Beatrice Alemagna's Unique and Charming Picture Books October 31 2018Alemagna manages to retain a recognisable aesthetic through all of her work, but for each new book she utilises different materials. Her illustrations have used collage, cutouts, paint, textured paper, transparent elements and coloured pencils.
Our Top Five Picks for Older Readers September 12 2018
Our lovely customers come to us from all over Ireland and beyond for the best in illustrated picture books. Most people are either buying for young children or buying for themselves, because of an interest in art and design. But did you know we’ve also got a carefully selected range of chapter books for slightly older children? And of course for adults who love a bit of nostalgia and magic! Here are some of our favourite chapter books for slightly older audiences. Next time you pop into Tales for Tadpoles, make sure you ask to be shown the chapter book shelf!
Kate DiCamillo’s instant classic The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane had to be first on our list. This is one of the only books in the shop which is equally loved by every member of the team. It even made a couple of us cry…in a good way! It tells the story of Edward, a toy china bunny who thinks ever so highly of himself. Edward has very little regard for anyone else, including the girl who dotes on him, dresses him in fine clothes, and sets him a place at the dinner table. But when Edward finds himself getting lost, he sets out on a journey that introduces him to all kinds of people and teaches him the true meaning of love.
We love hearing feedback from customers who take on our recommendations, and we've never once heard anything less than a rave review from anyone who bought The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. We even heard back from one customer about a little girl who loved it so much that she was getting her very own china bunny for Christmas! This book is perfect for confident young readers, or small children who can concentrate on longer stories when they're read aloud. It will also delight adults.
Set in Krakow, Poland, in 1939, The Dollmaker of Krakow is an example of magic realism, blending historical fiction with fantasy. An enchantment brings a little doll named Karolina to life in a toyshop. She becomes friends with the gentle, broken-hearted Dollmaker who owns the shop. When the darkness of the Nazi occupation sweeps over the city, Karolina and the Dollmaker must use their magic to save their Jewish friends from a terrible danger, no matter what the risks.
R.M. Romero weaves together magic and folklore in a way that both adults and confident younger readers will enjoy. Intricate silhouette illustrations by Tomislav Tomić adorn every page of this beautiful book.
This is another instant classic from Kate DiCamillo. A little boy called Peter is sent to market to buy bread, but he instead spends the money on a fortune teller in the hopes that they can help him find his long lost sister. The fortune teller tells Peter he must look for an elephant who will lead the boy to his sibling. The boy goes home brokenhearted at this impossible prospect. Until suddenly, an elephant appears in his town!
This is a magical story for any age, suitable for any child who has moved onto longer chapter books. Any child who's reading books like the Harry Potter series will be well able for this!
Heralded as an "outrageous and controversial classic" by its publisher Phaidon, this illustrated novella by Tomi Ungerer is hilarious, but also quite touching! It's branded as controversial because of the way it subverts traditional, mushy children's bedtime stories. No Kiss for Mother tells the story of Piper Paw, a little kitten who hates being mollycoddled by his mother, and refuses to kiss her. This is the perfect story for kids who like a bit of mischief in their stories. Fans of Roald Dahl will take to Ungerer's edgy humour with relish.
We've stocked Jane, the Fox and Me since our Drury Street shop opened, and it's one of our most underrated books! This graphic novel tells the story of Helene, a young girl who escapes her bullies and loneliness by burying her nose in the novel Jane Eyre.
Illustrator Isabelle Arsenault uses different styles and colouring to differentiate between the story of Helene and her heroine Jane. As Jane grows in confidence and begins to make friends, hints of bright colour from Jane Eyre's life sneak into Helene's monochrome world. This is a great book for adults or for young people transitioning to adulthood.
We're always happy to recommend a book for readers of all ages and abilities! Pop into our shop at 47 Drury Street, Dublin 2, call us for a chat on 01 679 2155, or drop us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org for a personalised recommendation.
What "Square" Taught Us About Art August 02 2018
Anyone who has ever been to Tales for Tadpoles knows how much we love Jon Klassen! This Canadian illustrator was the focus of one of our very first Illustrator of the Month blogs, and he makes up one half of the dynamic duo of modern children’s books, along with the writer Mac Barnett. Their latest collaboration, Square, is the sequel to Triangle and the second instalment in what will be a shape-based trilogy.
