'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 10 July 2014

Bookish Places: Pinerolo, The Children's Book Cottage

The Kids' Book Review Bookish Places posts are a chance to celebrate museums, galleries and other places with a connection to children’s literature and reading. The posts are compiled by KBR's Consultant Librarian, Sarah Steed.

Pinerolo, The Children’s Book Cottage, is clearly a labour of love for Margaret Hamilton, who has many years experience in the children’s book industry. By way of introduction, here’s a little bit about Margaret, in her own words:

A few years ago I was presented with the inaugural George Robertson Award by the Publishers Association – for fifty years service to the Australian book industry! This took me totally by surprise. It doesn’t seem that long. I’ve had a pretty ‘well-rounded’ career in children’s books – from children’s librarian, to bookseller, to publisher and Board Member for a multinational, then to setting up my own independent publishing house, freelance work, culminating in opening my own Picture Book Cottage. I feel extremely fortunate and privileged to have worked with the best authors and illustrators in Australian children’s books and have made so many enduring friendships. It has all been inspiring and fulfilling and most of all stimulating and fun. I wouldn’t change a minute of it! I don’t know how long I’ll be able to run Pinerolo, but I hope that anyone interested in Australian children’s books will hear about it and come for a visit.

Many thanks to Margaret for answering our questions, and for sharing her enthusiasm for children’s books through the literary treasure trove that is Pinerolo - this peek inside will whet the appetites of many readers, writers and illustrators, and offer some tips, too.

Pinerolo is located in Blackheath, in the beautiful Blue Mountains of New South Wales. It’s open by appointment only, so be sure to contact them in advance to organise your visit, and check out their list of programs for details of workshops and other events.

What was your inspiration for Pinerolo, the Children's Book Cottage and how do you pronounce its name?
Pinerolo is a medieval town in Piedmonte, northern Italy. We have very close friends who live there and have visited them several times. The word literally means ‘place of pines’, so because our 2.5-acre property at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains has lots of pine trees, it seemed a perfect name. It is pronounced Pin – er – olo.

We bought the property in 2000 and planned to ‘retire’ here. [My husband] Max built a Tuscan-inspired house and when we moved in, the two-bedroom cottage was vacant. So we renovated that and ‘rescued’ all the artwork and books stored in the garage and Pinerolo opened as the Children’s Book Cottage in November 2010. It was never a long-standing ambition. The cottage just happened because it seemed the right thing to do. I can now share my collection of artwork and books with everyone and am passionate about promoting children’s picture books and educating people about them.

What makes Pinerolo unique?
It is the only place of its kind in New South Wales and it houses the state’s largest collection of original artwork from children’s picture books. The artwork spans at least four decades of Australian publishing for children and the large collection of picture books and reference books makes the cottage a valuable resource for anyone interested, but especially for researching or studying Australian children’s books. It’s also in a beautiful area, as the Blue Mountains is a major tourist destination, only two hours by car or train from Sydney, which makes it readily accessible.

Why do people come to visit? Is it a place just for authors and illustrators, or open to everyone?
Pinerolo promotes Australian children’s picture books and the people who create them. It is definitely a place where authors and illustrators can come for inspiration and research. However, we welcome anyone – families, children, teachers, librarians, booksellers, publishers. In fact anyone who is interested or wants to learn about picture books. Although we are not open daily, a visit any time is welcome, simply by phoning ahead and letting us know. Group visits for a talk can be organised as well. We can accommodate around twenty-five people.

The cottage is also available for anyone wanting to stay. The website details the comfortable accommodation facilities and competitive rates. However, be warned! Many people who have stayed here have said that they were up all night reading books!

John Heffernan presenting to Picture Books @ Pinerolo

Tell us about the courses, open days, and other activities at Pinerolo.
‘Picture Books @ Pinerolo’ are one-day courses which aim to educate participants about every aspect of picture book creation – from idea to finished book and beyond. These courses have been running now for over eight years (even before Pinerolo opened) and there’s never been any trouble filling places for the day. I bring decades of experience in children’s books – as children’s librarian, bookseller and publisher – and am joined by a major Australian illustrator or author. We’ve been so fortunate to have had Dee Huxley many times, but also Wayne Harris, Libby Gleeson, Margaret Wild and John Heffernan. It’s been fabulous to have ‘discovered’ new talent at these courses and I feel so privileged to have been able to help aspiring writers. Two who have now become published authors are ChoeChoe Brereton and Lesley Gibbes. I’m very proud of them.

OPEN DAYS occur at least once a year, usually in November. It’s a great family outing as children get to see authors and illustrators, hear them read their books and watch the illustrators at work. Successful open days have seen Glenda Millard, Stephen Michael King, Tohby Riddle, Stephen Measday, James Roy, Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood. By far the most successful open day was GRUG DAY last year when over 150 people turned up. Grug’s creator Ted Prior was here, as well as Grug himself, who made a personal appearance every half an hour. It is hugely gratifying for me to see books I originally published in the 1970s becoming firm favourites with a whole new generation. There were young parents here on the day who said they learned to read with Grug and they had brought their children to meet him.

