We’re absolutely delighted that Rob Biddulph is the official illustrator for World Book Day 2021. Not only does Rob have the best handwriting in the business but he is also a bestselling and multi award-winning author/illustrator whose first picture book, Blown Away, was published in 2014 and was only the second illustrated book in history to win the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. Before he became a full-time author/illustrator he was the art director of the Observer Magazine, NME, Uncut, SKY and Just Seventeen. He lives in London with his wife and three daughters and hasn’t given up hope that, maybe, one of them will go to an Arsenal match with him one day.
We’re so excited that you are the World Book Day illustrator. How did you feel when you were asked?
Absolutely thrilled! And hugely honoured, of course. I’m lucky enough to have taken part in the World Book Day Biggest Book Show on Earth for the last few years and that’s always pretty exciting, but this is next-level. What a privilege. I can’t wait!
From dragons and super heroes to penguins and pirates, we absolutely love all the bookmarks that you have created for us. How did you come up with the idea?
Well, I really loved the little book-people that Jim drew last year, and I know that the World Book Day team were keen to continue with the character theme. So, the first thing I did was make a list of anything I could think of to do with reading. Then I drew a little picture of each item on the list and added a pair of eyes to them all. The bookmarks were the cutest characters by far. Plus there was lots of potential for different book-themed outfits. My wife then had the idea of making actual physical bookmarks that looked like the characters I’d drawn. Cute AND practical. A win-win. Obviously, I asked her not to tell anyone that it was her idea cos I wanted to take all the credit.
Just like children, you’re not meant to have a favourite, but do you secretly have a favourite bookmark (you can whisper your response if you like, we won’t tell anyone)?
Ha! Ok, I’ll tell you but you must promise to keep it quiet. *WHISPERS* I really like Hip Hop Bookmark, or as the World Book Day team call him, ‘Beastie Boy Bookmark’. He has a very cool neck chain. Funnily enough, my three girls are always asking me which of them is my favourite. I always say the name of the daughter not in the room at the time. Then I ask them if they prefer me to mummy. They don’t, apparently.
What do you think is the most exciting thing about World Book Day?
I love the idea that children who have never picked up a book before might do exactly that as a direct result of the World Book Day initiative. I have visited a lot of schools and I always ask the kids how many of them are read a bedtime story. Sometimes it’s astonishing how few put their hands up. What’s even more incredible is how many tell me that they don’t have a single book in the house. Just heartbreaking. Sharing a story with someone is a truly magical experience, and if just one child gets the opportunity to do that as a result of World Book Day then that’s a properly exciting thing.
In 2019, we’re continuing our campaign to get the nation sharing stories. Which book character would you most like to share a story with and why?
I would love to sit down with Paddington Bear and listen to him tell tales of his time in darkest Peru. Over a nice cup of tea and a marmalade sandwich, obviously.
What one picture book do you think all children should own?
Well, my favourite of all time is How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr Seuss. What’s more, it’s absolutely perfect for sharing ’cos the rhyme is on point and such fun to read aloud. It’s very funny too. Personally, I think it should be part of the national curriculum, in the weeks leading up to Christmas at least…
What was your favourite book growing up? Do you have one in your mind that you wish you’d illustrated?
I loved anything and everything by Richard Scarry and would loved to have illustrated What Do People Do All Day? Having said that, I’m glad he did it rather than me, cos he was much more talented than I am. His work has directly influenced me many times, particularly when I was working on my book Odd Dog Out. I tried really hard to cram as much detail into my artwork as he did in his. I love the idea that readers might spot something on the ninth or tenth read that they hadn’t noticed before. It’s all about the richness.
Can you tell us about your journey to becoming an illustrator?
As a kid, I spent almost all of my spare time with a pencil in my hand. My mum is an artist too, and so drawing was something that was always encouraged at home. As such, I always knew I wanted to get a job doing something creative. So, at 18 off I went to art college thinking that I’d become a famous painter. At some point along the way however, I switched degree courses from fine art to graphic design (somebody told me that painters don’t earn any money until after they’ve died), and I eventually got a job working on a magazine for teenage girls called Just Seventeen. This led to a long career in journalism, art-directing titles like the NME and the Observer Magazine. Illustration was something that I always kept up as a sideline, but when I had kids of my own it really came back to the fore. I spent a lot of time drawing with the girls, and even more reading bedtime stories. One night, whilst reading How The Grinch Stole Christmas to my middle daughter Kitty, I had an epiphany. I realised that I would really love to write and illustrate a picture book myself. I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but… nothing ventured, nothing gained. So, I had a go and, well, here I am.
Which authors and illustrators have inspired you over the years?
Dr Seuss and Richard Scarry, obviously. And loads of others. Roald Dahl, Eric Carle, Shirley Hughes, Judith Kerr, Julia and Axel, Lauren Child, David McKee, Oliver Jeffers, Jon Klassen, Peter Brown and Emily Gravett to name but a few.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It’s an early start (I do the first school run of the day) and I’m always in my studio at the end of the garden by about 8.30am. Usually with a very large, very strong coffee. I stick the radio on while I catch up on emails and letters from my readers, and then it’s down to business. Because I write and illustrate my books, my working life is split into two parts – writing and illustrating. When I’m writing, I need peace and quiet. In fact, I often head over to the British Library in London and do some work there. I seem to get less distracted when there are other people working quietly nearby. When I’m illustrating however, I love listening to music and podcasts in the studio. I must say, this bit is
probably my favourite part of the book-making process. My wife often works at home too, so at lunchtime I usually go and meet her for a sandwich in the kitchen before heading back out to my desk until around 6.30pm. Then it’s indoors for some time with the kids. When they are in bed, I sit down and draw my youngest daughter Poppy’s packed-lunch post it note – a little picture that I hide in her lunchbox every day. It started as a ‘one-off’ five years ago when she first went to school and it’s never stopped. I have now drawn over 900! I post them every schoolday on Twitter and Instagram under the hashtag #PackedLunchPostIt, if you ever fancy checking them out. Please do, ’cos they take me ages!
Do you have any advice for all those fantastically creative young people out there who want to become the authors and illustrators of the future?
This might sound obvious, but just have a go. Lots of people tell me they’ve thought about writing a book for children, but very few actually get something down on paper. Start writing or drawing and you never know where it might take you. After all, every journey begins with a single step…