The Naming of Cats


Illustrated by Edward Gorey

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;

and the naming of illustrators is equally important, Mr Eliot.

As I asserted last week, the illustrations in picture books are absolutely essential. They create the atmosphere for learning tor read – and by that I mean to interpret both words and images. We all know children who have learned to recite a favourite book page by page – cued by the pictures. And speaking as a former teacher, there is nothing wrong with that. They go onto interrogate what’s happening in both sorts of visuals and make sense of the interplay of the two. [Unless put off by bad experiences, which is quite  another topic.]

By Shirley Hughes

By Shirley Hughes

Older readers should have visual verve and beauty in their lives too. No wonder manga and graphic novels are popular. I wonder if non-fiction is favoured by reluctant readers (especially boys) because it often has lots of visuals? Not only does the artwork in these forms combine with the words to form something greater that the whole – but it engages with more than the intellect.

All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.

Walter Pater

Music communicates with us without having to be explained – and the best books do that too.

On a slight digression, illustration is one of the reasons I have not as yet considered self-publication. I realise it’s not so much first impressions that matter but actually making any impression amongst the myriads of self-pubbed books. However, I admit to a possibly snobbish disdain for shoddy artwork: I DO judge a book by its cover . And its endpapers and its chapter headings and all. The more beauty or quirkiness or drama the better.


I should want an illustrator to riff on what I’ve done: not just to represent the words in boring exactitude. To give another dimension that’s not the same but coloured-in. Think of Monteverdi:

I am allowed to have delusions of grandeur in a wishlist.

That would not come cheap – nor should it. Artists of whatever kind have to eat. Creators need paying – and they need recognition.

So here’s my second appeal – to book-bloggers, publicists, readers leaving reviews, anyone in fact commenting on books:

Find out who did the art work ( if you can) and say what you think about it.

I belong to SCBWI – and as we know in any sentence the bit at the end is very important:

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.


8 thoughts on “The Naming of Cats

  1. You would have enjoyed the workshop I went to yesterday at the Leeds Indie Writers Festival. It was a talk titled You CAN judge a book by its cover, given by Ned Hoste a very experienced designer for book publishing big ideas library.,

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with you too! I enjoy spending time in book shops perusing the covers and checking out the illustrators. It makes for a totally enjoyable experience and it’s why I will always prefer reading a book to a Kindle! CG

  3. As someone who writes and illustrates his own books, this is music to my ears (and not just the Monteverdi – a very fine analogy for literature and illustration by the way: the combination of words and music in opera. Here’s Richard Wagner, one of the very greatest librettists, describing the art of writing for music: “As to the poetic diction and the verses themselves, I was almost intentionally careless about them. I was not nourishing my former hopes of making a name as a poet; I had really become a ‘musician’ and wanted simply to write a decent libretto, for I now realized nobody else could do this for me, inasmuch as an opera book is something unique unto itself and cannot be easily brought off by poets and literati.’ But all analogies have their limitations, and, as you rightly point out, the interplay of words and images is by no means a one-sided affair. I know from experience that an image, like a musical theme, can sometimes precede the words.
    Re Christine’s comment: I agree, and I don’t usually do the ebook thing either. But we should not be too hasty. A physical book contains reproductions of the original illustrations – it can never completely replicate the experience of confronting the actual artworks. These days it is possible to view extensively illustrated books in electronic format; AND the revolution which is e-publishing, while throwing up an immense amount of flotsam and jetsam, does offer total artistic freedom to authors and illustrators who are increasingly under pressure from traditional publishers to package their work for marketing purposes from the very outset.

      • If you’re interested, my latest title is ‘Yelkouan Spell’ (I’d be happy to send a Word document or whatever). It’s just that your own interests – the sea, ruins, myth and national identity seem to tie in very well with what I’m doing (it’s also a short read – less than an hour – with illustrations on every other page). Anyway, some great, thought-provoking stuff here – thanks.

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