Arranged by British Council Bangladesh, Drawing Words is an exhibition that features ten illustrators from across the UK, whose works play an important role in the contemporary British picture book illustration sector. One of the most impressive exhibits in the project was from illustrator and writer Emily Hughes’ Wild, a truly stunning piece of art in the mold of a children’s book. Her book, Nana Shaped Like a Banana, won second prize in the 2012 Macmillan Children’s Book Awards. The Daily Star presents to you an exclusive interview of the Hawaii-born illustrator on the exhibition, her works, and more.
Thank you for your time. ‘Drawing Words’ has received a lot of praise for its presentation and the fact that it highlights work for children. How was your experience in Bangladesh, while your time here for the exhibition?
This was my first time in the country, and I must say that I loved it very much. The people are very welcoming here, and Dhaka has a certain charm to it – there is always something happening when I look out of the car window. Drawing Words has indeed been a special exhibition; we had an equally good response when it was held in Cox’s Bazaar and Dhaka. Since the exhibition is geared towards children, it had to be geared towards narratives and expression, and we had to be mindful of that.
You are both the author and illustrator of ‘Wild’, a book which has been highly praised. Could you tell us more about it?
Wild is about a girl who was found in the forest, and has green hair. She knows nothing but nature from birth—she was taught to talk by birds, to eat by bears, and to play by foxes. She is later found by some humans, who perplex her as they look the same, but act vastly different from her. There is not much text in the book, the story is paved by the illustrations.
‘Wild’, has some gorgeous illustrations that make adults, as well as children, want to read it. Do you think children’s books can be both for children and adults?
Thank you very much for your words. Absolutely, children’s books have to be read by adults, as they are the ones who will be ultimately conveying the stories to them. People think that it is easy to make a children’s book, and quite frankly, it is the opposite. The aim of a book, for me, is not to increase ‘literacy’ per se, but to build a social connection. These books are often passed from one generation to another, so the it has to have a level of longevity as well.
What is the most important aspect of being a children’s illustrator or writer?
One of the quotes that I use frequently is, “Don’t dumb it down for children.” The work has to be entertaining, but at the same time, has to be very honest. Children can often sense injustice better than adults can, but at the same time, I feel bad that they have so little power over their surroundings.
Do you have any advice for upcoming writers and illustrators?
Even though I am not that confident about my writing as of yet, I’ll say that if you don’t read books, don’t write books! (Laughs) It is not as easy as we sometimes think it is. For illustrators, I feel like a lot of creativity is needed, and one needs to stop drawing directly from real-life subjects and focus on their inner creativity. Only then will the art be distinguishable.