Square is a very special book, not only because it displays Klassen and Barnett’s now iconic sharp sense of humour and unique aesthetic, but because it manages to fit an important art history discussion into a 36 page picture book! Like all of Klassen and Barnett’s books, it can be read on many levels and enjoyed by both adults and children. Here are some of the reasons we think Square is not only a hilarious picture book, but also a profound meditation on the nature of art!
Square asks the question, does art need to be created specifically, or can anything be art?
Square is a character who spends his days pushing inanimate squares up a hill. This is his work. But when Circle comes along, she sees Square’s everyday shapes as works of sculpture. Sometimes naming something as art is all it takes for us to suddenly see it in a whole new light. If Square is an everyday working shape, Circle is the gallery owner who sees his work, puts it in a museum and declares him a star!
The artist Square and his "ready-made" art pieces.
Circle could well be a fan of Marcel Duchamp, a twentieth century French-American artist who turned the art world on its head when he displayed “ready-made” items like urinals and spades in galleries, and called them art. Maybe Square’s blocks will hang in New York City's Museum of Modern Art one day too.
Some artworks only become finished by “accident”.
Displaying ready-made objects as scupture is not the only similarity between Square and the modern artist Marcel Duchamp. Both Square and Duchamp considered their pieces unfinished until an accident made them complete.
The Large Glass, an art piece by Marcel Duchamp
Duchamp started this glass sculpture in 1915. It’s officially called “The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even”, but, standing at 9 feet tall, it is most often simply referred to as “The Large Glass". Having worked on it for eight years, Duchamp stopped adding to the piece in 1923. However, instead of declaring it finished, he felt it was still missing something and announced that the work would be displayed as unfinished.
Two great artists contemplate one another: left, Square, right, Marcel Duchamp.
In 1926, while the piece was in transit from an exhibition to a collector’s house, it was accidentally damaged, sending a huge crack through the glass. Marcel Duchamp, delighted with this spontaneous addition to his work, finally declared it finished! When Square falls asleep in the rain, he doesn’t consider that the rain could be an important addition to his artwork. But his panic at his sculpture of Circle being unfinished is assuaged when Circle notices her reflection in the rain which has pooled in Square’s haphazard circle of rocks. Like Duchamp’s piece which was accidentally finished by a crack in the glass, Square’s sculpture is finished accidentally by the rain.
Genius is in the eye of the beholder
Circle asks Square to make a sculpture of her, which she will come back for tomorrow. And Square panics! He falls asleep in a circle of rocks that he has whittled away to nothing, and wakes up soaked with rain, with Circle on her way! But when Circle sees her reflection in the puddle of water Square has unwittingly collected in the rocks, she is amazed at his talent. Sometimes the artist themselves can have no faith in their own work, and it takes someone else to acknowledge its greatness in order for them to see that their work is important.
As well as being a lesson in art history, Square is a very accurate reflection of the process of creativity! Through our empathy for Square we gain an insight into the life of every modern artist.
The creation of great art is usually filled with panic and self doubt
Jon Klassen is known for the expressive simplicity of his character design. While his characters’ bodies remain still, he uses their eyes to express what they’re feeling. This moment of pure panic in Square’s eyes is instantly recognisable to a freelance artist, or anyone who has ever worked to a deadline. As is this next moment…
There is a delicate balance between knowing when something is finished and overworking it.
After Circle asks Square to create a portrait of her, Square gets to work on his block, trying to shape it into a sphere. But he ends up chipping away at it so long there’s soon nothing left! Many artists speak about the struggle of knowing when something is finished versus adding too much to it and ruining it.
No one really knows what they're doing
This exchange between Square and Circle seems like it could be happening at a gallery opening, or the lecture hall of an art history class. Mac Barnett’s witty, minimal wording lets us into the secret that Square really has no idea what Circle is talking about when she starts talking about art. And we immediately love Square for it! The secret of the art world, and the world of adults in general, is that no one really knows what they're doing.
Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett’s books are fun for both adults and children because they always leave some things open for the reader, they allow both children and adults to make up their own minds about what has happened. In Klassen's debut I Want My Hat Back, we’re allowed to speculate on the fate of the rabbit who mysteriously disappears at the end of the book.
