P.J. Lynch, a Belfast born illustrator and winner of two Kate Greenaway medals is something of a J.D. Salinger of children's illustration. Despite our times that so often demand celebrity and self-exposure, it is rather hard to find much information about him, leaving you, as it mostly should be, to judge and enjoy him for the work he produces.
Lynch was born into a working class fmaily in Northern Ireland. His mother came from the country and he had the opportunity to spend periods of time in his childhood on the family farm. He took his art training in Brighton Art College. After Belfast, he lived for a period of time in England and then settled in Dublin, Ireland. As can be seen by the books he chooses to illustrate and as he has indicated himself, Ireland, its history and its culture have a continuing significant influence on his work.
Much of Lynch's works are illustrations of traditional tales and Irish legends, though, oddly, the two books for which he is most noted fall into neither category. He works in watercolor and gouache paints and is noted for the realism and accents of detail in his paintings. He is very much a traditionalist, looking to N.C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, Edmund Dulac, and Arthur Rackham as inspirational influences on his work.
One of the pleasures of Lynch's work is how much detail he packs into his pictures. If you are unfamiliar with his style, take visit to the PJ Lynch Gallery to see some of his work. His realism is not that of a photographic snapshot but rather of an ambience with the realism accentuated by selected details. Lynch will often create an unusual angle of view of a scene that helps move a story along and, which combined with the telling details within the frame of the picture, is what I think make his style so effective.
Lynch spends a great deal of time researching the visual aspects of a story before he ever puts brush to canvas. This research takes the form of discussing with the author, sometimes visiting the locations where the tale is set, researching clothing and architectural styles for the period in which the story occurs, collecting pertinent photographs, etc. This research period along with the act of painting the pictures themselves means that Lynch has been producing about a book a year since his first publication in 1986 (A Bag of Moonshine by Alan Garner.)
The two books for which Lynch is most noted and for both of which he won the Kate Greenaway medal are The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski and published in 1995, and When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest and published in 1997.
We were not familiar with Lynch's work at the time, but even so we were fortunate enough to pick up a copy of Jonathan Toomey, the year it was published and it has been a favorite Christmas-time story ever since. Although Toomey and Jessie, are about entirely different subjects, they both are emotional stories that are kept on a tight leash. There is not a lot of gushing but as you read them to your child, like as not, there will be a scene or two where your voice catches. Partly this controlled emotion is attributable to the respective authors, but I think part of it is also a testament to Lynch's visualization of the story and how to make it "work".
If you have not read any of the books illustrated by Lynch, I suggest starting with The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey and then add When Jessie Came Across the Sea. Catkin by Antonia Barber is not currently in print but has always been a favorite among our children. Catkin is told in the style of folktale and is basically a retelling of the Demeter and Persphone myth in an unidentified western European setting. I hope it will be republished soon, but till then, keep your eyes open in your local used book store. After that it kind of depends on your interests. I am inclined towards Oscar Wilde then the Irish folktales and then the Anderson stories but your children are likely to enjoy any of them even if solely for Lynch's beautiful paintings.
East O' the Sun and West O' the Moon by Author, illustrated by P. J. Lynch Suggested
Grandad's Prayers of the Earth by Douglas Wood, illustrated by P. J. Lynch Suggested
Ignis by Gina Wilson, illustrated by P. J. Lynch Suggested
Melisenda by Edith Nesbit, illustrated by P. J. Lynch Suggested
Oscar Wilde Stories for Children by Oscar Wilde, illustrated by P. J. Lynch Suggested
The Bee-Man of Orn by Frank RIchard Stockton, illustrated by P. J. Lynch Suggested
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski, illustrated by P. J. Lynch Highly Recommended
The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christensen Anderson, illustrated by P. J. Lynch Suggested
When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest, illustrated by . J. Lynch Recommended
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, illustrated by P. J. Lynch Suggested
Tales from Shakespeare by Tina Packer, illustrated by P. J. Lynch Suggested
In order of publication
A Bag of Moonshine by Alan Garner and illustrated by P.J. Lynch
Raggy Taggy Toys by Joyce Dunbar and illustrated by P.J. Lynch
Melisande by E. Nesbit and illustrated by P.J. Lynch Suggested
Fairy Tales of Ireland by William Butler Yeats and illustrated by P.J. Lynch Suggested
East o' the Sun and West o' the Moon translated by George W. Dasent and illustrated by P.J. Lynch
The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Anderson and illustrated by P.J. Lynch Suggested
The Candlewick Book of Fairy Tales by Sarah Hayes and illustrated by P.J. Lynch Suggested
The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson and illustrated by P.J. Lynch Suggested
Catkin by Antonia Barber and illustrated by P.J. Lynch Recommended
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski and illustrated by P.J. Lynch Highly Recommended
The King of Ireland's Son by Brendan Behan and illustrated by P.J. Lynch Suggested
When Jessie Came across the Sea by Amy Hest and illustrated by P.J. Lynch Recommended
An ABC Picture Gallery by P.J. Lynch Suggested
Grandad's Prayers of the Earth by Douglas Wood Suggested
The Names upon the Harp: Irish Myth and Legend by Marie Heaney and illustrated by P.J. Lynch
Ignis, by Gina Wilson and illustrated by P.J. Lynch Suggested
The Bee-Man of Orn, by Frank R. Stockton and illustrated by P.J. Lynch Suggested
A Christmas Carol, By Charles Dickens and illustrated by P.J. Lynch Recommended