Robyn Belton is one of New Zealand’s best known and most accomplished illustrators of children’s books. After studying at the Canterbury School of Fine Arts, Belton began her career in 1977 illustrating the School Journal. Belton’s first storybook was The Duck in the Gun, written by Joy Cowley, which won the Russell Clark Award in 1985. With its powerful anti-war message, the book quickly established an international following and was one of ten children’s books selected for the Hiroshima Peace Museum. With many major awards to her name, in 2006 Belton won the prestigious Margaret Mahy Medal.
Belton, Robyn (1947 –) is one of New Zealand’s best known and most accomplished illustrators of children’s books.
Belton grew up on a farm in Whangaehu, outside of Wanganui. At 12 she went to boarding school in Wanganui, and in 1965 she left home again to attend Ilam at the Canterbury School of Fine Arts. While at Ilam she studied painting with Russell Clark, and also met her husband Peter. Together the couple settled first in Levin and then Nelson where they lived for the next 25 years. In 1992 Belton and her family moved to Dunedin.
Belton formally began her career in 1977 as a freelance illustrator for the Education Department. As her reputation grew, she was asked to go to Wellington as part of a group of writers and illustrators to put together and revise the school reading programme.
Among the group assembled were Margaret Mahy and Joy Cowley, both of whom Belton continues to work with. In particular it was her relationship with Cowley and the creation of Greedy Cat (1983) that would make the illustrator loved in both New Zealand and the United States.
After many successful years illustrating the school journal, Belton’s first hardcover storybook was The Duck in the Gun (1985). The Duck in the Gun was written by Joy Cowley, and won the Russell Clark Award in 1985. The book quickly established an international following and its powerful anti-war message saw the book translated into Japanese. It was also chosen as one of the 10 Children’s Books selected for the Hiroshima Peace Museum.
In 1990 Belton published David’s Dad, written by Jennifer Beck. David’s Dad won the Choysa Illustrators Bursary 1990 and was selected for the Bologna Book Fair Exhibition in 1993. In 1991, and again working with Joy Cowley, Belton published Bow Down Shadrach. Bow Down Shadrach went on to be chosen Winner of the Aim Children’s Book of the Year 1992.
In 1997 Belton and Jennifer Beck published The Bantam and the Soldier. In that same year, the book won both the Picture Book Category of the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, and the Book of the Year. Jill Holt in the Listener writes The Bantam and the Soldier ‘is a distinguished work, in every way a triumph … A wonderful picture story book, it is the result of thoughtful, accurate research … [where] every picture enriches and expands the text and each double-page spread yields more on every reading’.
In addition to her work as a professional illustrator, Belton has taught and run workshops throughout New Zealand for both children and adults. She has participated in the Book Council’s Writers in Schools programme as well as teaching at Polytechnics in Nelson and Dunedin. In addition to workshops, Belton has spoken and published widely on the subject of illustration, and has had her work exhibited in New Zealand, Italy and Japan.
Writing for the 1990 Children’s Literature Conference: Exploring Our Cultural Roots, for the National Library of New Zealand, Belton writes , ‘ I think the task of an illustrator is to evoke an atmosphere, to suggest a feeling, rather than to describe what is going on in the story’. She goes on to say that her ‘way of working is to build around those words, so that if you look closely there can be other, incidental things going on in the illustration that can add a richness or bring another kind of interpretation to the script.’
Belton’s publications include: Bibblilibonty (1980), A Barrel of Gold (1981), The Chocolate Cake (1981), The Pie Thief (1982), The Ghost (1983), Giant Soup (1984), Crinkum Crankum (1985), What’s the Time, Mr Wolf? (1985), Follow-the-leader (1985), I Love my Family (1986), Baby Gets Dressed (1986), The Girl Who Washed in Moonlight (1986), My Tiger (1986), Donkey (1986), Greedy Cat is Hungry (1988), The Choosing Day (1988), Yellow Overalls (1989), Under the Rainbow – A Treasury of NZ Children’s Stories (1990), I’m Glad the Sky is Painted Blue (1993), The Boogie Woogie Man (1996), What Does Greedy Cat Like? (1996), The New Cat (1996), Rhymes With Cake (1997), Just Right (1997), The Balloon Ride (1997), Town Mouse and Country Mouse (1999), Fliers and Leapers (1999), Greedy Cat and the Birthday Cake (1999), The Pigeon Princess (2002)
The Christmas Caravan (2002) by Jennifer Beck and illustrated by Robyn Belton is about young Simon who enters his caravan home in the local best-dressed Christmas house competition. Simon and his mother collect rubbish and turn the waste into decorations- transforming the caravan park. At first the judges don't even come to look, but then the mayor arrives and Simon and his home are in for a few magic changes ...
Greedy Cat and the School Pet Show by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Robyn Belton (Scholastic, 2004). Kate is determined to take Greedy Cat to the school pet show, but Greedy Cat doesn't want to go ...
In 2005, Belton illustrated Marta and the Manger Straw, a Polish Christmas story by leading American writer Virginia Kroll, published in the USA. The work made the 2006 Storylines Notable Picture Book list.
Robyn Belton was the 2006 winner of the prestigious award for children's literature, the Margaret Mahy Medal. Belton teamed up again with Joy Cowley on Greedy Cat and Sneeze (Scholastic, 2006).
A new edition of A Duck in the Gun with illustrations by Robyn Belton was released in 2009 by Walker Books.
Belton is the 2009 recipient of the Russell Clark Award, for Herbert: The Brave Sea Dog. The Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) awards the Russell Clark Award annually for the most distinguished pictures or illustrations in a children's book with, or without, text. The work was also listed as a 2009 Storylines Notable Picture Book.
In 2010, Greedy Cat and the Goldfish, written by Joy Cowley and illustrated by Robyn Belton, was listed as a Storylines Notable Book.
Belton held the William Hodges Fellowship in 2011 to research and make illustrations for The Castaways of Disappointment Island.
The Teddy Bear's Promise, written by Diana Noonan, was published by Craig Potton Publishing in 2013.
The Bantam and the Soldier was reprinted in 2014 by Scholastic NZ to coincide with Anzac Day and the centenary of the First World War.
writers in schools information
Robyn Belton is available to speak to students of any age as part of the Writers in Schools programme. She is happy to talk about anything to do with creating picture books; the process of working with a writer; the process of illustration; and will happily do in-depth looks at the creation of The Bantam and the Soldier, The Duck in the Gun, Greedy Cat and so on. Robyn prefers smaller groups, but can adapt to the needs of the class. She is prepared to run workshops by prior arrangement.