And in Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, even the youngest readers can notice details in Klassen's illustrations that aren’t alluded to in Barnett's text.
Square is no different; the book ends with a question addressed to the reader. After Circle declares Square a genius for his accidental artwork, the book asks, “But was he really?” What do you think, is Square a genius, or is he just a square? Leave a comment below and let us know!
You can buy Square here, and be sure to have a look at all of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s other brilliant books.
Robert Ingpen's Magical Classics June 28 2018
Every month we blog about an illustrator that we love, giving you the opportunity to learn more about your favourite artists' backgrounds and influences, or to discover great picture books you may not have heard of. We've covered everyone from contemporary picture book makers like Chris Haughton, to best loved classic illustrators like Quentin Blake. This month, we’ve chosen Robert Ingpen, a much respected artist who has illustrated his own versions of many of children’s literature's most famous titles. Robert Ingpen’s work is beloved among other illustrators and authors, Michael Morpurgo called his drawings “utterly compelling”, and his versions of the children's classics feel like the definitive editions.
A life of learning
Ingpen was born in 1936, and grew up in the coastal city of Geelong in Australia. Like another of our favourite Australian illustrators, Shaun Tan, the landscape and Aboriginal history of this vast country have informed his work. Ingpen's childhood was full of stories and drawing. His neighbour, a portrait photographer, used to “read” to him from a large red book, but instead of reading what the text said, she would make the stories up as she went along! The young Ingpen found this magical, and he credits this neighbour with introducing him to the limitless possibilities of imagination. Ingpen studied design and illustration at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, and while studying, made it his business to learn about everything that went into making a book, from paper making to the technical skills of illustration. He came to see the book as an art form that, instead of being kept for display in a gallery, is for everyone to interact with or own.
After college, Ingpen was recruited by a national scientific organisation in Australia, and tasked with communicating new scientific discoveries to farmers and fishermen so that they could implement the knowledge in their work. He began using local folklore and old tales to get the information across in an accessible and engaging way. Since his early career, a passion for conservation and heritage has been a running theme in his work. Ingpen’s art can be seen across the Australian state of Victoria in publicly commissioned murals, tapestries and sculpture. His work has even entered into daily life on postage stamps.
Ingpen creates his illustrations traditionally using paint and paper, often in watercolour or tempera (paint mixed with other liquid, usually egg). He imports the paper he paints on specially from Germany, and he’s used the same type exclusively for almost forty years. Before setting a brush to paper though, his designs are always carefully worked out in sketchbooks. Wonderlands: The Illustration of Robert Ingpen contains lots of information and references for Ingpen's work, with notes and sketches from the artist himself. You can buy it here.
Robert Ingpen has illustrated versions of some of the most loved children’s books ever written, his series of Children’s Classics are beautiful books that we’re now delighted to stock! In the introduction to Wonderlands, Elizabeth Hammill writes that when he illustrates the classics, Ingpen “journeys into the landscapes of their creators’ minds”. He carefully considers the nature of every story he illustrates in order to capture its essence, and this makes his editions of the classics feel like the most authoritative versions.
Robert Ingpen’s first attempt at illustrating Peter Pan came about at the tender age of seven! (His amazingly accomplished childhood illustration is featured in Wonderlands: The Illustration Art of Robert Ingpen). In 2004 he was asked to illustrate its centenary edition, and it was this book that launched his series of illustrated children’s classics.
J.M. Barrie's novel is still as magical today as when it was written, and Ingpen's illustrations make this edition the perfect one to read aloud with children of any age.
The Jungle Book
Robert Ingpen’s background in nature drawing served him well when it came to illustrating Rudyard Kipling’s classic, The Jungle Book.
His illustrations of Mowgli and his family of wolves, as well as the other animals the story collection, bring us to the heart of the Indian jungle.
Ingpen’s work for The Secret Garden is slightly darker than some other illustrators’ versions, (like this edition illustrated by Inga Moore). His illustrations emphasises the transformative effect that the garden has on the lonely children.
