by Polly Dunbar
When Michael Rosen’s many poems first arrived in my inbox I was amazed by the sheer abundance and energy of his words. We were all just coming out of two years of on/off lockdown and Michael was of course recovering from covid. These poems seemed to say “BOOM, I’m here and LIFE IS GOOD”. They were yet to be shaped and ordered to become the book Ready for Spaghetti. The reader follows four very young children as they get up in the morning, brushing their teeth and doing all the wonderful things one hopes childhood is full of – sandcastle, swings, bubbles and of course pees on their knees and spaghetti flying through the air. As the book draws to a close the poems take the four children to bed, tucks them in and says goodnight.
At the beginning of the book Michael has written some words for the adult who is sharing the book. He lets the reader know it’s ok to play with the words and rhythms, drum them out, change them up. These words aren’t fixed, they are alive, whoever is reading the book is given permission to let the words leap off the page.
Keeping all this in mind I tried to approach the illustrations with a similar gusto. I wanted the characters to feel like living breathing children and also for the very young children looking at the book to see themselves and say “I can do this”. Not only, “I can have fun like this”, but “I can also draw like this”. I find that if I draw fast and furious my drawings have ‘an alive line’ almost as if they’ve just come straight out of my sketch book. It takes A LOT of warm up drawings to do this but once I’m in ‘the zone’ and I know what the characters look like, I try to let them skip out of the end of my pen just like the poems skip out of this book. I’m not looking for perfection … every finger might not be the correct length but the essence of joy is hopefully what shines through.
Of course, children know how to draw with an ‘alive line’ from the off, they don’t need to warm up, it’s something they intrinsically know, hanging on to that skill into adulthood is the tricky part. My boys were three and six at the time I was illustrating the book – the perfect age to get involved and help me with the illustrations. I feel inspired by the spontaneous way children just pick up crayons, felt tips, whatever and just get on with it, no inhibition, no careful planning, they just enjoy the movement and the moment…
My eldest son drew the most gorgeous bowl of spaghetti which is on the title page. They made bunting and painted flowers, butterflies and winking bears. I hope everyone enjoys Ready for Spaghetti as much as I did while making the artwork for it. In Michael’s own words: “It’s not a book, it’s a party.”