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“Picture books are for everybody at any age”

Source chats to author Anthony Browne as Walker Books kicks off licensing programme for his portfolio.

Anthony Browne has been one of the world’s most celebrated creators of picture books for over 40 years. His fantastical tales for children have won him many awards, including the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, as well as the honour of being UK Children’s Laureate from 2009 to 2011.

Anthony’s creative and imaginative drawings blend near-photographic realism with surreal touches and ingenious visual puns. His books appeal to a worldwide audience – both children and adults alike – whose affection for Anthony’s work and style endures.

Anthony, your work is so wonderfully varied. How do you first come up with an idea for a picture book?

“It’s a strange combination of story and images. Deciding what will be illustrated on the pages of a book is like deciding on the scenes of a film.”

Why do gorillas and apes appear so often in your work?

“I am fascinated by them and the contrast they represent – their huge strength and gentleness. They’re thought of as being very fierce creatures and they’re not.”

Why do you think you appeal to both children and adults alike?

“I hope to encourage more children to discover and love reading, but I want to focus particularly on the appreciation of picture books… Picture books are for everybody at any age, not books to be left behind as we grow older. The best ones leave a tantalising gap between the pictures and the words, a gap that is filled by the reader’s imagination, adding so much to the excitement of reading a book.”

You have been writing and illustrating for over 40 years. Why did you and Walker decide that this would be a good time to build a licensing programme around your work?

“I have been working with Walker Books for a very long time – in fact I have now sold over 10 million books! Having reached such a milestone, the Walker licensing team thought it was a good time to take the characters outside of the publishing realm and into licensed products. My books have huge appeal in South Korea, where my work has been exhibited at the ‘Anthony Browne’s Happy Museum’ since 2009. Earlier this year, a similar exhibition at China’s ‘National Museum of Classic Books’ was extremely popular with families. The museum shop, with its small range of merchandise, proved there was a genuine thirst for physical recreations of my work, particularly paper and textile products.”

And products? Which categories are you and Walker likely to target initially?

“We’ve talked about categories such as greeting cards, prints, calendars, textiles, homewares and gifting, which would all be a natural fit. I now have a style guide dedicated to my Walker Books portfolio, which features my most beloved characters. The style guide is the perfect way to introduce licensees to over twelve titles with Walker, including Willy the Wimp, Willy the Champ, Willy the Dreamer, Gorilla and my own interpretation of Alice in Wonderland.”

The appeal of your work seems to extend to many ages. Why is that? Will you and Walker be using different approaches for licensing to different age groups?

“I believe that picture books are for everybody at any age, not books to be left behind as we grow older. My stories and illustrations beguile younger readers, whilst the references to surrealism, and inclusion of gorillas and apes as interchangeable with humans, give my work a great depth that appeals to adults. The Walker team have developed a bright style guide that reflects this breadth of content; it can be used across the age ranges but with the artwork and characters at the very centre. This allows products to be created across the age spectrum, from children’s drink bottles to beautiful hardback diaries for adults. The possibilities are endless!”

Walker Books launched Anthony Browne at Brand Licensing Europe 2019 with a portfolio that included Little Beauty, How do You Feel?, and the enormously popular tales of the little boy-chimp Willy.

Now this initial awareness is being translated into a licensing campaign, with a broad audience from six year olds to adults. The key categories in the first phase of the campaign are stationery, greeting cards, posters, art, gifting, housewares and apparel.

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