“When I see my childhood drawings, I realize that they are not very different from the illustrations I do now,” says Anthony Browne. “All children are surrealists in a sense. One of the things the surrealists were trying to do was to paint familiar things as if they were seeing them for the first time. Children are, of course, actually seeing them for the first time.”
Winner of the highest international honor for illustration, the Hans Christian Andersen Award—as well as the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal (twice) and the Kurt Maschler Award (three times)—Anthony Browne has garnered much praise for his crisp, polished artwork full of tongue-in-cheek humor and hidden surprises. His book Silly Billy reflects this trademark style. In the humorous and affecting tale about anxiety, a homespun solution from Grandma and a final clever twist provide young readers with an antidote to worry. “I didn’t want the worry dolls to be the ‘magic’ that would cure Billy,” notes the author-illustrator. “At first he’s worrying about himself—the fears of threatening hats, shoes, etc., but Billy’s inner worries are turned out, by at first worrying (or caring) about worry dolls, and then caring about his friends. Worrying can be a kind of caring, and as such is a healthy part of a balanced emotional life.”
Anyone familiar with Anthony Browne’s books knows he likes to use his surrealist style to personify primates, from the hapless Willy the chimp, star of a comical series of picture books, to the beloved Gorilla, to the personable chimpanzee of I Like Books. “I am intrigued by gorillas and the contrast they represent—their huge strength and gentleness,” he explains. “They’re thought of as being very fierce creatures, but they’re not.” When Anthony Browne begins work on a book, the ideas come to him “as a strange combination of story and images. It’s like planning a film—working out the pages of a book is like deciding on the scenes of a film.”
While growing up in Yorkshire, England, Anthony Browne spent hours drawing with his father, an influence that stayed with him into adulthood. He says of his father, “He was an unusual man—outwardly strong and confident, but also shy and sensitive—a bit like the gorillas I love to illustrate now.” After studying graphic design, Anthony Browne went on to paint illustrations for medical textbooks for three years, then switched to designing greeting cards. This, in turn, led to creating children’s books when a greeting-card gorilla decided to take on a life of his own. The father of two grown children, Anthony Browne lives with his wife in Kent, England.