Born and raised in a working-class family, Niki Daly has lived in Cape Town, South Africa, for most of his life, except for a spell in London, where he almost made it as a pop star.
A talented musician, artist, illustrator, writer, teacher, and publisher, it is as a creator of children’s books that Niki Daly is known and loved, and to which he now devotes himself full-time, illustrating both his own stories and those of others. His work is recognized worldwide, and he has received some of the world’s most prestigious prizes for children’s literature.
Not So Fast Songololo won the Katrine Harries Award for Children’s Book Illustrations in South Africa and a Parents’ Choice Award in the United States. In 1995, The New York Times selected Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky as one of the ten best illustrated books published in the USA. Also in 1995, Niki received an IBBY Honours Award for the illustrations in All the Magic in the World. Other acclaimed picture books include Jamela’s Dress, an ALA Notable Children’s Book, and Happy Birthday, Jamela!, a USBBY-CBC Outstanding International Book. In 2004, Niki was selected by IBBY as a Hans Christian Andersen Award nominee.
One of Niki’s favorite themes is the solitary child who discovers self-worth with the help of an adult. “As a solitary child myself, I suppose I have always counted on there being a powerful figure to open doors for me and to help me fulfill my dreams—in other words, a fairy godmother!” He says that he develops his ideas for a book through drawing characters and living with them for as long as it takes until they become real enough and believable. Niki believes that his working-class background has a specific influence on his work in that it makes him want to champion the causes of the have-nots. “I hope that my books have soul—which suggests that I adhere to values that are not purely material.”
Of his work as an illustrator Niki says: “It’s an act of revealing, done by throwing light on a story. The illustrator’s light comes through understanding, empathizing, and becoming part of the story. I try to observe with respect and care when I illustrate a story that is outside my own life’s experience. I look for meeting points between my life and the fiction . . . It’s an emotional involvement with fiction and my personal history.”
He adds, “Besides talent, the publishing of children’s books requires stamina and a realistic belief in oneself. All these qualities are constantly being challenged and drawn upon. So, I can’t help smiling when someone says to me ‘Oh, it must be lovely to make children’s picture books.’ I just don’t have the heart to weigh down this rosy notion with the realities, as I know them. Sure, it can be great fun, and it’s deeply satisfying to see one of my books in the hands of a child. It’s exactly the sight of a child engrossed in a book that makes me tremble with the thought, so succinctly expressed, by Walter de la Mare when he wrote: ‘Only the rarest kind of best in anything can be good enough for the young.’ ”
Niki Daly shares his home in South Africa with his wife, Jude, also an illustrator.