winner of All Time in 2007, for the 50th award anniversary. “Hughes has a benevolent and inexhaustible eye – he misses nothing,” said The Observer’s literary critic Kate Kellaway. written in 2010including “Dogger” on a list of the 10 best illustrated children’s books.
Ms Hughes had another hit with her Alfie series, which began with ‘Alfie Gets in First’ (1981), about a boy who accidentally locks himself in his house. Realizing he can’t reach the latch to get out, Alfie bursts into tears. With his mother and little sister locked outside, the rest of the neighborhood try to help, including a milkman who offers to pick the lock and a window cleaner who brings his ladder to climb up to the window. room.
“‘Dogger’ and ‘Alfie’ are about the smallest of incidents – down to the stress of putting on your shoes – but those things can be a source of real anxiety for a child,” the children’s author said. Philip Pullman in a 2009 interview with the Guardian. “And I think that’s where she’s actually better than [E.H.] Shepard”, who illustrated “The Wind in the Willows” and “Winnie-the-Pooh”, and who inspired Mrs. Hughes.
While some of Shepard’s drawings might be “diabetes-inducing sentimentality,” Pullman continued, “you just don’t get that in Shirley.” It’s much clearer and crisper, and therefore offers a genuinely warmer version of childhood.
Ms Hughes’ own upbringing was framed by the Second World War, a period she described as a time of occasional fear but mostly intense boredom, during which she and her older sisters passed the time drawing pictures and performing plays, sometimes for their cats. She has written about war in several books for older children, including ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’ (1998), about a boy evacuated to the English countryside during the Blitz, and ‘Hero on a Bike’ (2012), her first novel, about a 13-year-old Italian boy during the Nazi occupation of Florence.
But picture books remained her focus, though she widened her audience with books such as “Bye Bye Birdie” (2009), a wordless, expressionist fable aimed at adult readers, about a dapper young man whose love interest turns into a predatory bird.
“It is a sad thing for adults and children if, once we have learned to read, the pictures in our books are severely suppressed,” she wrote in a 2004 essay for the Guardian. “Not only do they add to the pleasure of turning a page, but they are the connection through which readers acquire the incredible human attribute of being able to have images in their heads. And these are, of course, the best illustrations we’ll ever see.
The youngest of three daughters, Shirley Hughes was born in the seaside town of West Kirby near Liverpool on July 16, 1927. Her father served in the Royal Flying Corps in World War I and founded the Liverpool department store TJ Hughes . He died when Mrs Hughes was 5in what newspaper reports at the time suggested was a suicide.
Her mother “became very shy”, Ms Hughes recalls, and often took her to the theater, helping her cultivate an interest in stage design and costume design. At 16, Ms Hughes left school to study at the Liverpool School of Art and later at Oxford University’s Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, where an instructor encouraged her to switch from acting to illustration.
The two art forms weren’t entirely different, said Ms Hughes, who likened the page to a theater set: “But it’s a very intimate theatre, one that audiences can come back to again and again. The characters you draw are like actors on a stage carrying the narrative with gestures and facial expressions.
Based in London, she launched her career as an independent artist, illustrating the series “My Naughty Little Sister” by Dorothy Edwards as well as children’s books by Noel Streatfeild. In 1960, she published her first picture book, “Lucy and Tom’s Day”. Later came books including “Out and About” (1988), a collection of poetry for young readers, and “Ella’s Big Chance” (2003), a jazz age tale of Cinderella – in this case, a red-haired young woman named Ella Cinders – who earned Mrs Hughes her second Greenaway Medal.
She also collaborated with her daughter, Clara Vulliamy, on the Dixie O’Day series, about the adventures of a dog who drives around the British countryside in a bright red car. After her husband, architect John Vulliamy, died in 2007, she said she started writing children’s novels to fill the time.
In addition to her daughter, survivors include two sons – Ed, an author and journalist, and Tom, a professor of molecular biology – and a number of grandchildren.
Ms Hughes received an OBE, or Officer of the Order of the British Empire, for services to children’s literature in 1999, and was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2017. She was still writing in recent years, releasing a sequel to “Dogger” at 93 in 2020, and often touted the pleasures of reading in interviews, encouraging parents to give their kids the time and space to slow down and pick up a book.
“If there’s anything wrong with childhood today,” she told the Guardian in 2015“[it’s] that there are too many offers and everything is moving at high speed. What I want children to do is linger, turn the page, see themselves as readers long before they know how to read.