Monks’ mural mission

Lydia Monks and Rosemary Alexander with children from Lydgate Infant School at Crosspool with a mural they have painted
Lydia Monks and Rosemary Alexander with children from Lydgate Infant School at Crosspool with a mural they have painted

WHEN Lydgate Infant School put out the word that they would like some help with brightening the walls with a series of murals, little did they know that they had the perfect person in their midst.

Award-winning children’s illustrator and author Lydia Monks is the mother of Ava, who will be moving up to Year 2 in September when her sister Scarlett starts in reception.

“Up to then I had kept a pretty low profile,” she admits, “but when I saw in the newsletter they were hoping to paint some murals I thought I should volunteer.”

And so the author of such picture books as Aaarrggh Spider! and Eeeek, Mouse! who also illustrates books for such writers as Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson, found herself in charge of the project initially to fill the wall of a stairway and the dining room at the school in Crosspool.

“The important thing was to keep it simple, especially since the plan is eventually to cover nine walls so we could be here for eternity if it got too complicated,” she says.

It’s the maxim she applies to illustration. “It’s still about following specific lines and thinking about what you are going to draw and how it is going to be seen from different angles,” she says. “The difference, of course, is that it is a large space but I took the same approach. An architect friend measured the walls and then printed it out to scale on paper.”

The children were consulted as to what they wanted the themes to be and a seascape and jungle scene proved the popular choices, and they were asked to draw the creatures they thought should be included.

“I then had hundreds of drawings to look at but they were mostly the kind of things I would have chosen like sharks and octopuses,” says Lydia whose first task was to incorporate them in a design which went on display at school and as a result a few ammendments were made.

“I drew the outline on the walls and got volunteers to colour it in,” explains the artist. “We had Friday night sessions of mostly parents and members of staff. The caretaker has been integral in all this.

“We began with around 10 of us but this dwindled as time went on and also as the skill levels became more demanding as it became more detailed. One parent who is a painter and decorator and another an architect put in a lot of work.”

The sea scene was completed before the school broke for the summer holiday and Lydia expects to have the jungle ready by Christmas.

Meanwhile it is looking like a busy summer for the author, who has had more than 70 books published worldwide and counts Julia Donaldson, Roger McGough and Carol Ann Duffy among her collaborators.

Lydia has illustrated The Rhyming Rabbit for Julia Donaldson – about a rabbit who makes up rhymes that no-one listens to at first – that has just been published.

“Our last collaboration, What The Ladybird Heard, is currently the best-selling picture book – outselling The Gruffalo,” reports Lydia who will be joining the Children’s Laureate at the Edinburgh Book Festival later this month.

By then Babbit, a new picture book that Lydia Monks has written and illustrated, will be out. “It’s the Year of the Rabbit, after all,” says the author who says the story of the kidnap of a talkative toy rabbit was inspired by her daughter, Scarlett.

“She has a toy rabbit which goes every-where with her and it’s a disaster when it gets mislaid. So I thought of what could be the worst thing that could happen to it – and came up with it being kidnapped by witches.”

On Friday the illustrator, who has just moved into a new studio at Persistence Works, will be going down to London for the judging of TV show Daybreak’s competition, What’s the Story, in which children aged seven to 12 were invited to write a story of around 500 words including characters of a bear and bee created by Lydia.

She will then illustrate the winning entry which will be published by Macmillan Children’s Books next year.

Lydia launched the competition on the ITV breakfast show last month. How did she enjoy the experience on the famous sofa with Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley?

“It was over in a flash. I couldn’t remember a thing that was said. I was slightly mortified by my drawing (a caricature of Adrian Chiles) but it got Adrian going, which was funny. Really good fun though, and I did manage to speak, which was my biggest fear. I thought I’d open my mouth and no words would come out.”

lThe Rhyming Rabbit is published by Macmillan and Babbit by Egmont Children’s Books (both £10.99, hardback).