Review Blog

Feb 20 2011

Drawn from the heart, a memoir by Ron Brooks

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Allen and Unwin, 2010. ISBN 978 1 742371559.
All ages. Autobiography. Highly recommended. Some books are impossible to put down. This is one. The frank and lucid telling of events in his life as an illustrator is mesmerizing, as Brooks makes the slog of finding a niche for himself in the publishing industry a fascinating insight into the unseen backdrop to the books we read. Having always loved John Brown Rose and the midnight cat, I was fascinated to see the first drawings and read of the places which gave Brooks his inspiration for the setting. Living with his grandparents when he went to a local school to study art, the sense of that house comes through many of the stories, John Brown being just one.
The struggles Brooks made to study art are fascinating in themselves, as art was seen as a Cinderella subject and so he had to fight to be able to study on his chosen field. Going on to college meant, as for many people in the 60's and 70's, doing a teaching course to be able to study art, and so parallel teaching with freelance art work. Picking up work where he could, Brooks was in the right place meeting several people who would mentor him through the early years while establishing himself. Haworth Bartram of Childerset, Jenny Wagner, Pat Thomas of Macmillan, Albert Ullin of The Little Bookroom, Peter Pavey amongst many others were members of his network.
Not only are we lucky enough to get snippets of each story, thus rekindling time spent with old friends, but Brooks goes into details about his choices for his illustrative techniques and reprises the absolutely engrossing reasons behind each decision made. It impels the reader to grab hold of one of the finished books and relish it all over again, but this time with greater insight from Brooks' writing. Some first draft illustrations too are reproduced showing not only the range of this man's abilities but the thought processes her went through in illustrating a new book. Some of the criticisms of his work are also included, showing that not all was rosy in the work that he did, and I laughed out loud at the reviews reproduced from English, American and German reviewers about John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat.
A treat for all, this will not only inform those in the field, and endear those already in love with his work, but will create a new audience eager to search out his illustrations for themselves. The only thing I missed was an index.
Fran Knight

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