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An interview with the creator of new wordless picture book Caged, Duncan Annand 

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Artist Duncan Annand with debut picture book Caged

We were very lucky to have the chance to sit down and talk with the brilliantly creative author Duncan Annand! He is the inventive mind behind our new fantastic wordless picture book Caged! He shared his ideas behind the message of Caged, as well as his thoughts on wordless picture books! Check out what what he said below

Hi Duncan! So your debut picture book Caged is going to be released at the end of next month. You used to be an architect: why did you decide to make a children’s picture book?

I have always been interested in children’s picture books.  And I’ve always loved drawing.  Shortly after I retired I went to the Cambridge School of Art Children’s Book Illustration Summer School as I’d heard how good a course it was and I wanted to see what was involved in illustrating children’s books.  At the Summer School I was seduced into the MA Course when the brilliant Pam Smy said “If you come on the course the first thing we will do,is teach you to draw properly”.  I’ve always wanted to be able to draw properly – so that was it, I was hooked.
So I did the MA course as something stimulating to do in my retirement.  Well I certainly got that.  Drafting a picture book was part of the MA course.
However I was not on a career path and was not expecting to be published, just looking forward to having something enjoyable to do.  Then Tiny Owl came along!

Why did you choose a wordless picture book to share the story? What do you think are the advantages of wordless picture books?

It just evolved really. I got the idea of the story and initially it had a few words in it. As I kept working on it, eventually I realised that it worked really well without the words. I’ve always liked the wordless format. The thing that I like best about them is that readers can set their own pace, and then form their own interpretation. You can ‘read’ it to a child, and then ask them to tell you the story themselves. This way, you get to hear their ideas, and what they’re seeing. I often find that they’ll introduce things you didn’t see yourself! With wordless books, even very young children do not need an adult reader to read to them.  This encourages them to set their own narrative. I like having that involvement from the child.

Your style of illustration is largely done in black and white, and is quite minimalist. Why do you use this style? Why are the birds in colour?

Well, it wasn’t just laziness! I do like line drawings. I really like using the colour in that story to focus your attention on the birds that are in the cage. If the whole thing was done in full colour, the parrots would’ve disappeared into the background. It’s the same with the little bluebird, she’s in colour so that the reader notices her, and that way you really see what she is doing.

An interior from Caged

The message of Caged is centred around a theme of freedom. Can you tell me a bit about why you think that this is an important message for current times?

I actually had started off by doing an illustration of a bus with an aviary in it! When somebody looked at it, they said to me: “What a shame the birds were enclosed! Birds like to be free!” I realised that they were right. That’s when I decided to do something that emphasised freedom instead, which is why in Caged we have that resolution of getting to see the birds flying away. I find it difficult because I can see both sides of the story when it comes to animal freedom. I do agree that animals should be free and allowed to stay in their natural home, but I also have wonderful memories of going to the zoo with my children, where they were able to see animals they otherwise would never have been able to see.

And what about the theme of retribution? The bluebird certainly gives the men a taste of their own medicine! Why did you make sure that they got that ending?

From the start I knew that the men would get their comeuppance.  The moral was to be “do unto others as you would have done unto yourself”.  That’s why the building had to have a cupola, that would fall on top of them and trap them.  That determined the shape of the building.

You have an event at Edinburgh International Book Festival to launch Caged in August. What’s going to be happening there?

On August 24th, we will be having the book launch for Caged at Edinburgh Book Festival. We’re going to present the story to the children and try to get them to give us feedback! I’ll also be showing how I created my illustrations and came up with a wordless story, as well as finding out from the children what are their ideas are for putting together a story without using any words! I’m looking forward to it very much.

Caged is a brilliant illustrated, witty tale of freedom and retribution. While a bluebird builds her nest in the forest, two eccentric gentlemen have a more ambitious construction in mind: a vast palatial building, made from birdcages filled with colourful parrots. Until, one day, the bluebird sees a wonderful opportunity to free the birds, and give the men a taste of their own medicine.

  • Watch an interview with Duncan Annand
  • Caged is coming to Edinburgh International Book Festival! Buy tickets here!
  • Read the highlights of our Wordless Picture Book Campaign
  • Download a free poster here!

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