Each chapter of the book opens with a beautiful botanical illustration, with the Latin name of the plant written underneath. This draws readers into the true nature of the story, and lets children learn about plants and flowers just like the children in the book. This edition of Ingpen's version of the book, embossed with a plant motif on its green hard cover, is a beautiful way for children to discover this story.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of the great classics of children’s literature; since its original publication in 1865 it has never once been out of print! The book has countless editions, and many of the world’s most accomplished illustrators have taken on the project of illustrating it. Everyone from Tove Jansson to Helen Oxenbury have created their own take on Lewis Carroll’s surreal Wonderland.
Robert Ingpen’s version of Wonderland is a hazy dreamland; his characters are vivid, but his backgrounds swim out of focus. His Alice is red haired, and wears the same frock and apron as Sir John Tenniel’s original drawing in the book’s first edition. Her bemused expression in Ingpen’s illustrations is loyal to the sense of bewilderment and detachment that Alice experiences throughout the book; staying quite calm while all around her degenerates into nonsense!
In contrast to his illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where the story’s landscapes are insignificant, Ingpen clearly puts a lot of thought into the backgrounds in The Wind in the Willows.
The English countryside which the characters call home is rendered in luscious greens and oranges, and the interiors of the houses the story’s creatures live in are highly detailed. The interiors give a marvellous sense of each character.
Ingpen writes in Wonderlands:The Illustration Art of Robert Ingpen, “There are some stories that transcend the original inspiration of their authors and take on a life of their own. Treasure Island is, without a doubt, one of these stories."
It’s the artist’s passion for the texts he illustrates that makes Ingpen's work so perfectly suited to each individual story.
Whether you're looking to introduce a child to the stories you loved when you were young, or to revisit your favourite children's books through great art, you can't go wrong with one of Ingpen's classics.
If you got Wonderland
Pick up this tote bag so you can point sheepishly at it when you turn up late for all your appointments!
Or transport yourself to Wonderland when you read one of our beautiful illustrated editions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
If you got Moominvalley
Indulge your most Moominous self by picking up a print of the eccentric Moomin family.
Or delve into the world of Moominvalley by reading one of Tove Jansson's magical Moomin novels, reissued in glorious vintage editions.
If you got Wonka's Factory
Snuggle up and dream of confectionary delights with your own Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cushion.
If you got Pettson's Farm
If you got the Hundred Acre Wood
Revisit the Winnie-the-Pooh books as they were originally published. You'll feel like you're really in that mellow world with Pooh and pals!
Find all of the original Pooh books here. We've also got a range of E.H. Shepard's illustrations available as prints, to help you surround yourself with Winnie-the-Pooh goodness. And remember you can pop into our shop to have your print framed.
The Incomparable Quentin Blake! May 15 2018
Every month we blog about an illustrator that we love, giving you the opportunity to learn more about your favourite artists' backgrounds and influences, or to discover great picture books you may not have heard of. We've covered everyone from contemporary picture book makers like Chris Haughton, to the much loved creator of the Alfie series, Shirley Hughes. For May, we’ve chosen one of the world’s most successful and loved illustrators, Quentin Blake.
Quentin Blake is best known for his work with Roald Dahl. He illustrated all of Roald Dahl’s most popular novels, including Matilda and The B.F.G; these two masters of children's literature are inextricably linked in our imaginations. But Blake has also collaborated with a range of other writers, including Michael Rosen and Russell Hoban, and written his own books. To date he has illustrated over 300 books! Quentin Blake is one of the most popular children’s illustrators alive, but his mainstream popularity doesn’t make him any less daring and artistic. His artwork in books like Michael Rosen’s Sad Book is challenging and experimental.
Photo of Quentin Blake via BBC news
As a child growing up in the suburbs of London, Quentin Blake was always interested in drawing. His first published illustration appeared in Punch when he was only 16 and still at school. He studied English at Cambridge, and later attended a life drawing course at Chelsea Art School. This study of life drawing was a key influence on Blake’s style. His work is loose, and his figures don’t always follow strict anatomy and proportions. But his command of human gesture and his expressive sense of movement is unparalleled.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cushion. Buy it here.
Blake has always made a living as an illustrator, he worked on commission for years for magazines like Punch and The Spectator. For a number of years he was also a lecturer and staff member at the Royal College of Art. But what he always wanted most was to illustrate a whole book. Having no idea how to go about making this a reality, he asked his friend John Yeoman to write something that he could illustrate. The result was A Drink of Water, first published in 1960.
Buy this book here.
