Cyncoed’s School Experience Room is a veritable treasure-trove of classic children’s literature, storytelling resources and illustrated picture books. We are lucky to hold many rare and unusual editions of classic books by internationally respected authors.
Brian Wildsmith (1930-2016) was a fine artist who drew on his love of animals and the intricate beauty of the natural world to create striking, colourful picture books for younger readers.
“I believe that beautiful picture books are vitally important in subconsciously forming a child’s visual appreciation, which will bear fruit in later life.”
He created many of his picture books for the very youngest children, introducing the alphabet and numbers using wonderful illustrations of flora, fauna and other familiar objects. In 1963, his ABC won the Kate Greenaway medal, one of the highest accolades a children’s illustrator can achieve.
His paintings are a riot of textures, patterns and geometric designs, often using collage and layers of freehand paint to create a dynamic and compelling vision of the world. His style owes something to the ornate, gilded masterpieces of Klimt and Mucha, but his loose, playful compositions also reflect the work of contemporaries like Eric Carle and Quentin Blake.
The Cyncoed collection contains several of Wildsmith’s best-loved works, including the problem-solving friendship fable of The Owl and the Woodpecker. In this charming tale, an Owl and Woodpecker live in neighbouring trees and annoy each other with their different lifestyles. As their relations deteriorate, the other woodland animals attempt to help them reconcile their differences, but to no avail. But when a big storm threatens their tree-top homes Owl and Woodpecker are able to help each other out and learn to live a little more harmoniously.
This story will help young learners think about what makes a good neighbour, the importance of considering the feelings of others, and the role of kindness, co-operation and problem solving when resolving disputes.
“I want to help young people wonder at the world and to become close observers of the beauty and harmony in nature”
Foundation Phase pupils will also enjoy ‘What the Moon Saw.’ This book will assist children as they learn about opposites, as it goes through a range of contrasting adjectives relating to various familiar objects. Children will learn new ways to describe the world around them, and delight in the exquisitely detailed pictures of different animals.
Wildsmith uses some interesting painting and collage techniques to demonstrate the contrast between different concepts like strong and weak, huge and tiny, and long and short. He is particularly good at composing pictures using unusual perspectives – young readers will be amused by the picture of the dog from both the front and the back. It disrupts some of the conventional ways perspective and composition are used in children’s picture books, and this disruption can inspire young learners to try new ways of representing their own schemas as they develop their drawing skills.
Brian Wildsmith sadly passed away in August 2016, but his reputation as one of the 20th century’s greatest illustrators continues to this day. He has a back catalogue of 80 titles, many of which are still in print, and both Michael Rosen and Anthony Browne cite him as a major influence on their approach to storytelling and illustration. His work brings a fine art sensibility to stories for the youngest readers, and educators will find his books are a great resource to inspire both art and storytelling activities in the classroom.