If you’re of a certain age, opening this book will transport you back to the world of children’s illustration from the 1950s to 1970s. Edward Ardizzone’s Tim All Alone won the inaugural Greenaway Medal in 1956 and he illustrated many other works, some of which are pictured on the endpapers of this charming and engrossing account of his life and work. Alan Powers puts the artist in a very small canon of age-defining illustrators between Beatrix Potter and Quentin Blake.
There is an atmosphere of calm that pervades Ardizzone’s work which is difficult to define or pin down, but is perhaps best characterised by his work as a war artist, where his sense of the personal and of humanity comes to the fore: people in an air raid shelter go about their lives, troops are welcomed into Naples, children play on a captured tank. These are the mundanities of war, not its horrors. They translate directly into the world of Lucy Brown and Mr Grimes, Titus in Trouble or The Exploits of Don Quixote. This is the micro rather than the macro: life goes on whatever is happening in the wider world.
Ardizzone’s is a style of its time; no-one would want to emulate it now and to do so would be contrarian. It stands for an age of innocence – or at least one we now regard as innocent – and certainly of a style of children’s literature that is more or less out of favour. It’s gentle and this is a gentle, though thorough, account of its subject’s life and work that makes a fitting tribute to a great talent that is worthy of such a celebration.
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