Thompson, Colin (Edward) 1942-
THOMPSON, Colin (Edward) 1942-
PERSONAL: Original name Colin Willment; name legally changed; born October 18, 1942, in Ealing, London, England; married second wife, Anne, April 9, 1999; children: (first marriage) Charlotte; (second marriage) Hannah, Alice. Education: Attended art school in London, England. Hobbies and other interests: Rock-and-roll music, blues music.
CAREER: Writer and illustrator of children's books, 1990—. Worked as a silkscreen printer, graphic designer, stage manager, documentary filmmaker for British Broadcasting Corp., and ceramist.
AWARDS, HONORS: Primary English Best Picture Book Award, 1994, for Ruby.
SELF-ILLUSTRATED CHILDREN'S BOOKS
Ethel the Chicken, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1991.
A Giant Called Norman Mary, Hodder & Stoughton (London, England), 1991.
The Paper Bag Prince, Knopf (New York, NY), 1992, published as The Paperbag Prince, MacRae (London, England), 1992.
Pictures of Home, MacRae (London, England), 1992, Green Tiger Press, 1993.
Looking for Atlantis, MacRae (London, England), 1993, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.
Sid the Mosquito and Other Wild Stories, Knight (London, England), 1993.
Ruby, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.
Attila the Bluebottle and More Wild Stories, Hodder (London, England), 1995.
How to Live Forever, MacRae (London, England), 1995, Knopf (New York, NY), 1996.
Venus the Caterpillar and Further Wild Stories, Hodder (London, England), 1996.
The Haunted Suitcase and Other Stories, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1996.
The Tower to the Sun, MacRae (London, England), 1996, Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.
Castle Twilight and Other Stories, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1997.
The Paradise Garden, Random House (New York, NY), 1998.
The Puzzle Duck, Random House (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1999.
The Last Alchemist, Knopf (New York, NY), 1999.
Future Eden: A Brief History of Next Time, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 2000.
No Place Like Home, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2001.
Falling Angels, Hutchinson (London, England), 2001.
One Big Happy Family, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2002.
Round and Round and Round and Round, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2002.
Pepper Dreams, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2003.
The Violin Man, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2003.
OTHER CHILDREN'S BOOKS
Sailing Home, illustrated by Matt Ottley, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1996.
The Last Circus, illustrated by Kim Gamble, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1997.
The Staircase Cat, illustrated by Anna Pignataro, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1998.
The Dog's Just Been Sick in the Honda, illustrated by Peter Viska, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1999.
My Brother Drinks Out of the Toilet, illustrated by Peter Viska, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2000.
Unknown, illustrated by Anna Pignataro, Walker (New York, NY), 2000.
Laughing for Beginners, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2002.
There's Something Really Nasty on the Bottom of My Shoe, illustrated by Peter Viska, Hodder Headline (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Author and illustrator Colin Thompson is lauded as a particularly imaginative artist as well as a committed supporter of the environment. He is recognized for providing young readers with demanding, yet satisfying, books that are considered both thought-provoking and entertaining. As an illustrator, Thompson creates colorful, intricate pictures filled with both realistic and surrealistic images as well as visual jokes and intertextual references; his work has been compared to such artists as Graeme Base and M. C. Escher. According to Shelle Rosenfeld in Booklist, speaking of Thompson's drawings for The Last Alchemist, "each page is a treasure chest bursting with color, minute detail, wit, and surprise."
The author came relatively late to writing literature for young children and did not begin publishing his detailed and inventive picture books and fantasies until the early 1990s. Born in Ealing, England, in 1942, his early schooling in both Yorkshire and West London led to two years of art instruction in his hometown of Ealing and in Hammersmith. Employed for a period of time as a silkscreen painter and graphic designer, he later studied film and worked for the BBC creating documentaries. In the late 1960s Thompson moved to Scotland's Outer Hebrides Islands and in 1975 to Cumbria. During this time, he began specializing in ceramics while living in a remote farmhouse, and spent a good deal of his avocational time planting trees—an activity indicating his lifetime concern for the environment—raising his family, and caring for his numerous adopted pets. Thompson moved to Australia in 1995 and married his second wife, Anne, in 1999. The couple now live in the town of Bellingen, about eight hours north of Sydney.
