Celebrating the work of Jan Ormerod, 1946-2013

Last week the children’s publishing industry, along with a great many fans of Jan Ormerod, mourned her death. Here’s a celebration of some of the picture books that made such a lasting impression.

Jan Ormerod was born in WA, drew compulsively as a child and went on to teach art and design. She moved to the United Kingdom in 1980, had children and started to take an interest in the picture books that her husband - a librarian - brought home from work.

Some of her books explore a domestic life that many can identify with, gently and cleverly showing up the joy and humour in the routine of daily life with small children.

Her first book was Sunshine (1981), a wordless story about the markers in a little girl’s day. It was followed by Moonlight, which showed the girl’s pathway from dinner to bedtime.

In 1984 came Ormerod’s brilliant 101 Things To Do With a Baby, in which the multitude of ideas come from a big sister who is learning how the new arrival could be a bonus to family life. Later on her Australian heritage and understanding of childhood imagination merged to produce Lizzie Nonsense, about a young girl leading an isolated life with her family in the Australian bush c. 1900.

Her varied career also involved some highly successful partnerships, including Australian illustrator Freya Blackwood for Maudie and Bear, which won the CBCA Early Childhood Book of the Year in 2011, and Australian Children’s Laureate Boori Monty Pryor for Shake A Leg, about three young boys in Far North Queensland who meet an Italian-speaking Aboriginal pizza chef.

Jan Ormerod captured the magic and value of picture books when she said:

‘I depend on the adult to create the right atmosphere and help children read them. When this happens, it is a time for physical closeness and comfort, a quiet time for sharing ideas and feelings, for laughing and learning together.’