This charming collection of animal stories was recently reissued for the first time in around fifty years by Thames & Hudson. Their facsimile edition reproduces the book exactly as it was on its first publication. Quentin Blake’s illustrations are rendered in just three shades, black, sandy brown and pink. Working in a limited colour range was common at the time, because of production methods. The reissued edition of A Drink of Water offers us a chance to own a piece of illustration history! (You can buy it here or in store).
Roald meets Quentin
Quentin Blake is brilliant at capturing the full range of human emotions in his drawings, and this made him a perfect partner for Roald Dahl’s exuberant children’s novels. Their collaboration began in 1978 with The Enormous Crocodile. The two masters found a compatible spark in eachother’s work from the very beginning. Quentin Blake has said that the element of exaggeration and comedy in Dahl’s writing suited his style of drawing gestures and movement.
Blake has said that his favourite book of Dahl’s he ever worked on was The B.F.G. By this stage in their collaboration, the two men were in close communication about their ideas. Blake’s drawings helped to develop Dahl’s text, and vice versa.
Roald Dahl originally envisioned the B.F.G. wearing large boots and a leather smock, but when the author received drafts of Blake’s illustrations, he decided the outfit didn’t suit. Instead, Dahl suggested that the B.F.G should wear a type of Norwegian sandal which the author himself wore. When Quentin Blake had difficulty visualising the sandal from a description on the phone, Roald Dahl sent him one in the post! The sandal itself is now displayed as an artefact in The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, in Buckinghamshire.
Quentin Blake’s skill and uniqueness as an illustrator means he can retain his recognisable style while bringing something new to each project he works on. With every book he works on, he adjusts his materials and style slightly to suit the mood of the work. He has said that the most challenging illustration he ever had to create was this one from Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, of the author being sad but pretending to be happy.
"This is me being sad", from Michael Rosen's Sad Book
Michael Rosen’s Sad Book is an immensely moving and honest portrayal of grief and sadness. In it, Michael Rosen talks about the death of his son Eddie, but he also speaks about sadness more generally, and the way it affects everyone. Quentin Blake’s illustrations for the book express the inexpressible; the blinding pain of grief.
"Then I look like this. And there's nothing I can do about it."- Michael Rosen's Sad Book
But his illustrations also show the glimmer of hope and human kindness that gets us through the hardest times. His deft touches of yellow brighten the book’s pages, just as Rosen’s happy memories of his son can bring him joy even alongside his sadness.
Every writer's favourite illustrator
Michael Rosen has said that he wrote the text for the Sad Book in one go, and that it wasn’t really a book until Quentin Blake’s work made it one. It’s testament to Blake’s listening skills and sensitivity that authors seem to love him, and he’s had long standing collaborations with not only Roald Dahl, but Rosen, John Yeoman and Russell Hoban. Russell Hoban was an American writer who lived most of his life in England. His collaborations with Quentin Blake include one of the newest additions to our shelves, The Marzipan Pig!
The Marzipan Pig is the story of an unfortunate cake decoration who gets wedged behind the sofa and forgotten. As the sugary pig grows greasier and greasier, his loneliness grows. Until, one day, he is gobbled up by a mouse. Soon the marzipan’s pig’s longing to be loved passes on to the mouse, and a chain of mysterious events unfolds. Blake’s illustrations for The Marzipan Pig are painted exclusively in grey, piglet pink and buttery yellow, emphasising the sweetness and simplicity of this funny story.
Whether you grew up with Quentin Blake’s illustrations, have children of your own, or have an interest fine art, his work can be appreciated on many different levels. Quentin Blake’s illustrations are now a part of the public imagination. We’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love him!
Own your own piece of Quentin Blake artwork with our range of prints from his collaborations with Roald Dahl. We’ve also got some lovely Quentin Blake cushions and tote bags.
Or enjoy the illustrations in their original context when you pick up one of his many books.
Our Top Books for Spring April 26 2018
Spring has sprung on Drury Street! Well…sort of. While the weather can’t decide whether to soak us with rain or burn us with sunshine, we’ve decided to take the “fake it ‘til you make it” approach to spring. We’re simply going to pretend that it’s a good time of year to get out into the garden and plant some seeds! Here are our top books for the season, full of lovely plants, nature activities, lambs, and all the best things about this time of year.