Thompson's first children's book, the easy reader Ethel the Chicken, appeared in 1990. Its heroine, Ethel, lives in a box labeled First Class Oranges, and has been all but forgotten since the death of the old woman who used to feed her. A rat named Neville happens upon Ethel, and the two meet regularly until Neville's family moves away. Briefly overcome with loneliness, Thompson's talking chicken finds happiness and companionship once again when a human family moves into the old woman's house. Written with care and childlike simplicity, Ethel the Chicken is designed to teach young children how to read, to appeal to their sense of humor, and to address their particular anxieties about friendship, love, and loneliness. Growing Point reviewer Margery Fisher lauded the work, noting, "When words and illustrations consort perfectly together, expressing both the warmth of humor and the tinge of wit, the result is a masterpiece and I think Ethel the Chicken is a masterpiece."
Thompson published his second picture book, The Paper Bag Prince, in 1992. This tale, set in a town dump, expresses a simple yet strongly proenvironmental message. Its protagonist, an old man whose name has long since been forgotten, is now simply called the "Paper Bag Prince." He lives on the site, inhabiting a derelict railroad car and surviving off the town's refuse and junk. The arrival of Sarah from the city council, and her announcement that the dump is to be shut down proves a welcome harbinger to the prince; the land—once the possession of the old man—will again be his and nature can now begin to reclaim the soil so long abused by humans. A Kirkus Reviews contributor enthused, "In Thompson's lovely, intricate art . . . signs of life and renewal creep in everywhere. . . . More than just another ecological fantasy, this dump is a compelling symbol of the earth itself; it's to be hoped that, like the old man, humanity will be here to welcome nature back if the pollution ever abates." Writing in School Library Journal, Lori A. Janick commented that The Paper Bag Prince "effectively portrays the tenacity of nature as well as the resilience of the human spirit," while Books for Keeps critic Trevor Dickinson called the book one "which deserves to be widely popular through and beyond the school years."
Published in 1992, Pictures of Home represents something of a departure for Thompson. The work consists of many detailed illustrations of houses—which he originally produced for the Leeds Permanent Building Society—accompanying several short, poetic texts provided by British schoolchildren. These words describe each child's individual interpretation of home; for example, "Home is my parents. / You should have love in all homes. / Love is my parents." Although critics generally approved of Thompson's almost surreal paintings, many found the book to be uncohesive overall, noting that a true connection between text and illustration was lacking. However, a critic in Kirkus Reviews called Pictures of Home a "fascinating book, to pore over and share."
In his next picture book, Looking for Atlantis, Thompson returned to the precise joining of text and pictures that was so successful in his earlier works. A man looks back to his childhood and the return of his grandfather from an ocean voyage. Upon his arrival, the old man tells the boy of a sea chest that contains the secret of a path to Atlantis. The rest of the story is a celebration of the joys of observation, accompanied by Thompson's detailed and engrossing drawings. Reviewing Looking for Atlantis for School Library Journal, Barbara Peklo Abrahams wrote that Thompson's "watercolor masterpieces . . . contain myriad images that are striking, mysterious, dreamlike, witty, and eternal, and the simple, spare prose holds transcendental truth." Booklist's Mary Harris Veeder concluded that "Kids of the Where's Waldo? generation will . . . want to pore over the combination of fine, realistic detailing and fantastical images inch by inch."
The picture book mystery Ruby recounts two interconnected stories involving a red 1934 Austin Seven automobile called Ruby. One tale evokes Ruby's travels around the world to exotic locations such as China's Great Wall and England's Stonehenge, while the other presents a tiny family lured from the safety of their tree-home by the arrival of the shiny red car. The miniature family members find themselves trapped in the vehicle, while their son Kevin is doubly so, having locked himself inside a briefcase. As Kevin's family attempts to find the combination to the case in order to free the boy, Thompson invites his readers to do the same, informing them that Ruby's license plate number and the combination are one and the same. Only by actively exploring the book's illustrations can the mystery be solved, a challenge made by Thompson at the beginning of the book, which includes a contest to win the real Ruby. A Publishers Weekly critic commented, "Once again Thompson breaks barriers of narrative space and time with an ornately crafted, multilevel picture book," and a writer for Kirkus Reviews called Ruby "two wonderful picture books in one." This work was honored with the Primary English Best Picture Book Award in 1994.
Thompson displays his cleverness and artistic virtuosity once again in How to Live Forever. The story's hero, Peter, finds himself in a vast library of a thousand rooms purported to contain every book ever written. Peter learns that one book, alluringly titled "How to Live Forever," is missing. Eventually he happens upon the Ancient Child, a creature suspended in time, apparently because he has read the elusive book, and Peter wisely decides to give up his search. A Junior Bookshelf commentator praised the control of "Thompson's brief sentences and still more precise and exquisite drawings." Meanwhile, a Publishers Weekly critic warned that "many of the visual puns are too sophisticated for younger readers but will delight adults," adding that How to Live Forever is "a multi-layered book that excites interest on several levels."
