Through my Uzès experience, I’ve known and written about several artists. Yet there was something extraordinary about meeting Simon James … aside from his status as an award-winning writer and illustrator.
Meeting Simon James
Living in a “red zone” COVID world, I miss the small, intimate art exhibitions that were so popular around town pre-virus. Meeting children’s book author and illustrator Simon James during his recent stay in Uzès was like a bright ray of sunshine. The creator of children’s stories that are sold and loved worldwide, Simon was as charming as his best-seller books. He was in town for his annual stay.
Simon and I first met from afar when he joined the Facebook group “Barefoot Uzès.” In April, he announced himself to the group by posting the first of his whimsical illustrations of Uzès landmarks. I wasn’t the only one who noticed the light-hearted artwork. There was a rush of comments from locals wanting to find out, “Who is Simon James?”
Through the lockdown, Simon amused us with one cartoon image of Uzès after another. Apparently, he thought of us as his art critics. He introduced new drawings, one by one, for over five months. Needless to say, he had found a group of adoring followers.
Who is Simon James?
Simon James is a thriving author, lecturer, and creator of much-loved picture books read by children, parents, and educators from the United Kingdom worldwide. With book titles like Baby Brains — the “smartest baby in the whole world” — Dear Greenpeace, George Flies South, The Boy From Mars, and dozens more, Simon’s creative stories have been translated into over 20 languages.
From the time he was a child, Simon knew he wanted to draw. Inspired by the books his father collected on cartoon illustrators, he dedicated himself to drawing; when his first book, The Day Jake Vacuumed, was published in 1989, Simon was discovered by Walker Books. Today, he is the winner of prestigious awards, including the Smarties Book Prize Silver Award, the New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year, and the Picture Book Prize, and he was the Overall Winner of the Red House Children’s Book Award.
The Private Vernissage
Like others who commented on Simon’s Facebook post, I was invited to view his work while he stayed in Uzès. Along with his partner, Laura, they arranged the terrace of their rooftop apartment as a “virus-conscious” mini art gallery. Guests only attended the vernissage by invitation, no more than two people at a time.
During my private visit with Simon and Laura, I learned why they were willing to give up their holiday anonymity. Simon wanted to share the artwork that brought him such joy during COVID. He admitted that during the lockdown, he hit a “stone wall” creatively. Like many of us, he felt stuck. Stymied. He was not inspired to write or draw, even though his publisher insisted. So he pulled out some of his favorite photos of Uzès and started “doodling.” The project gave him such pleasure he kept on. Publishing the illustrations on Facebook for those who love Uzès encouraged him. The more he published, the more he was inspired. He quickly discovered that the whimsical visions he created for himself also encouraged those who viewed them.
A Private Reading
As you might imagine, from a storyteller whose primary audience is fifth graders and younger, Simon is a “gentleman.” His smile and youthful, tall, lean frame give him an unassuming and approachable charm.
Not long after I arrived at Simon and Laura’s apartment for my private preview of his illustrations, Simon and I started talking about writing for children— a subject he’s indeed discussed many times. He pulled up a chair directly in front of me and began reading one of his favorite books— as if he was reading it for the first time.
As shown here, in his magical way, and with a few simple words, Simon told me about Mr. Scruff and the true nature of friendship.
A few simple words.
Thank you, Simon, for the reminder.