A Life in Pictures – the work of Michael Foreman

I fell in love with Michael Foreman’s illustrations many years ago when I first discovered Michael Morpurgo’s books. I soon found out that he also wrote and illustrated his own stories, including War Boy and War Game which were stories about his experience of World War II. I found out a lot more about Michael Foreman and his huge body of work when I borrowed a fascinating new book from the library called A Life in Pictures.

Pages from A life in pictures
A glimpse inside A life in pictures by Michael Foreman

A Life in Pictures is written by Michael Foreman himself, and looks back over his long career in the creation of books for children. It is a beautiful book that is packed with Michael’s illustrations and stories about the books that he has worked on and the people he has worked with. You can read about Michael’s war childhood, the importance of location and landscape in his illustrations, the people that have influenced him and the people that he has collaborated with.

If you’ve read a Michael Morpurgo book you’ve probably seen Michael Foreman’s illustrations. The M-Team have been collaborating for over 20 years (their first book together being Arthur, High King of Britain, published in 1994).

I’ve always felt that Michael Foreman’s illustrations are the perfect match for Michael Morpurgo’s stories. Michael Foreman mentions in A Life in Pictures that ‘Michael Morpurgo not only writes good stories, he writes good pictures. His stories are full of them.’ His illustrations for Morpurgo’s stories are usually in black and white, but it’s the smaller, shorter stories, like Little Manfred, where his full-colour illustrations shine.

Over the years Michael Foreman has worked with many other authors, both living and dead.  He has brought the stories of Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens and Kenneth Grahame to life, bringing the ‘classics’ to a new generation of children.

My favourite edition of Michael Foreman’s classics is Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows.  The colours are so vibrant and the characters leap off the page. Michael also travelled to New Zealand in 1987 to visit Kiri Te Kanawa to research a book based on legends told to her by her grandmother. This book became The Land of the Long White Cloud.

A Life in Pictures is a fascinating read for anyone who loves books for children and would be a valuable resource for artists or those wanting to become illustrators.

A guide to writing and illustrating for children

Does every lover of reading also love writing? I don’t know about you, but I have always wanted to be a writer. As a kid, I would staple a few pieces of A4 paper together, come up with a title, illustrate the cover, write a blurb and review (one celebrity or another always thought my work was “the best ever”) on the back, and leave the inside pages blank.

In my teens, I wrote experimental poetry and novels about love and death. I even got paid to illustrate a book written for Korean children learning English. Now, I still love words, still occasionally jot down an idea for a novel or picture book, still dream of being known as THE literary talent of our time … but that’s as far as it goes.

For those of you who are smart enough to know that in order to get published you must actually write something, the library can help you become the next Margaret Mahy or Gavin Bishop.

Top tips from those in the business

  • Do your research – get to know your audience and the works of other successful authors writing similar material;
  • Be original, use humour, and stay clued up on what’s current;
  • Keep your writing simple but effective;
  • Respect your readers;
  • Prepare to rewrite, revise and edit again … and again … and again;
  • Make sure your manuscript is well-presented;
  • Remember to include your name and address, cover letter and relevant CV, and a stamped, self-addressed envelope (ouch, the publishing industry can be cruel).

Writing and Illustrating for Children was originally prepared by Bill Nagelkerke and is now freely avaialable online from your library.