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Anthony grew up in a village called Hipperholme, in Yorkshire. He loved art and would spend hours drawing with his beloved father. He says of his father, “He was an unusual man – outwardly strong and confident, but also shy and sensitive – a bit like the gorillas I love to illustrate now. As well as drawing, he encouraged me to play a lot of sports, such as rugby and soccer and cricket. I was small for my age and I used to go to a fairly tough school – if I hadn’t been good at sports, I would probably have been bullied.”
After he left school, Anthony studied graphic design and then went on to paint the insides of people’s bodies for medical textbooks. He found this fascinating, but after three years found that the work was becoming repetitive (“if you’ve seen one stomach operation, you’ve seen ‘em all!”) and instead began designing greetings cards. This in turn led him to illustrating children’s books – his book Gorilla began life as a picture on a birthday card. Anthony lives in Kent and has two grown-up children.
Gorillas feature in many of Anthony’s books. He says, “I am fascinated by them and the contrast they represent – their huge strength and gentleness. They’re thought of as being very fierce creatures and they’re not.” Anthony’s illustrations also reveal his love of the Surrealist painters, whose pictures often depict strange, dreamlike scenes (look out for all the disguised bananas hidden in Anthony’s books!). When Anthony first has an idea for a picture book, he says, “it’s a strange combination of story and images. Deciding what will be illustrated on the pages of a book is like deciding on the scenes of a film.” Anthony has won many prizes for his work, including the Kate Greenaway Medal (twice) and the Kurt Maschler Award (three times). In 2000, he received the highest international honour for illustration, the Hans Christian Andersen Award, for his services to children’s literature – the first British illustrator to win the prize since 1956.
Anthony was also Children’s Laureate from 2009-2011.
Anthony has won the Kate Greenaway prize for Gorilla and Zoo, and the Kurt Maschler award for Gorilla and Voices in the Park.
In 2000, he was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen prize, and is the Children’s Laureate for 2009-2011.
Interview with Anthony Browne
Monkeys and gorillas appear frequently in your work. Why do you identify with them so strongly?
There are many answers to that question but I suppose the main reason is because they are so much like us. To look into a gorilla’s eyes is very much like looking into the eyes of a human being. Sometimes it feels as though there is a person inside the gorilla looking out at us.
Many of your illustrations reference the work of famous artists, from Da Vinci to Dali, but which picture books and illustrators have inspired you the most?
The two illustrators who have inspired me most are Maurice Sendak with Where the Wild Things Are, and Chris Van Allsburg with The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.
Your books are multi-layered and have both child and adult appeal; did you consciously decide to create books with such a wide audience in mind?
Not really, I wanted to put as many layers in my books as possible so that they could be appreciated at different levels at different stages of development. I like the idea of the readers seeing more each time they read them.
I do think however, it’s quite a good idea to interest the adult who may be reading to the child, a bored adult communicates that boredom to the child.
You were once illustrator-in-residence at Tate Britain. What did you learn about the way children respond to pictures?
The main thing I learned was how visually literate children can be and how capable they are at interpreting pictures. I also found out how much fun they could have discovering meanings and stories in paintings.
Why do you think picture books are important?
Seeing comes before words, and I believe it is just as important to develop a child’s visual literacy alongside verbal literacy. Too often they are encouraged to think that maturing and becoming educated is a matter of leaving pictures behind and going into the world of words (or ‘proper’ books as I’ve heard them called).
Which emerging illustrators do you admire at the moment and why?
It’s exciting to see so many good new illustrators emerging in this country, and what I’m always most impressed with is the development of a personal point of view of the world shown through the pictures and the words.