On Tuesday morning, I was very privileged to be at Booktrust’s Lifetime Achievement Award at The Orangery in Holland Park when the award was given to Shirley Hughes.
Michael Morpurgo, president of Book Trust, presented the award.
This is what he said:
“How do you assess the life’s work of such an iconic writer-illustrator as Shirley Hughes? Do you simply add up the millions of books sold? Do you add up the hundreds of titles published? Do you add up all the years she has been working? Do you tot up the long and distinguished list of awards and prizes? Do you simply make a list of those dozens of titles already considered classics of children’s literature: Alfie Gets in First. Alfie’s Feet. Dogger. Lucy and Tom’s Christmas. Helpers. Up and Up. Is it all a question of numbers and lists? I think not – though they are not entirely unimportant.
Or is it a question then of a critical assessment – glowing by any standards – of her work over the decades. Amongst her fellow writers and illustrators, her work is universally respected, admired and adored. As is she. Ah – maybe we are getting there now; closer to the heart of the matter. Is it her wisdom, her talent, or her hats we cherish most? Actually, all three. A moment ago I used the word ‘adored’, and then the word ‘cherish’. I used both with care, for the work of Shirley Hughes is truly beloved; nationally, internationally, universally. When you go into schools anywhere, into classrooms, into school and town libraries – which I have done often – go into bookshops, and look around, as you do if you are a writer, for copies of your own books, what do you find? Shirley Hughes books everywhere! Flocks of them! Herds of them! Swarms of them! Visit a friend’s house for supper, and once you’re settling nicely and sipping your wine, they say, “Do you know what little Lucy would really like, Michael, she would love for you to go upstairs and read to her. Would you mind very much? So sorry to impose, but she’s very insistent. She’s a great fan.” So up you go, weary maybe, but flattered all the same. “This is my favourite story”, says little Lucy, in her pink spotted pyjamas, waving a book at you. “Dogger. It’s my favourite.” It’s outrageous.
Her books are everywhere, on every child’s bookshelf in the land. And sometimes they even take them off the bookshelves: they read them, again and again, loving them more each time. And do you know why? Because they’re really good, and their mothers and fathers loved them when they were little, and still do. And do you know why? We read them aloud and love the familiarity. Every page sings, in perfect harmony, words and pictures wonderfully, perfectly crafted and interwoven. And why do they and we love and adore these books across the generations? Because they are about us, about how childhood can be, about children’s lives then and now. It is family and home that children love best, and no story-maker has ever told or drawn stories of home and family better, more tenderly, more tellingly.
But Shirley Hughes is not content with being the most beloved bedtime storyteller in the country, with filling up children’s bookshelves and library bookshelves, to the exclusion of some other authors I could mention. Oh no! In her 80s, if you please, she decides she’s going to be a novelist, and what’s worse, she’s a fine novelist, too.
That great novelist, perhaps the finest children’s writer of us all, Philip Pullman, has called Shirley Hughes ‘a national treasure’. Well he’s right, she is too, and I can tell you why. Read a Shirley Hughes book, lose yourself in the warmth of the story, in the detail of the pictures, and she becomes one of the family, of thousands – of millions – of families. She and her books are indeed treasured, are much beloved in so many homes in the land, mine too. And I love her hats too!
So it could not be more appropriate that Booktrust’s very first lifetime achievement award has gone to Shirley Hughes. And as President of Booktrust, I’m thrilled and honoured to be here to celebrate her, and her books and her life, and to thank her on behalf of all those millions of children, including little Lucy, to whom she has brought such a love of stories and pictures. This lady has changed lives, made readers of so many, and so made the world a better place for us all.
And that is surely the greatest lifetime achievement of all. Thank you Shirley, from all of us, and little Lucy, and me.”
Congratulations from Nosy Crow too.
Here are some pictures from the event.