SCHOOL VISITS are particularly enjoyable. I love nothing better than talking about picture books and reading them to children. Children are fascinated by the story of how picture books are made and I give a talk taking them through the whole process. They are also given an activity sheet which asks questions about the collection and the illustrators. This option has been popular with homeschoolers who have come in groups, some of them travelling long distances.

How do your 'In Residence' programs work?
‘Illustrators in Residence’ began with a visit from the funding manager at the Copyright Agency. We discussed possible funding ideas. I was aware that there are quite a few ‘Writers in Residence’ programs but very few ‘Illustrators in Residence’ and certainly none where there would be an ‘in-house’ mentor available for daily consultation. So we were given funding for the first year, publicised the program and sent out application forms, which resulted in over thirty applications for the four positions available. The program is now in its fourth year, with five more illustrators this year. The cottage is self-contained and they have it entirely to themselves. There’s a wood fire, air-conditioning and a fully equipped kitchen, so they are very comfortable. It’s inspiring to watch them work, as every illustrator is different, and to see their project develop over the week. Every one has said that they are grateful for the time to dedicate to their work, uninterrupted by day-to-day pressures. It’s also very pleasing to see them using the artwork and book collection to research and inspire their work.

Ted Prior and Grug reading to visitors on Grug Day at Pinerolo

You have a wonderful collection of artwork. Which are your most-treasured pieces and why?
This is an unanswerable question! When we were publishers at Margaret Hamilton Books and anyone asked what was our favourite book Max and I replied, ‘All our books are our babies and we hope they’ll grow up to be award-winners’. It’s a bit like that with the artwork. I treasure them all – from masterpieces by Tony Oliver, John Winch, Noela Young and Robert Ingpen to highly prized originals by many award-winners like Dee Huxley, Julie Vivas, Patricia Mullins, Stephen Michael King, Andrew McLean and others. The collection highlights the wealth of talent among Australian illustrators, their versatility, their mastery of the processes and their world-renowned talent.

Do you have any exciting future plans you can share?
More of the same really! As Pinerolo is becoming more widely known it is attracting more visitors. Visits from booksellers and publishers are fun as they immerse themselves in the exhibition, recognising so many of their favourite books. School visits are always an inspiration as children are so receptive and curious, and it’s such fun talking to them about the processes involved and to read them picture books. I firmly believe and tell everybody I see that picture books are for everyone, not just small children and the children who visit go away convinced of that. In September this year we are going to the UK, where I will at last visit Seven Stories in Newcastle and The Illustration Cupboard in London and maybe even some sessions at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival.

What is something everyone should know about writing or illustrating children's books?
One of the most common misconceptions is that people who write a story for a picture book must also draw the pictures. Our one-day courses make it quite clear that this is not so. There are very few writers who can draw and very few artists who can write. Unless you’re Bob Graham, Pamela Allen or Alison Lester, leave it alone.

Our ‘show and tell’ sessions during our one-day courses are quite revealing. When writers read their stories they are invariably far too long and rhyming text often sounds forced and poorly scanned. One of the main keys to picture book writing is economy of words, but very carefully chosen words that must be descriptive and heartfelt. Practise. Practise. Practise. It’s the best advice for anyone, writer or illustrator. And immerse yourself in picture books. Australia leads the world in picture books, so there’s a wealth of talent to learn from.

Five children's books you would recommend as must-haves?
That is also an extremely difficult question to answer! Five is not enough by any stretch of the imagination. The following list shows extreme constraint!

WINNIE THE POOH by A A Milne (plus the other three in the series). These timeless books should be read by everybody at some stage in their life.

THE KINGDOM OF SILK SERIES by Glenda Millard. Seven perfect books about the Silk Family by one of Australia’s most gifted writers.

SILVER BUTTONS by Bob Graham. Another superb picture book by this amazing creator. Any list of must-haves should include at least one of his picture books.

TEN LITTLE FINGERS AND TEN LITTLE TOES by Mem Fox & Helen Oxenbury. This is my favourite Mem Fox book and it’s illustrated by one of the finest illustrators in the UK.

UNFORGOTTEN by Tohby Riddle. A wonderful picture book, thoughtfully presented and beautifully realised.

THE TREASURE BOX by Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood. No list would be complete without Margaret Wild. This poignant story is beautifully illustrated by award-winner Freya Blackwood.

WHERE DOES THURSDAY GO? By Janeen Brian & Stephen Michael King. One of the most successful picture books we published. I never tire of reading it to children.

B IS FOR BEDTIME by Margaret Hamilton & Anna Pignataro. I’m really cheeky adding this, my very own picture book. After so many years of publishing other people’s books I finally had a picture book published this year and it has been one of the most exciting experiences of my life!

For more information, visit the Pinerolo website.

Interested in taking a Bookish Places trip around the world? Enjoy this sensational map, also created by Sarah, and check out our other Bookish Places posts here.

Do you know of another a wonderful bookish place you think others would enjoy? You can contact KBR’s Consultant Librarian, Sarah Steed, with any suggestions. Email Sarah at sarahATkids-bookreviewDOTcom.