You know when you look back at your days of being a little kid, some things stand out? Val Biro stands out for me.
I can’t have been more than 6 or 7, when our teacher told us that a man who wrote children’s books was coming to give us a talk. (My memory may not be what it should be so for anyone that was there that day and remembers it differently I apologise).
As we gathered in the Assembly Hall, all sat crossed legged on the floor I had no idea how much this man was about to effect the outcome of my life.
Val Biro entered, he talked about Gumdrop and I seem to remember he read one of the stories, his book about an old vintage car and showed us what were illustrations from the book, and he drew pictures. To put it more accurately he drew ‘me’ a picture. He drew Gumdrop, as quick as a flash and brilliantly. I was awestruck. I may not have known it at the time, after all, how many small kids actually know what they want to do for the rest of their lives, but from that moment on I wanted to draw.
At the end, he packed us off with one of his Gumdrop books, and it was read to me for years and years and became my favourite and most prized book.
Fast forward to a time when I was sitting with my Grandad not many months after and he did exactly the same. He drew me a vintage car in one of his Architects pencils and I was gobsmacked. It was like magic. I spent the next years doodling, sketching, learning and drawing everything. My Nana and Grandad used to buy me The Beano, and Whizzer and Chips everytime I went to stay with them, and I would read it just like any kid, but I would also copy how the cartoonists would draw ears, hands, legs and all the things that bring them to life.
Now many years on I have my own son, nearly 4 years old and I found one of these old Gumdrop books in a box of my old books my mum gave me.
Now I read this to him every night, and guess what…. He now draws cars endlessly and is equally obsessed by them. So, Mr Val Biro, wherever you are, thank you. It is sad to think that perhaps you are no longer with us as this was an awfully long time ago and I imagine you were in your 40’s then. You will never have realised the impact you had on one small kid, and then his small kid, but I hope wherever you are that you are smiling at the thought of just how influential you, and old Gumdrop were.
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Update 10th February 2014
You are never going to believe this, but I got an email from Val Biro. He is alive and well, aged 92. I emailed a website created by Cameron Cunningham that is dedicated to Vals work. You can see that website by clicking here.
He clearly forwarded my email onto Val and I have just received the most beautiful email thanking me and inviting me and my son to go and visit Val at his home in Sussex. I suddenly feel 7 years old again.