Jill Murphy’s obituary | Children and adolescents

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Children’s author and illustrator Jill Murphy, who died of cancer at the age of 72, has been loved from generation to generation for her picture books that capture the essence of childhood in a way that both realistic and magical.

His career began at the age of 24 when his first book, The Worst Witch (1974), was published. An immediate hit, it has consistently been on every top recommendation list for seven year olds ever since. Equally successful have been his picture books on the daily life of the Bear family in Peace at Last in 1980 and of the large family in Five Minutes’ Peace in 1986. They and their sequels have been essential books for children and parents with their humorous interpretations of the trials of parenthood.

Jill’s creative production has been a huge success both commercially and in terms of critical acclaim. She has written and illustrated over 20 picture books and 10 novels, including eight from The Worst Witch series. She was an international bestseller – sales of her books on the Large family exceeded 5 million – and she won several illustration awards in the UK.

His skillfully crafted storytelling and the timelessness of his stories were such that they have been adapted repeatedly for film, television, and the stage. More recently, a new TV adaptation of The Worst Witch (2017) as well as a 2019 stage version, winner of the Olivier Award for Best Family Show, and an opera version of Peace at Last for three to five years. -old.

Five Minutes’ Peace by Jill Murphy, about an elephant family. Although the characters are animals, the situations are entirely human and her stories are full of understanding for parents and children alike. Photograph: Illustrations © 1986 Jill Murphy. Reproduced with permission from Walker Books, London

In words and pictures, Jill’s stories have a simple and natural appeal to children. She loved children and all the warmth and mess of family life. His stories about the Bear family and the elephant family with the somewhat subtle surname Large, which they wear with pride, reflect this.

Although the characters are animals, the situations are entirely human, and her stories are full of understanding and sympathy for parents and children alike. Neither critical nor disgusting, they reflect reality because they revolve around easily recognizable situations. Father Bear’s search for a quiet place to sleep in Peace at Last and Mrs Large’s need to find time for herself in Five Minutes’ Peace (1986) are both wonderfully sympathetic to some of the familiar parenting situations and rather difficult.

The playful and imaginary adventure is more child-centered Whatever the sequel! (1983), in which Baby Bear transforms a cardboard box into a rocket and blows into the fireplace.

In her words and especially in her detailed yet elegant illustrations, Jill’s stories were full of humor, imagination and a sense of play.

Much of her success lies in her confidence to create stories that avoid obvious messages and present them without being judgmental: Parents aren’t upset when they can’t sleep or have time to themselves, nor are they. they fail. It’s just one of those things that happens. Even in The Last Noo-Noo (1995), which is unusual to have an obvious purpose since Marlon’s grandmother does everything in her power to make him abandon her model, the subversion and humorous illustrations of Jill dilutes any meaning of the message and allows it to avoid feeling like a book created to solve a situation.

An illustration by Jill Murphy from Peace at Last (1980), featuring the Bear family.
An illustration by Jill Murphy from Peace at Last (1980), featuring the Bear family. Photography: MacMillan Children’s Books

Pamela Todd, Jill’s agent and friend, summed her up as “a natural, unstoppable storyteller with a formidable memory and an eye for the kind of revealing little detail that made everything she said to ring grateful and zingy. with humour”.

Jill loved meeting children and was an enthusiastic visitor to schools. She was also generous with her time in responding to children who wanted to know more about her work and life.

When asked where her stories come from, she always replied that she didn’t need to look for stories – everything she wrote was from her. This was most true in The Worst Witch, which she wrote while still in school and finished when she was still a teenager.

For the creation of the new girl Mildred Hubble and the way she doesn’t fit in, and in particular for the strict structure of the school and the unpleasantness of Headmistress Miss Cackle, Jill took direct inspiration from her own experiences at the Ursuline Convent school in Wimbledon, southwest London, where she was sent at the age of 11. It was a college school where, as Jill described it, she was “impossible to pin down.”

With the addition of Jill’s magical touches, Miss Cackle’s Academy became the setting for the story of the perfect school of magic and for Mildred herself, the schoolgirl to whom millions of readers over the years. years have identified themselves.

Jill sent The Worst Witch to three editors who turned it down. When Jill met the young publisher founders Allison & Busby they took a chance on the manuscript and published it to an enthusiastic response from critics and readers. Jill revisited Mildred’s school career in multiple sequels and ended it with a glorious end for her in Worst Witch’s First Prize (2018).

The Worst Witch Strikes Again by Jill Murphy, one in a long series about struggling wizarding school student Mildred Hubble.
The Worst Witch Strikes Again from Jill Murphy, one of the long-beloved and beloved series about struggling wizarding school student Mildred Hubble. Photograph: Greg Balfour Evans / Alamy

Born in London, Jill grew up in Chessington, then in Surrey, the daughter of Eric Murphy and Irene (née Reeney). Her father, who worked in an aircraft factory, had a talent for drawing which he shared with Jill, regularly slipping illustrated notes into his school lunchbox. Her mother, previously a librarian at the Harrods Lending Library, had wanted to become a writer and had encouraged Jill a lot.

She started making her first books at the age of six and had created a library of handmade books to share with her friends by the age of 11. Successful in elementary school, Jill floundered through high school and left at age 16 to take basic art classes. at the art schools of Chelsea then Croydon, before moving on to the Camberwell School of Art, where it lasted only one term.

When she left, she worked as a nanny for a year and in children’s homes for four years, an environment she loved.

Jill saw herself primarily as a writer. “I always write the story first. The illustrations really tell the story in pictures, so you can’t make the pictures until you have a story to illustrate! she told the children who asked. She also admitted to the children that having her books in libraries and bookstores was a dream come true.

The surprisingly elegant and slightly magical air Jill had on her when she was first successful author has never left her. Throughout her career, she has inspired immense respect and affection in the world of children’s books and beyond.

Jill, who moved to Cornwall, was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 46. He reappeared in 2015. She was married and divorced twice, first with Peter Wilks, then with Roger Michell. She is survived by her son, Charlie, from her second marriage.

Jill Murphy, children’s author and illustrator, born July 5, 1949; passed away on August 18, 2021


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