A guest post from Grandpa and the Kingfisher illustrator, Sarah Massini - Nosy Crow Skip to content
Posted by Lara, April 17, 2023

A guest post from Grandpa and the Kingfisher illustrator, Sarah Massini

This month we’re absolutely delighted to have published Grandpa and the Kingfisher – a beautiful picture book celebrates the awesome power of nature illustrated by Sarah Massini. And today, we’re very excited to be sharing a guest post from Sarah!

My illustrations for Grandpa And The Kingfisher have been shaped by the three most important men in my life. I know… that sounds like a ludicrously over-blown statement. But it’s something I realised whilst thinking about what to write for this blog post. I’d better explain….

Firstly, there’s my husband.

Peter is an ecologist. We’ve been together since we were 19, and I decline to say how long ago that was, but well let’s just say… it’s been a while. Peter’s expert knowledge about the natural world, and all of our 100s of walks together – with binoculars in hand – have rubbed off on me over the years. So consequently, Anna’s story appealed strongly on first reading. It was a story about nature that I not only felt very qualified to illustrate, but one that I had a deep-rooted interest in too.

These days Peter and I both work from home in adjoining rooms – me doing my illustration-thing, and him saving the world’s biodiversity. On discovering that the internet doesn’t have the answer to everything (!) I was able to holler questions at Peter through the wall, such as:

Does the kingfisher line its nest?
Are yellowflag irises common in other parts of the world?
What time of year does reedmace start to look fluffy?
I’d always be sure that the muffled reply coming back through the wall would be correct. So huge thanks to my brilliant husband for all his past and present help.

Here are stage workings of the Eurasian Kingfisher for the cover and title page – and also the Belted Kingfisher for the US/Canadian edition.

Then, there’s my son.

When I posted the cover reveal for ‘Grandpa And The Kingfisher’ on Instagram, and Mathew commented, ‘Looks lovely Mum’, I suddenly realised that I’d done it again! I’d illustrated Mathew again. So many of the children in my books look like Mathew when he was little. I am completely unaware that I’m doing this whilst I’m illustrating, but it’s something that happens over and over again. There are subconscious longings here for sure!

Here’s Mathew starring in some of my Nosy Crow books: Grandpa And The Kingfisher/The Velveteen Rabbit /The Boy And The Bear.

And finally, there’s my father, John.

During the time I worked on ‘Grandpa And The Kingfisher’ he suffered a major health crisis with  with both cancer and Covid, and he wasn’t expected to pull through. So my anxiety about him informed my ability to convey how Grandpa looks and feels during the course of the book – his increasing infirmity and quiet reflectiveness. To be honest, I haven’t talked to Dad about this book at all because the subject seems too sensitive with all he’s been going through. But he was – this time consciously – always on my mind whilst I was illustrating.

Here’s my dad John (left), and Grandpa. You can see they look alike. But it’s important to note that there is much of Anna’s dad Martin (right) in Grandpa too. Indeed, it was Martin who provided the inspiration for this beautiful story, and it’s his personality that shines through Anna’s telling of it. Both our fathers are very present in Grandpa.

So, this has been a most personal and poignant journey – much more so than for any book I’ve illustrated before. I guess there’s a lot of love in this book. Love for the natural world and love for my family. And lived experience too. I hope that these quiet understandings get picked up by readers as they go on their own personal journey with ‘Grandpa And The Kingfisher’.

Some early character studies.

Thank you, Sarah!

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