Pat Hutchins – 1942-2017

Pat Hutchins
Photograph ©  Morgan Hutchins

We are saddened to report the death of Pat Hutchins, creator of such classic and beloved picture books as Rosie’s Walk, Goodnight Owl and The Doorbell Rang. A long-time friend of Seven Stories, she died on November 7 at age 75 at her home in London.

Pat was born in Scorton, a small village in the Yorkshire countryside, the second youngest of seven children, on June 18, 1942. Surrounded by woods and fields full of wildlife, the family spent hours exploring and observing animals and birds and bringing injured animals home to be cared for. From early on, Pat began drawing from nature, encouraged to do so by a local couple who gave Hutchins her first sketchbook and rewarded her with chocolate in return for her drawings. At sixteen, Pat received a scholarship from Darlington School of Art and two years later, another from Leeds College of Art to study illustration.

Upon graduation, Pat headed to London with a portfolio of illustrations and £40, hoping to find work as a children’s book illustrator. Initially unsuccessful, she became an assistant art director at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency where she met her husband, Laurence Hutchins, a fellow artist, and learned some important lessons about illustration: particularly about ‘economy and getting rid of unnecessary details.’ When Laurence was offered a job at the company’s New York office, the two married and moved to the U.S. It was here that Pat’s career as a picture book creator was launched.

Showing her portfolio to American editors, she met Susan Hirschman who was soon to found Greenwillow Books. Hirschman suggested that Pat develop an idea that she had had for a book about farmyard animal noises and write a story about the fox, the one animal who ‘never makes a noise.’ Over a year later, Pat returned with Rosie’s Walk, with a text pared down to 32 words describing Rosie the hen’s uneventful farmyard walk - ‘across the yard/ around the pond/ over the haycock…’ - oblivious or is she? - of the fox seen stalking her in Pat’s three coloured stylised illustrations. The unmentioned fox and his calamitous attempts to catch Rosie turn a simple textual story into one that is subtler, more complex but above all, more fun. The reader here is in collusion with the author and knows more than the story character knows - or does s/he? Rosie arrives home in time for dinner while the fox is chased away by a swarm of bees. Hirschman declared that the book would be ‘a classic’ and published it to international acclaim in 1968.

Layout for pages 16 and 17 of 'Tidy Titch' (published by Greenwillow Books, 1991)
©  Estate of Pat Hutchins

From this auspicious start, Pat’s inventiveness as a picture book maker continued unabated. Although her honed down, stylised illustrations and brilliant graphic design are immediately recognisable, each of her books has a different feel to it. In many she invites her readers to share a joke which may lie in the disparity between words and images, as in Rosie’s Walk or 1 Hunter, an ingenious counting book in which the hunter can’t find any of the animals he is searching for but the reader can spot them hidden on each double spread. Or it may be verbal, as in Don’t Forget the Bacon or The Surprise Party in which a shopping list and an invitation get hilariously garbled as each is passed on. Often her concerns, as the mother now of two sons, are with the frustrations of being small (Happy Birthday, Sam and the Titch sequence), the vagaries of friendship (Tom and Sam) and sibling rivalry (The Very Worst Monster and Where’s the Baby?). In all of her picture books - including her last - Where, Oh Where Is Rosie’s Chick?, a surprise sequel to Rosie’s Walk, she builds up cumulative verbal and visual patterns laced with humour which offer her readers - often story-sharing with their family - important adventures in learning to read and reading to learn which will continue to light up their approach to books for years to come.

Back in London, Sam and Morgan, the Hutchins’ sons, became a rich source of ideas for Pat’s books. The humour found in her picture books now became broader in several beginning novels about Morgan, his family and his school class and Sam and his pet rat, Nibbles.These are seeing but not believing tales in modern dress, filled with the knockabout comedy of disguise, pursuit and improbable event as their titles suggest: Follow That Bus! , The House that Sailed Away,The Mona Lisa Mystery and The Curse of the Egyptian Mummy. Laurence illustrated these with ‘cartoony drawings’ which matched Pat’s humour.

In all, Pat created more than 40 books for young readers, many of which are considered classics and remain in print - timeless and irresistible. Often published by Greenwillow in New York first, Pat’s books were not eligible for prizes either in America as she wasn’t a US citizen nor in the UK as they were published abroad first. However, in 1974 The Wind Blew was published simultaneously by Greenwillow and by The Bodley Head in the UK. This hilarious cumulative tale in rhyme about a capricious wind that whips away hats, scarves, and umbrellas and leaves a growing crowd of people pursuing their belongings in its wake was awarded the Kate Greenaway Medal. In 1979, she was a commended runner up for One-Eyed Jack, in which a pirate receives his comeuppance when his ill gotten gains sink his ship. Six of Pat’s books were named American Library Association Notable Books. Titch was made into a popular television series. From 1995 to 1996 Pat presented and played the role of an artistic narrowboat owner in the British children's television series Rosie and Jim. She also subsequently illustrated books for the franchise.


Covers of Pat Hutchins' books

©  Estate of Pat Hutchins

If we remember Pat, as a picture book maker, for her invention, humour, and the unexpected interplay between text and image that whetted our curiosity and our desire to become readers, at Seven Stories, we remember her too as a key supporter.

