Helen Craig was born in London but moved, with her family, to the country just ahead of the outbreak of World War Two. “The illustrations for the Angelina stories are based on my childhood memories,” Helen says, “when I lived in the country in a cottage with no electricity – just oil lamps and candles to light us to bed!”
Even as a child, Helen realised how important children’s books were to her. “I would almost enter the pictures and become so absorbed that I would wait, expecting the figures to move. Now I am an illustrator myself, I try to make my pictures live for the children who look at them.”
Helen comes from a very artistic family: her great grandmother was the celebrated actress Ellen Terry; her grandfather was Edward Gordon Craig, the famous stage designer and innovative wood engraver. Helen’s first job, at the age of sixteen, was as an apprentice to a commercial photographer in London. She went on to set up her own photographic studio, later working as a freelance potter and sculptor.
After the birth of her son Ben in 1965, Helen began experimenting with ideas for children’s picture books. One of her chief inspirations was a book she had bought for Ben – Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. After taking her drawings to a publisher, Helen was on her way to becoming a published artist. The first book she illustrated was Wishing Gold by Robert Nye (1970). Helen’s first book as author and artist was A Number of Mice (1978).
When asked why she likes drawing mice, Helen is keen to point out that “I also draw other animals and humans. But I do like mice and I think there’s more than one reason”. One reason, she says, is that mice can mimic human postures and emotions:
“They can stand on their hind legs like a human and they have clearly defined hands and feet that can hold things in the same way as a human can, and then there is the added bonus of a tail that can express all sorts of emotions – drooping for sad – straight out for shock – waving in the air for happiness and so on.”
Mice have long had an influence on Helen’s life. Her father’s pet name (no pun intended) for her mother was “Mouse”! What’s more, Helen’s mother “had a lovely collection of little mice figures made of china, wood and metal, and I was allowed to get them out of their box and play with them on special occasions.”
Books from Helen’s childhood, including those by Beatrix Potter, also contributed to her fondness for mice, as did comics that she read with her son Ben. “There was one group of characters that I especially liked. I can’t remember their name, but they were a crazy family of mice – a bit like The Bash Street Kids and I loved the way the artist had given each one a different personality.”
Helen has to date worked on over 60 children’s books and received several prestigious awards. Three of her books have been chosen for the British Book Design and Production exhibitions, of which Angelina Ballerina won a category award in 1990.
The award-winning Angelina Ballerina books are a great way for children to explore important issues such as friendship, jealousy, loyalty and dedication. The books have been translated into 6 languages.
Helen Craig lives and works in a three-hundred-year-old cottage in Buckinghamshire.
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