I hope you are now replete after taking afternoon tea with me, that you had a safe and uneventful journey home, and that in the not too distant future you will join me for High Tea, a quite different meal, but please allow me a little breathing space in which to prepare for our next get-together. I will also post a lovely recipe for scones before too long.
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It was my need to research butterflies that prompted my next topic: illustrated children’s books. I will shortly be writing an article for a magazine which will include butterflies and while researching this topic I recalled the 1973 children’s book, The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast by illustrator Alan Aldridge and poet William Plomer. Indeed, it won the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year Award. I have only just bought my copy, a reprint of the 1973 edition and in the back of the book it gives details of how Alan – who had been a creative consultant to The Beatles’ company Apple – spent a year preparing the 28 illustrations for this book. It says, “The appeal of The Butterfly Ball illustrations is partly rooted in the sense of mystery and darkness that coexists alongside sheer fantastic exuberance. They are mad, magical and surreal, qualities that children have long embraced in their reading, that appeal to many adults too.”
Well they certainly appeal to me! And once the book was published, “The prints just flew out,” Alan is quoted as saying. “It was phenomenal. We ended up printing 25,000 copies of the book in the first edition – sold out in three days.”
The one sad note is that at the moment of triumph, William Plomer (1903-1973) died on the day of the book launch, the eve of becoming a best-selling author.
I can’t remember when, as an adult, I became interested in illustrated children’s books. I loved Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series and the ballet books of Lorna Hill (about which I posted some months ago), and the school stories for an even earlier generation than my own by Angela Brazil, but then, as an adult, I found myself drawn towards some children books simply because I loved the illustrations.
Photo credits: The Butterfly Ball & The Grasshopper’s Feast, pictures: Alan Aldridge (Jonathan Cape and Templar Publishing); The Ship’s Cat, pictures Alan Aldridge (Jonathan Cape)
I bought The Ship’s Cat when it was first published in 1977. Again this was illustrated by Alan Aldridge with the verses by Richard Adams. I particularly love this Elizabethan cat illustration!
A favourite illustrator of mine is Nicola Bayley. I don’t know when I was first became aware of her lovely books. She was born in Singapore and studied art at St Martin’s and the Royal College of Art. I have a cutting from The Sunday Times magazine from 1979 where it says that she made her reputation with her Book of Nursery Rhymes (in 1975) …
Photo credit One Old Oxford Ox and Nicola Bayley’s Nursery Rhymes, pictures Nicola Bayley (Jonathan Cape)
and the article continues, “since then she has consolidated it with The Tyger Voyage [which, as yet, I do not have in my collection].” She speaks about her art thus:
“My pictures are full of objects that already surround me or that I lust after. One small painting takes me 10 days or so to complete. I can’t bear to sell anything because every picture conjures up past times. I suppose I must have files full of work but if I let something go it’s like parting with a piece of my life.”
I have no idea whether Nicola still keeps all her art work. This article, as I say, was written in 1979!
A favourite book of mine is The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber and illustrated by Nicola Bayley …
Photo Credit: The Mousehole Cat, pictures Nicola Bayley (Walker Books)
I must point out right away, for those of you living far away from Cornwall, in which this story is set, that the little fishing village of Mousehole is actually pronounced “Mowzell.” The book is based on the legend of Cornish fisherman, Tom Bowcock and the stargazy pie. The story goes that one very stormy winter, none of the fishermen of the village were able to leave the harbour and the village neared starvation. But Tom and his black cat, Mowzer, decided to brave the elements and put to sea in order to catch some fish. When they returned after quite an adventure, the entire catch was cooked into various dishes including stargazy pie.
Every year, on the 23rd December, Mousehole celebrates Tom Bowcock’s Eve and the harbour is illuminated with hundreds of coloured lights, some depicting boats. The pub serves stargazy pie in which the fish pie has pilchards with their heads pointing heavenwards through the crust. Antonia and Nicola’s book won the Illustrated Book of the Year for 1991.
More recently, while in the furniture outlet of one of our local charity shops, I came across a lovely copy of The Wind in the Willows. I already have the Ernest Shepherd illustrated edition (along with his Winnie the Pooh) but how could I leave such a lovely book there, illustrated by Inga Moore, when it was only £1? I really think I must look for some more of her illustrated books, they are such deliciously soft and gentle illustrations and they really appeal to me.
Photo Credit, The Wind in the Willows, pictures by Inga Moore (Walker Books)
These illustrations are quite different from the often surreal ones by Alan Aldridge. I could spend hours just looking at the interiors of the places in which Toad, Mole, Ratty and Badger live! Again and again I’m drawn towards interiors, even in children’s books!
Other books in my small collection include the not-so-beautiful Fungus the Bogeyman by Raymond Briggs (bought for our younger son but which found its way to my collection), and Captain Beaky Volume 1 and 2, by Jeremy Lloyd and illustrated by Keith Michell. I sometimes read the poems out loud to myself and my husband and we end up almost crying with laughter …
The bravest animals in the land
Are Captain Beaky and his band.
That’s Timid Toad, Reckless Rat,
Artful Owl and Batty Bat,
March through the woodland
That tell how they have righted wrongs.
Once Hissing Sid, an evil snake,
Kept the woodland folk awake
In fear and trembling every night
In case he gave someone a bite.
And that’s just the beginning of the band’s adventures. I also have the LP (that’s a Long Playing record for those brought up on CDs and downloads!) of these jolly poems read by Jeremy Lloyd.
I wonder whether you, like me, love illustrated children’s books? If so, do tell us which ones are your favourites.
Mice at a printing press in Nicola Bayley’s One Old Oxford Ox
Photo Credit: One Old Oxford Ox, pictures Nicola Bayley (Jonathan Cape)
Until next time.