Pelle’s New Suit
Pelle's New Suit is one of our favourites from our beloved Elsa Beskow. Pelle has a little lamb who he's responsible for looking after. When spring arrives and the time comes to shear the lamb, Pelle decides to make a suit out of the wool. His grandmother agrees to card the wool in exchange for Pelle weeding the carrot patch, and his mother weaves the yarn for him as long as he looks after his little sister. This is a lovely book to teach children about give and take, and its illustrations are full of gentle spring colours.
Botanicum is a beautiful collection of botanical illustrations, perfect for gardening enthusiasts. Katie Scott’s intricate illustrations will make you feel like you’re in a Victorian conservatory every time you turn the page! This book also has lots of information on plants, so it’s perfect for readers of any age who are interested in botany and horticulture.
Little Tree is a great book for younger children who are just learning to read their first words. It shows us what happens to a tree through the four seasons, including changes in weather and animal activity. It’s got lots of fun flaps to lift up and peek under, with nature words to learn as you read.
Findus, Food and Fun
Sven Nordqvist’s Findus and Pettson series, about a grumpy farmer and his mischievous cat friend, is one of our all-time favourites. In this activity book, Findus, Food and Fun, Findus and Pettson show us lots of interesting things to make and do at all times of the year. This is a great one to get kids outdoors and active, but it’s also got lots of good indoor craft projects for those inevitable rainy spring days.
The Secret Garden
Who doesn’t love The Secret Garden? This edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic is beautifully illustrated by Inga Moore. Her illustrations really capture the sense of fresh air and colour in the children’s adventurous hideaway.
The Root Children
The Root Children is a nostalgic, classic book by Sibylle von Olfers; a turn of the century author and illustrator whose style is similar to Elsa Beskow. Under the ground, deep in the earth, the little root children sleep tight all winter. When spring comes Mother Earth comes along to wake them up, and they set to work bringing all the plants and flowers up to the surface for springtime!
Shirley Hughes' Timeless Appeal April 12 2018 1 Comment
Shirley Hughes is best known for her Alfie series, about the daily lives of a little boy called Alfie, his sister Annie Rose, and their family and community. Hughes' stories are warm and comforting and her illustration style is nostalgic and naturalistic. Children love her books because they can recognise their own daily lives in the stories, and adults love them for their sweetness and gentle humour.
Five Irish Picks for St. Patrick's Day March 15 2018
We're lucky to be a shop based in Ireland, a country with so many great stories and artists, and so many people who care about quality storytelling! With St. Patrick's Day coming up this weekend, we thought we'd share some of our favourite Irish themed books and gifts; from classic Irish stories to modern Dublin design. Here are five of our favourites:
Did you know that Tomi Ungerer, the iconic Alsatian creator of Moon Man, Otto and many more brilliant books, is an adopted Irishman? Ungerer moved to Ireland in the early seventies and still lives here with his wife and family. Fog Island is the author's ode to Ireland. It tells the story of Finn and Cara, a brother and sister who take their currach out to a mysterious island one foggy day. There they meet the mysterious Fog Man, who shows them how he makes the fog hang over the Atlantic!
Fog Island depicts rural Ireland in beautiful hand drawn illustrations, which capture the Irish light, waves and weather. Ungerer's dedication page reads, "I dedicate this book to Ireland and to all the wonderful people who welcomed us here". Aww.
Chris Haughton is one of our favourite contemporary illustrators, and he was born and reared right here in Dublin! He now lives in London, and his colourful shapes and funny stories are endlessly popular with both children and adults.
We stock all of his picture books; Shh! We Have a Plan, Oh No,George!, A Bit Lost and his most recent title Goodnight Everyone.
Oh No, George might be our favourite of his books, featuring a dog who wants to be good but fails spectacularly. Last year we were delighted when Chris Haughton, and George himself, popped in to visit the shop on a trip home. Just look at our happy faces!
We're pleased to report that George the dog is as humble as they come, and has not let the bestselling fame go to his head. You can find out more about Chris Haughton's work in our "Illustrator of the Month" feature, here.
P. J. Lynch
P.J. Lynch is Ireland’s current Laureate na nÓg, he creates beautiful illustrations in a traditional and naturalistic style. Lynch has been illustrating both classic and contemporary stories by a range of authors for years.
