Jeanne Willis, butter and how to draw a cow

While we’re in a farmyard mood, I was quite pleased to find the two page advert for butter in the Guardian Weekend the other weekend. Surprised, but pleased, because it featured a large photo of Bookwitch favourite Jeanne Willis.

Jeanne Willis

It left me slightly confused at first, but I gather Jeanne has written a buttery sort of children’s book about some Friesian dairy cows, called The Tale of City Sue, which most likely isn’t going to pop up in ordinary bookshops, and I don’t actually know how or where you get hold of a copy, but I do hope it ends up in the hands of many children.

Perhaps if their parents buy the right kind of butter.

It’s been illustrated by Dermot Flynn, and he offers a short lesson on how to draw a cow. I feel even I could now draw a passable cow if I needed to.

The question I am left with is whether it’s all right to write a book for advertising purposes. I think it probably is. Just the other day I was reminded of the Weetabix atlas (simply because there is still a copy of it in Mother-of-witch’s bookcase), which was pretty good. Offspring must have been at the right atlasy stage when it was available to people who ate plenty of Weetabix. We had so many tokens to use (we saved them when there was nothing we wanted, and then used them all when there was something good to order) that we got a pile of atlases for school as well.

I think what I’m saying here is that Offspring did ‘read’ that atlas a lot, and that any book that comes to a reader and is appreciated is good, even if you do have to eat Weetabix, or butter. In our case it’s not even as though we didn’t buy books, but we felt it was a good offer.

So if I could just lay my hands on The Tale of City Sue, to read about this close-knit sisterhood of dairy cows…

One response to “Jeanne Willis, butter and how to draw a cow

  1. I actually thought about this question of writing for advertising quite a bit after reading this. I think the stigma against it is for mainly two reasons. First, writing is best done when the writers are passionate about something. It’s hard to be passionate about “my boss really wants me to help sell some butter,” so even in the hands of a good writer writing for advertisement is likely to be a bit sub-par. Second, advertising in general has a manipulative streak, and people don’t like that. It gets tarnished, perhaps not undeservedly.
    Still, I do agree that writing done in conjunction with advertising isn’t necessarily bad writing, and when it comes to kids in particular, “does it get them excited about reading?” is a bit of a bigger concern than the artistic purity of the work. And just because “do you want to sell some butter” isn’t exciting, that doesn’t mean it can’t lead to an idea about friendly talking cows that the writer likes quite a bit.
    Actually, I’m reminded of a book series that is very popular over here in the US; the American Girls. The whole point of the series is to sell dolls, and also doll clothing, doll furniture, little dolls for the dolls to play with, etc. Still, the stories were actually fairly good, and they got kids (mostly girls, with some exceptions like myself) excited about history as well as reading. There was one girl who escaped from slavery, and a Swedish immigrant who survived a cholera epidemic, for example.
    Sadly, I’ve heard the quality of the series has declined lately…. sigh.

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