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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

'May Gibbs: More than a Fairy Tale' by Robert Holden and Jane Brummitt

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

May Gibbs became one of Australia's most well-known and loved illustrators. Her gum-nut babies have been adored by generations of children. For the first time her early life and artistic career are explored in detail. She travelled to England in a quest to develop as an artist and became an early supporter of the suffragettes. Her early paintings of wildflowers led her to discover the limitations of being a woman artist and she discovered that working hard to develop a sustaining commercial career in art was not going to be easy. One of the few women to become a commercial success, she did so by turning to fantasy and children's illustration. This is a fascinating illustrated biography of a talented artist, complete with beautiful reproductions of May Gibbs' work throughout.

‘May Gibbs: More than a Fairytale’ is the illustrated autobiography of one of Australia’s most successful and beloved illustrators. Gibbs was creator of Australia’s cherished children’s ‘gumnut babies’ series.

I, like many other Australian children, grew up on the stories of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. I have a big, gorgeous hardback gumnut babies novel that enjoyed pride-of-place on my bookshelf as a youngster. The spine is worn and some pages stuck together with miscellaneous foods – a testament to how well read the book was in my younger years. Banksia Men scared the beegesus out of me, but Gibb’s stories certainly made me look at gumtrees differently… So I was absolutely delighted to learn of a book about the woman behind my childhood bedtime stories, and one that is so beautifully crafted.

Written by Robert Holden and Jane Brummitt, ‘More than a Fairytale’ chronicles Gibb’s life and artistic history. Born in England, Gibbs and her family moved to South Australia in the 1800’s, and while the rest of her farming family had a tumultuous time with the harsh landscape, Gibbs became enamoured of the outback and bushland. As a child she would ride her pony around the sprawling family farm, painting and drawing the beautiful bushland as she saw it. Thus, the groundwork for Snugglepot and Cuddlepie was born, along with Banksia Men and wattle babies.

Gibb’s life was fascinating, and even feminist. For a long time she was Australia’s most successful export, and even now her gumnut babies live on and are a staple of any Aussie baby’s first library. She was also a true patriot, her works printed on postcards and sent to the boys in the trenches during WWI, a little bit of Australia in the mail for them while they fought overseas.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of Gibb’s life-story was her involvement in the suffragette movement. Gibbs frequently returned to England, for her art and family, and it was during those visits that she became heavily influenced by the women’s social and political movement. And it’s no wonder that Gibbs was so deeply affected by the cause – she was herself a woman of her own making, who turned fantasy into successful children’s literature and became one of Australia’s first ‘celebrities’.

Robert Holden and Jane Brummitt have done a wonderful job of delving into Gibb’s history and influences, enriching the backstory to her creations. But the real beauty of this biography is simply in Gibb’s illustrations. She was a wonderfully creative storyteller – blending fantasy and nature to create a beautifully Australian fairytale that will never die, but be passed on for generations to come.

This book is absolutely incredible. It’s a gorgeous hardback with full-colour pages, and some hidden Gibbs gems have been lovingly reprinted for the first time in many, many years. Anyone who ever read or had gumnut babies read to them will love this book. It’s a nice reminiscence, but also a stunning tribute to one of Australia’s finest female writers and illustrators.


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