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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Happy Birthday, Raymond Briggs - January 18

Happy Birthday, Raymond Briggs - January 18

This week my youngest son said, "Dad, when are we going to celebrate another author's birthday?" I thought to myself, Argh! I wish I knew. 

Then I said to him, "Well, actually, I am working on that. I just don't know. I am reading lots of books by Raymond Briggs, Blair Lent, and Brian Wildsmith. I hope I come up with something for us to do."

I was hoping for something. Actually, I was hoping for snow. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. I thought it would be so cool to make a giant snowman just like the book, but the weather wasn't cooperating and I was running short on time before his birthday.

We had about an inch or two of snow on the ground leftover from a snowfall earlier in the week. No more snow was in the forecast. In fact, it was going to be 45 degrees! Then, I thought, Wait! The little snow we do have will start to melt and might be perfect for making a snowman. Maybe this could work....

Raymond Briggs is the author and illustrator of many books for children and adults including The Snowman, The Bear, Father Christmas, and The Man. At the age of fifteen, he left school and applied to Wimbledon School of Art with aspirations of becoming a cartoonist. The principal said, "Good God, boy, is that all you want to do?" Instead of illustration, he followed the path suggested by the school and studied painting for four years and continued his studies later at Slade School of Fine Art where he graduated in 1957. Raymond Briggs stopped pursuing painting soon after graduation and started work in illustration.

In 1958, he published his first book, Peter and the Piskies: Cornish Folk and Fairy Tales by Ruth Manning-Sanders. He met the idea of working on his first children's book with apprehension, "How has it come to this? Six years of fine art and now talking fairies...But it was absolutely marvelous. I realized fairy tales and nursery rhymes were the absolute crème de la crème for an illustrator. They are just brilliant. Full of magic. Full of madness. Full of craziness. Full of a kind of wisdom as well." Later, in 1966, he won the Kate Greenaway Medal for The Mother Goose Treasury which includes over 800 of Briggs' illustrations. "It slowly dawned on me that the best field for an illustrator is the picture book." (The Guardian, 2010).

The next stage of Raymond Brigg's life brought great change. He lost both of his parents in 1971 and his wife also died two years later. During this tough time, he remarkably created some of his best children's books, Father Christmas, Father Christmas Goes On Holiday, and Fungus the Bogeyman. Then, in 1978 he published his most popular book, The Snowman.

"I'd been involved in Fungus for over two years, immersed in all that slime and muck, so I dug out this thing out of my files - it had been in there for about six years - this idea of a snowman coming to life: nice and simple, clean and silent." (The Telegraph, 2007). The Snowman has sold over 8 million copies and the animated version of the story was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short in 1983.

Raymond Briggs explained his work this way, "I never think about my audience. Some people write for particular children, but I haven't got any kids, so I couldn't begin to think in that way. I just take something I want to explore - like Father Christmas, where he lives, what it's like to be him - and try to get it out of my head and on to the paper so that I'm satisfied with it." (The Guardian, 2014).

There really wasn't much snow on the ground, but it was melting just enough to become perfect packing snow for a snowman. Our neighbor had a reasonable amount of snow piled at the end of her driveway from the truck that plowed her driveway earlier in the week. I thought, I could carry the snow from there if I needed. It wasn't cold out either -- it got as high as 46 degrees. I thought, it might actually be enjoyable to be outside for a change. So, I decided to make THE SNOWMAN with my children.
Here is where we started. Not much snow at all.
A snowman this big just wasn't impressive enough.
So, I brought over more snow, but it was too skinny. 
I shoveled snow from the yard, the neighbor's pile, the side our driveway that had extra snow from where I shoveled earlier in the week. It was getting there, but our gloves were soaked and it was time to get my son from school.
We picked him up from school and he already had his snow gear on because it was "Friday Fun Day" and his class got to play outside. He helped me carry snow to the snowman, and then we rolled a big ball for the head. I don't have a picture because there was really now way to taking a picture of me carrying the big ball of snow!
Once the head was in place my son said, "Dad, I have coal for the eyes and buttons." He had pieces of cinder from our fireplace that he had confiscated and put in his box of driveway chalk. I said, "Where did you have that?" He replied, "I like to draw on the driveway with it sometimes." 
After some hard work carving and smoothing, we added a hat, a scarf, an orange for the nose, and the "coal" to bring The Snowman to life.
My daughter said, "You don't need anything for the mouth. Just use your finger like the boy from the book."
We went inside and they watched The Snowman while I prepared lunch. (Click here to watch the show on YouTube.)
They were so engrossed in the show that I was able to surprise them with snowman-shaped sandwiches -- raisins for the eyes and buttons, a carrot for the nose, and a caramel syrup smile.
The warm weather was creating problems for our snowman. I went out a few times throughout the day to strengthen and repair. But, after dinner we found him really leaning forward. To make matters worse, the weather forecast changed and it was going to RAIN! The Snowman would surely fall over by morning if we didn't do something. By morning the temperatures would be back below freezing so there was a chance to save him.
We had to try something. So, we did the unthinkable. We cut him in half, repositioned him, and patched in some snow.
He was standing much better, but I was sure our snowman was destined for the same fate as THE SNOWMAN in the book. If you know the story, the boy finds the snowman melted the next day -just a small pile of snow, a hat, a scarf, and the pieces of coal.
The whole family worked diligently to save The Snowman!
Things looked up. (so did his posture!)
We really hoped he would be there in the morning.
Goodnight, Snowman.
My oldest son woke me up in the morning. "Dad, the snowman is still standing." He survived the warm temperatures, being sawed in half, and the rain! He only lost his eyes, buttons, and his orange nose which were easily replaced. Now all we need is a little more snow to get him to stand up straight again.

1. Features - The Guardian (2015), Independent (2015), The Guardian (2014)Channel 4 (2012) The Telegraph (2007)
2. Video Interview with George Blacklock about experience at Wimbledon School of Art - YouTube
3. The Snowman Full Length movie - YouTube
4. Making of The Bear animated movie, YouTube - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
5. The Snowman and the Snowdog - YouTube
6. Audio Interview - The Guardian 2010

Birthday Source: The Guardian, Perma-Bound, Mazza Museum 2016 Calendar, Children's Book-A-Day Almanac

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