Mini Grey appreciates the irony that a decades-long vocational search led to her being named a bright new light in the UK publishing scene this year. Just last month at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, booktrust, the UK charity established to encourage reading, named Grey as one of the top-10 Best New Illustrators in the country. And with six beautiful and humorous picture books under her belt, the author/illustrator doesn’t seem to be running out of ideas for new kids reading material.
On the way to her present occupation, Grey started out at art college. Believing she’d never make her way in the world of fine art, she left to complete an English degree a year later. Extracurricular work building sets while in university inspired her to train in theater design. It eventually led her to performing for and helping school children with their own productions, but she was just eking out a living. ‘I liked working with children,’ she says. ‘So then I trained to be a teacher so I could repair my bank balance.’ After six years of teaching primary school, Grey returned to her first love, art, and ended up earning a Master’s degree in illustration while continuing to work as a supply teacher.
Still convinced that she ‘can’t draw,’ Grey’s first book Egg Drop, published by Random House Children’s Books imprint Jonathan Cape in 2002, and subsequent titles The Pea and the Princess (2003), Biscuit Bear (2004), Traction Man is Here (2005), The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon (2006) and this fall’s Traction Man Meets Turbo Dog, tell a different story. Alternately using traditional watercolors, pen & ink and collage to achieve a distinct look, Grey’s works are funny and often put a bit of a dark spin on fairytale and nursery rhyme faves.
Egg Drop, for example, is loosely based on Humpty Dumpty. It tells the tale of an egg that wants to fly and decides to jump off a very tall tower. For an exhilarating moment, the egg believes he’s soaring. Of course, he hits the ground and splatters. ‘It’s a bit of a tragedy,’ notes Grey. ‘He gets fried for breakfast because they can’t put him back together again.’
Similarly, The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon riffs on the classic rhyme ‘Hey Diddle Diddle,’ but depicts the errant china and cutlery as Vaudeville performers and partners-in-crime that end up robbing a bank in 1930s New York. Spoon serves time in the slammer for the deed and is released 25 years later. Happily, he ends up reuniting with Dish. Finally, Traction Man was inspired by the sad tale of one of Grey’s former students who toted around an Action Man figure dressed in fatigues knitted by his grandmother that resembled a school romper more than tough military gear.
Like many before her, Grey’s also keen on having her works translated to the screen, but has no solid offers on the table. ‘I grew up watching tons of TV, and I see the things that were made for children [like classic UK series The Clangers] as completely great art. I’d love to see something I created come to life again in another medium.’ In the meantime, she’s hard at work on her next book, due out in 2009. ‘I can’t talk about what I’m doing at the moment because it might put people off,’ she laughs. ‘It involves people getting eaten, and I don’t want to get in trouble.’