Set in the not-too-distant future, The Tower to the Sun presents a planet cloaked in a yellow fog of pollutants that permanently obscure the sun. The story opens as the world's wealthiest man promises his grandson that he will one day show him a blue sky and the shining sun, saying, "What use is all my money if I can't build dreams?" The man institutes an ambitious plan to construct a magnificent tower to achieve his goal, incorporating into his edifice such famous structures as the Guggenheim museum, the Taj Mahal, the Chrysler Building, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. A Publishers Weekly critic mused, "With its rich visual tapestry, a subtle message about what constitutes real wealth and an upbeat ending, this one's a crowd-pleaser," while a Reading Time commentator called The Tower to the Sun an "extraordinary fantasy" and concluded that it "challenges readers' moral insights and at the same time leaves those readers aesthetically satisfied."
In The Paradise Garden a young boy leaves his troubled home to spend the summer in a lush garden in the middle of the city. There he finds true peace and, when he decides to return home, he takes with him the seeds to start his own garden. A Publishers Weekly reviewer found that "Thompson's quiet text sets a reflective mood. . . . In the jam-packed artwork, however, color and fantasy collide and multiply. Wherever the eye rests there is something to entertain, to tease and to perplex."
Thompson's The Last Alchemist tells of an alchemist hired by a king to make gold, a difficult task and with an impossible deadline. His many desperate efforts ultimately lead both the alchemist and the king to realize that there are more important things in life than gold. "The instructive tale takes place within a fantastical visual framework," according to a critic for Publishers Weekly, who noted that the book "seethes with the kind of curious detail and odd visual juxtapositions that have become [Thompson's] trademark." Rosenfeld described The Last Alchemist as "an enlightening allegory on material wealth versus the joy of emotional riches."
Future Eden: A Brief History of Next Time is a full-length novel in which Thompson tells a far-future story set on an Earth with few people left. Jay and his pet chicken Ethel, from previous Thompson books, gather a few others together for a strange quest to discover just why things have gone so wrong and how they might be able to improve the situation. John Peters in School Library Journal called the book a "wickedly barbed low fantasy." Peters concluded that "following the characters as they stumble into one near-catastrophe after another, Douglas Adams fans will feel right at home."
In a comment posted on his Web site, Thompson explained: "I have always believed in the magic of childhood and think that if you get your life right that magic should never end. I feel that if a children's book cannot be enjoyed properly by adults there is something wrong with either the book or the adult reading it."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 1, 1992, p. 678; April 1, 1994, Mary Harris Veeder, review of Looking for Atlantis, p. 1441; July, 1999, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Last Alchemist, p. 1947; May 1, 2000, John Peters, review of Unknown, p. 1680.
Books for Keeps, May, 1992, Trevor Dickinson, review of The Paper Bag Prince, p. 28.
Growing Point, July, 1991, Margery Fisher, review of Ethel the Chicken, pp. 5537-5538.
Junior Bookshelf, April, 1996, review of How to Live Forever, p. 63.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1992, review of The Paper Bag Prince, p. 926; April 1, 1993, p. 465; November 11, 1994, p. 1544; March 15, 1997, p. 469.
New York Times Book Review, October 23, 1994, p. 30; May 14, 2000, Adam Liptak, review of Unknown, p. 29.
Publishers Weekly, August 31, 1992, p. 79; April 19, 1993, p. 59; April 4, 1994, p. 77; October 24, 1994, p. 60; May 13, 1996, p. 74; March 10, 1997, review of The Tower to the Sun, p. 65; March 16, 1998, review of The Paradise Garden, p. 64; June 14, 1999, review of The Last Alchemist, p. 70; December 17, 2001, review of Falling Angels, p. 94.
Reading Time, February 17, 1997, review of The Tower to the Sun, p. 15.
School Librarian, February, 1997, p. 34.
School Library Journal, February, 1993, p. 80; July, 1993, p. 82; May, 1994, p. 118; December, 1994, Barbara Peklo Abrahams, review of Looking for Atlantis, p. 87; July, 1996, p. 74; May, 1998, Heide Piehler, review of The Paradise Garden, p. 127; September, 1999, Kate McClelland, review of The Last Alchemist, p. 207; July, 2000, Holly Belli, review of Unknown, p. 88; November, 2000, John Peters, review of Future Eden: A Brief History of Next Time, p. 162.
Wilson Library Bulletin, November, 1992, p. 75.
Colin Thompson's Home Page,http://www.colinthompson.com/ (December 11, 2002).*