I first worked with Pat in 1986 during my days as Children’s Books Manager at Waterstone’s,  and on this occasion and later in the early 90’s, she delivered many ‘memorable’ and ‘inspirational’ sessions for early years classes in our Writer’s in Residence programme, a collaboration with Newcastle’s LEA. It was during these visits that I first sought her views, as I had of other writers and illustrators, on the possibility of establishing a national Centre for the Children’s Book, which would offer a unique exploration of creativity, literature and art through the acquisition and preservation of an important collection of books, manuscripts and original and preliminary artwork by the creators of children’s books, particularly in modern Britain. Like others, she spoke enthusiastically of Dromkeen, then a pioneering museum outside of Melbourne, Australia whose founders were inventively exploring the ways in which preliminary roughs and drafts, original artwork and manuscripts could be used to bridge the gap between children and books and engage children with literature through understanding how it came to be made. Dromkeen, Pat thought, was an unusual and exciting ‘living’ museum - an early model of how a museum celebrating children’s literature and picture books in particular might work.

As my ensuing proposal for a centre evolved, the Dromkeen influence was clearly present in the first version presented to a group of authors, artists, publishers and academics including Pat in London in1994. In late 1996, after the Centre had formally become an educational charity, an Arts Council Grant enabled us to create an Acquisition Group to develop both a Collection policy and a list of modern British writers and illustrators for children without whom no collection would be complete. Needless to say, Pat was on that list along with some 75 fellow children’s book makers. She responded to this news with a letter of support and a pledge to place some of her work in the Centre’s collection.

Colour plate with acetate overlay for pages 16 and 17 of 'Tidy Titch' (Greenwillow Books, 1991)

PHL-03-03-18 ©  Estate of Pat Hutchins

In 2003, we invited visitors to the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead to travel
Over the Hills and Far Away in a Centre exhibition which celebrated the work of local artist Kim Lewis whose picture books chronicle life on a Northumbrian sheep farm and that of other writers and artists whose stories offer a journey to farms of the imagination where things aren’t quite what they seem. Central to the ‘fantasy’ farm journey was Rosie’s Walk. Pat loaned us a range of roughs though to finished pre-separated artwork for  her classic - a fascinating display of how  the story developed - and took part in the event programme accompanying the exhibition.

Later that year, we invited a group of children’s authors and illustrators including Pat, John Burningham, Helen Oxenbury, Colin McNaughton, David Almond and Philip Pullman to visit the seven storied, listed but derelict, Victorian warehouse in the Ouseburn Valley which we had purchased in 2002, and share their ideas about how the building might work as a centre - design and space wise - and what they would like to see happening there. It was an exciting and illuminating day - one in which there was also much laughter as our visitors rummaged through a skip outside 30 Lime Street.

In 2004, as our architect began to draw up plans for the building which included a dramatic new modern entrance, we decided that we wanted that entrance to carry an invitation.  We created a text of classic storybook phrases: ‘Once upon a time…into the deep dark woods …on the crest of a wave…flights of fancy…the journey begins with just one step.’ Six illustrators were invited to create an image for one of the phrases. As the words curl around the entrance, they are accompanied by artwork by Quentin Blake, Anthony Browne, Jane Ray, Pat Hutchins, Shirley Hughes and Satoshi Kitamura. Here is Rosie again!

A double spread of Pat’s artwork for The Wind Blew featured in Seven Stories’ opening exhibition Incredible Journeys: Travel by Book in 2005. In that same year, Sarah Lawrance and I visited Pat and her husband Laurence at their home in Hampstead - an antique collector’s delight - and spent a lively and fascinating day discussing what work might come into the Seven Stories’ collection. We looked at Pat’s work in progress on some of her picture books and at their joint work on The House That Sailed Away. Later that year, Pat and Laurence donated preliminary ideas, drafts, roughs, dummies and completed artwork and texts for One Hunter, Tidy Titch and The House That Sailed Away - an important and much viewed acquisition.

Preliminary idea for the hunter in 'One hunter', gouache on board
© Estate of Pat Hutchins

Six years later, I had begun work on what was to become Over the Hills and Far Away, a unique collection of nursery rhymes from across the English speaking world to be illustrated by 77 international artists. All royalties from the book were to go to Seven Stories and we hoped that artists contributing work for one double spread would also donate their illustration and preparatory work to our Collection. I asked Pat to illustrate three farm yard rhymes - one Chinese American, one Latino and one English - and she created a classic Hutchins double spread in a Rosie’s Walk palette which wove all three rhymes together. In October 2014, she and the Seven Stories’ team and other contributing artists came to the book’s launch at the Free Word Centre in London.

The launch of 'Over the Hills and Far Away' at the Free Word Centre in London, October 2014

We last saw Pat in 2015 at a 10th birthday celebration for Seven Stories hosted by our MP Nick Brown at the House of Commons.  This was also the occasion of the launch of Drawn from the Archive by Sarah Lawrance, which highlights some of the illustration treasures in the Seven Stories Collection, including a chapter on Pat’s book 1 Hunter.  I can still remember her delight at being part of the festivities and being part of our story too. She was a true friend indeed!

- Elizabeth Hammill, OBE
Co-Founder of Seven Stories