Tuesday 13 July 2021

Catch That Chicken! - Q&A with Angela Brooksbank

Today we welcome Angela Brooksbank onto Picture Book Party to talk about her new picture book, Catch That Chicken! written by Atinuke.


Lami loves chickens. She's the best chicken catcher in the village. She's fast, she's brave, and she always catches that chicken. Until the day she chases one up the baobab tree, slips ... and falls. How can she catch chickens with a sore ankle? Could there be another way to catch that chicken?

Told with great humour by Nigerian storyteller, Atinuke, this story of the headstrong, impetuous Lami will strike a chord with all children. The gentle message – to use quick thinking, not just quick running – gives an incredibly satisfying ending, while Angela Brooksbank's beautiful artwork captures the energy and the beauty of the West African setting perfectly.

Q&A with Angela Brooksbank

Can you tell us a little about your journey into illustration?

30 years ago, I did my degree in illustration at Chelsea School of Art. There, I made birds out of tin cans and collages out of old wallpaper, but I avoided learning to draw and paint!

After having jobs selling orange juice, doughnuts and being a nanny, I got a job in a small children’s publisher - making dummies and thinking up ideas for novelty books.  I loved it, and over time I began commissioning illustrators to make beautiful artwork. I dreamt that one day I would be able to paint and draw properly like the illustrators of the books we were making.

When my children were little, I went to Cambridge School of Art to do a masters in Children’s Book Illustration. I was determined to improve my drawing, learn how to paint and figure out how to be an illustrator!

I drew in nurseries and music groups, and I loved capturing lovely moments in my sketchbooks. Observational drawing helped me to understand the proportions of preschool children and babies.

 At Cambridge, I wrote my dissertation about “Play and the creative process” - the idea that, it is through play and experimenting that the best work is created, without too much concern for the end product.

Now, I like to experiment a lot. I find that all the best bits in my books have come from when I have rolled my sleeves up and had a good play with my materials.

After graduating from Cambridge, when Walker Books asked me to illustrate a story by Atinuke, I was overjoyed!

I love Atinuke’s stories and have a fascination for all things African.

How did you begin illustrating Catch That Chicken?

I was really excited when I first read the Catch That Chicken! text because I love drawing chickens. I think they are so funny!

I have spent quite a bit of time trying to catch chickens, and I love cuddling them, just like Lami in the story!

I began illustrating Catch That Chicken! by sketching out the characters. I looked at references of people catching and holding chickens!

My drawings are always very scribbly at first, whilst I look for shapes and find the right energy.

I drew chasing poses and tried to figure out each of the characters in the book.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your artistic process?

I begin a project by gathering lots of photographs. I make a big scrapbook of images, which I look at to help me make the drawings authentic. I have pictures of chickens, motorbikes, African long-horned cows, Baobab trees, cooking pots, hairstyles, facial expressions and even shadows in the hot sun!

Then I start with thumbnails, planning out the spreads. A huge amount of thinking, adjusting and discussing happens between the designer, the editor and the author to get just the right combination of pictures to tell the story. It is lots of fun, but it takes a long time!

Once the pages are all worked out, I start playing with paint, pencils and inks.

I use paintbrushes, rollers, sponges, toothbrushes to make different lines, textures and patterns.

I make textures by printing with all sorts of things like an oven mit, lace, feathers, pom poms, corks, pen lids, buttons, sponges and even Lego!

I scan the paintings, textures and drawings and put them all together in photoshop. This helps to organise my rather complicated and chaotic process. I can also tidy up the smudges and pick out the best bits.

What was your favourite spread to illustrate in Catch That Chicken?

My favourite spread shows the busy compound where Lami and her friends are going about their day. I so enjoyed putting in all the little details of happy family life.

It took ages to paint all the people chatting, playing, cooking and gardening.

Tell us about the chickens in this book!

The little group of chickens that Lami chases in the book are the same five chickens.

I named them Benin, Togo, Mali, Guinea and Nigeria after African countries just so I could check them for consistency from page to page.

Nigeria is Lami’s favourite chicken, and Nigeria is the country where Catch That Chicken! takes place and where Atinuke is from!

What are your favourite picture books, both older and more recent?
I love older books illustrated by Gerald Rose, Satoshi Kitamura, Brian Wildsmith, Eric Carle, Ezra Jack Keats, Tove Jansson and David McKee.

More modern books that I have enjoyed with my children are Shoebaby by Polly Dunbar, So Much by Helen Oxenbury, Fleabag by Helen Stephens and Mr Magnolia by Quentin Blake.

My studio is full of beautiful picture books that I love. 

A special thanks to our guest this week, Angela Brooksbank!
Catch That Chicken! is now available in paperback from all good booksellers.