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An exhibition at the Petit Palais

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A project with French schoolchildren (Part 2)
Quentin Blake Artist
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And so they all started writing… bits of story, and then I got all those back, and… and started doing some more roughs, and we built up a book, like that. And in fact the… we were in contact with the Inspector of Schools for Northern France, I think, who also put us in touch, via the Internet, with French-speaking schools in London and Dublin and Sweden, I think, and Luxembourg and Singapore. And so they were all making contributions to this, so eventually we sort of knitted this together into a book, edited their ideas, and so it was… well, it was, sort of, one illustrator and 1,800 collaborators. Some of the collaborators did drawings, as well. What was interesting about it was there were two great big meetings, one in La Rochelle and one in Rochefort, where lots of schoolchildren came; some came from London, actually, specially for that. And they worked on the book, and maybe their words were lost in the book, or were never reflected in the book, but they worked on those ideas, and they wrote poems, and they wrote sketches, and they wrote songs, and they did a lot of drawings about it. So that there's this interesting way in which you take the idea of a book, or you take a book, and it kind of burgeons out into… all kinds of activities which happen round it, and… but it… it… there is a purpose, and there’s a… a manifestation of it outside school, which is so that it… you know… you're motivated, you know where you're going, you know you're contributing, you're part of a big network of people working on the same thing. And the teachers there ambitiously wanted this to be a commercially printed book, which they mentioned at the beginning, and they hoped in French and in English. And I said, well we can't be sure of that, but we'll do what we… we'll see what happens… let's do it, we'll see what happens. And I took to Gallimard, who are my regular publishers, and they said… well, we could do it, but it would take us… we do 365 children's books a year, and it would take us a certain amount of time to work it through the system. And we would only give it a 365th part of our attention, in a sense. You know, although, I mean they do all my books, and they do… do them very well. But they said, perhaps I should take it to someone they'd worked with, who used to work with them, called Alain Serres, who had… his own publishing house, which specialised in… in issues of this kind, children's rights, and citizenship and… things of that kind. And, so I met him, and he said… showed it to him, and he said… which was encouraging really… is the first thing he said, ‘Well of course a book by children is not necessarily a book for children’, and I felt that, you know, we were sort of on a firm basis then. He, as well as a publisher, is a poet and a writer, and he… I put together a text in French, from their writing, and he reworked it, as it were. But he offered to publish it, and not only did he… because he was his own man, he not only published it, but he published it in September, so that it came out an… a year after we'd started it, which was really quite… quite astonishing, and then, having got that done… we were fortunate that my English publishers published it as well. So it appears as a book by me, so to speak, with help from 1,800 friends. And we also did the book so that it… it doesn't end at the end, if you see what I mean. They… they travel in their ship, they arrive at a certain place, and then they… Alain Serres, I think it was, who pointed out, he said, we… we mustn't make it look as though you can only be safe living on this desert island, or wherever they land, you must start them off again, so they have a new boat, even more bizarre than the one that they started with and so the end of the book they're setting off again to find new problems, and you’re… so you're invited to think about that, or continue the book. And indeed that… that is what some schools have done.

Quentin Blake, well loved British writer and illustrator, is perhaps best known for bringing Roald Dahl's characters to life with his vibrant illustrations, and for becoming the first ever UK Children's Laureate. He has also written and illustrated his own books including Mr Magnolia which won the Kate Greenaway Medal.

Listeners: Ghislaine Kenyon

Ghislaine Kenyon is a freelance arts education consultant. She previously worked in gallery education including as Head of Learning at the Joint Education Department at Somerset House and Deputy Head of Education at the National Gallery’s Education Department. As well as directing the programme for schools there, she curated exhibitions such as the highly successful Tell Me a Picture with Quentin Blake, with whom she also co-curated an exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris in 2005. At the National Gallery she was responsible for many initiatives such as Take Art, a programme working with 14 London hospitals, and the national Take One Picture scheme with primary schools. She has also put on several series of exhibition-related concerts. Ghislaine writes, broadcasts and lectures on the arts, arts education and the movement for arts in health. She is also a Board Member of the Museum of Illustration, the Handel House Museum and the Britten-Pears Foundation.

Tags: France, London, Dublin, Sweden, Luxembourg, Singapore, La Rochelle, Rochefort, Alain Serres

Duration: 4 minutes, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008