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Picture book perfect - new children’s book by renowned Norfolk artist

PUBLISHED: 19:00 27 February 2020

Wild Wolf by Fiona French published by Otter-Barry Books

Wild Wolf by Fiona French published by Otter-Barry Books

Otter-Barry Books

An exquisitely illustrated children’s book by Norfolk artist Fiona French has been 40 years in the making

Fiona French  Picture: Claire TaitFiona French Picture: Claire Tait

Artist Fiona French has been creating beautiful picture books for children for more than half a century.

Her vibrant paintings glow from the pages, illuminating fairy stories, legends and folk tales from around the world.

Her first book, Jack of Hearts, was published in 1968. Her latest, Wild Wolf is just out - although it has been 40 years in the making.

Fiona, of Kelling, near Holt, won the prestigious Kate Greenaway medal for children's book illustration for Snow White in New York, set in 1920s New York with Snow White as a flapper protected by seven jazz musicians, all illustrated in stunning art deco paintings.

Snow White in New York by Fiona FrenchSnow White in New York by Fiona French

Each of Fiona's 30-plus books is made up of page after page of her beautiful paintings, in the style of whichever story has captured her imagination.

Her book Anancy and Mr Dry-Bone is based on African and Jamaican folk stories, illustrated in intricate black and white graphics set against richly coloured skies; Canticle of the Sun is the story of St Francis of Assisi, told in the worlds of the saint's own song and painted as bright, intricate mosaics; Hunt the Thimble is set in 17th century Amsterdam and conjures up the spirit of Duch masters such as Vermeer; Rise, Shine! tells the story of Noah's Ark in the words of an African song and in a style inspired by brightly coloured Ethiopian art.

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Fiona worked as an assistant to artist Bridget Riley for five years, and went on to be an illustrator for Oxford University Press. She said she was drawn to Norfolk by the quiet, the big skies and good friends who already lived here. "I drove to Norfolk, with all my worldly goods stuffed into a Mini, on the day after the Big Storm in 1987," said Fiona. "London was marvellous, but for me it was time to leave."

She has written and illustrated around 30 of her own books, as well as working on other people's stories, and on her own stand-alone pictures.

Fiona came across the Alonquin native Canadian story of Wild Wolf, which celebrates forgiveness and kindness, around 40 years ago. "The story stuck in my mind, it was short and very clear. The sad ending kept me thinking of how I could make it work as a picture-book."

Angry at being refused by a beautiful woman, a warrior makes Ice Man, who leads Proud Girl into great danger. Can guardian spirit Wild Wolf turn pride and anger into forgiveness and love?

"Every now and again, in between writing and illustrating other picture-books, I would try out different ways of completing the story, but they never worked," said Fiona. Then I travelled to Toronto and ideas for the story began to gather pace. Seeing the beautiful beadwork in a Toronto museum was an inspiration. A second visit to Canada solved the original sad ending.

Fiona's brightly coloured pictures are based on traditional costumes and beadwork and the book has been approved by an Alonquin storyteller. A donation from sales will be made to the Katarokwi Grandmothers' Council of Kingston in Ontario.

Wild Wolf is published in hardback by Otter-Barry Books for £12.99.


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