A True Storyteller: Meet Benji Davies
Benji Davies is wonderfully intuitive when it comes to storytelling. His picture books broach subjects that at some point as adults we might be faced with — wondering how best to explain them to our children when they are small. Grandad’s Island is a great example. It allows a child to continue the narrative, opening up the subject for discussion. If you’re unfamiliar with it, I urge you to buy it. It’s a comforting story — and the way Benji conveys the message is so thoughtful, it is just perfect.
A spread from Grandad’s Island [published by Simon and Schuster]
When I think about films for children, based on books, such as Richard Adams’ Watership Down (still devastating to watch as an adult, but so beautifully designed and cast, with a soundtrack I will never forget) and Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, with an unforgettable closing scene. I remember weeping as a child, but it wouldn’t have left anywhere near such a mark had the ending been different. I feel that Benji Davies, along with Raymond Briggs, John Burningham, Richard Adams, Paul Gallico and many other greats, truly knows how to tell a story; one that stays with you, told with confidence and an understanding — that it’s okay for children to feel sad. Even as adults — especially today in our fast-paced world with our obsession over social media and technology, it still feels like a failing — to admit you’re sad, or that you’re struggling. So books like this are important. We have to allow children their emotions and teach them it’s not weak or wrong to show them.
Benji’s beautiful tribute to Richard Adams’ Watership Down characters, the middle image in colour was in particular a tribute to Adams, who passed away in December 2016.
Both Grandad’s Island and The Storm Whale books feature loss of a kind; Noi has to release the whale back to the sea, and Syd has to come to terms with life without his Grandad. They are so subtle and beautifully crafted that children are gently introduced to the idea that we don’t last forever, but comforted that the memories live on.
The award winning Grandad’s Island [winner of the Sainsbury’s and AOI awards in 2015] has been made into a puppet show in Sweden, and the Princess of the Netherlands reads The Storm Whale to school children during Benji’s trip there (top right).
Benji has been nominated for a 2018 Kate Greenaway Medal for The Storm Whale in Winter, his sequel to The Storm Whale, where we first meet little Noi, who lives with his dad by the sea. This is not Benji’s first CILIP nomination. He was also nominated back in 2015 for On Sudden Hill, with author Linda Sarah.
A spread from On Sudden Hill, written by Linda Sarah and illustrated by Benji Davies.
The Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955, and is awarded annually for outstanding book illustration for children and young people. The winner receives a golden medal awarded by CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals), £500 worth of books to donate to a library of their choice and £5000 cash prize. Previous winners include world famous and publishing celebrities Jon Klassen, Catherine Rayner and Emily Gravett.
Both Storm Whale books are stunning, but I personally love the story set in Winter even more so — perhaps it’s the drama of the snow and that atmospheric colour palette, or the heartfelt message that what you give out, comes back to you – in terms of kindness.
A spread from The Storm Whale in Winter [published by Simon and Schuster]
Benji has won many awards and his success continues — it’s an extraordinary journey to watch, and his most recent picture book, The Grotlyn is testament to how dynamic and diverse he can be, taking his storytelling in a different direction — towards something quite thrilling, with exceptional composition and use of light — so filmic and exciting.
An Instagram post by Benji with the familiar little girl we now know as Rubi from The Grotlyn [published by HarperCollins]
A cover Benji made for his local magazine.
If you’d like to know more about Benji, there are some great reads here:
Children’s Book Awards and Why They Matter…
“Being an author-illustrator can be a solitary and seemingly thankless task. Like looking for something in the long grass when you’re not sure what it looks like, you poke about with a big stick and the longer you look the more it feels like it’s going to rain. You ask for help but really you need to find the thing yourself or… well it won’t be yours.” Benji Davies
[read the full article here]
“The choice of the whale came seamlessly at the point of inspiration as I remember it. The idea that a whale could be in the bath was so misplaced as a concept that the story began forming around that starting point”
[Read the full article here]