The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower and When Jessie Came Across the Sea, are two stories of emigrating to America, just as generations of Irish people have done. The Boy Who Fell Off the Mayflower is Lynch's first book as both illustrator and author.
Oscar Wilde is one of the best known Irish writers. Like all true geniuses, he once turned his hand to entertaining that most discerning of audiences, children! We love this collection of Oscar Wilde’s children’s stories illustrated by P.J. Lynch. People often ask us to send this book as a gift to their family and friends overseas. It's a lovely a momento of Wilde’s home city of Dublin, and Lynch's illustrations in this edition really make the stories sing.
If you like something a bit different, this modern adaptation of one of Wilde’s best known children’s stories, The Happy Prince, by Maisie Paradise Shearring is a great choice. Her unusual illustrations breathe new life into Wilde's story, and this book is a great way to introduce Oscar Wilde to young children.
Dublin is full of brilliant designers and makers, who can always put a new spin on even the best known stories. Keelin Murray, a.k.a. Murraymaker, is a local textile designer who makes our wonderful Roald Dahl and Peter Rabbit cushions.
Shortly after opening Tales for Tadpoles we asked Dublin based design studio UNIT to reinterpret fairy tales and classic children’s books, they result was a range of amazing, symbolic artworks that our customers always notice and admire.
We hope all of our customers in Ireland and abroad have a wonderful St. Patrick's Day. Thank you for supporting a small Irish business!
Layers of Meaning: Kaatje Vermeire's Innovative Illustrations February 28 2018Kaatje Vermeire is just one of the great illustrators currently working on the continent, who are strangely underappreciated by English speaking audiences. Although many of her books have been translated, readers in Ireland and the UK tend to stick to what they know and miss out on the experimental, innovative approaches being taken by continental illustrators.
Five Ways to Do Valentines Day Differently February 10 2018
Whether you celebrate Valentines, Pal-entines, Gal-entines or anti-Valentines-Day, some of the most beautiful messages of love can be found in children's books and illustrations. And they remind us that love takes a variety of forms; it can mean love for a partner, friends, family, or your own sweet self!
Here are some of our favourite ways to celebrate Valentines Day a little differently.
Show your best friend they're the Piglet to your Pooh
It's one of the most touching friendships in all of literature, the bumbling bear and his squeaky soulmate Piglet! Piglet and Pooh are always there for each other, through thick and thin.
Learn from the Moomins unconditional love for eachother
There are so many lovely relationships in the Moomins books, from Moominpappa and Moominmamma's solid partnership, to Snorkmaiden and Moomintroll's mutual adoration.
All types of relationships are represented; the inseparable and secretive Thingumy and Bob are said to be based on a relationship Tove Jansson had with a woman at a time when homosexuality was still deemed illegal in Finland.
Remind a sibling of the childhood you shared
People often come to us to find things to remind their siblings of a shared childhood. Do you remember what books you shared with your brothers and sisters?
Get this print here.
Introduce a little one to the joy of reading
Reading is one of the greatest gifts to give a child and one of the most magical ways to bond. Show a child in your life that you love them by sharing a book you loved as a kid, or choose a story just for them from our range of contemporary picture books and children's classics.
Celebrate your individuality and independence!
Valentines day saturates us all with messages that being in a couple is the only thing worth celebrating, but being independent and true to yourself is worth celebrating too!
Some of our favourite books are about individuality and independence: like Rufus, the bat who paints himself to stand out from the crowd. Or Witchfairy, the little girl who wants to live life on her own terms.
See in store for more of our favourite selections for Valentines Day.
Nordic Magic: Five of Our Favourites from the North January 31 2018
Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past few years will have noticed the massive trend in all things Nordic recently, from lifestyle trends like the Danish hygge philosophy to Swedish Kanken backpacks popping up everywhere. We’ve always loved Nordic design and illustration at Tales for Tadpoles, from classic Swedish author Elsa Beskow to the whimsical world of Moomin from Finnish artist Tove Jansson.
Here are five of our favourite things from Nordic countries.
If you don’t know Moomins, you would probably love them. If you already know them, you are probably deeply, deeply obsessed with them to a level that is perhaps unhealthy.
Moomins are creatures from the fictional land of Moominvalley. They were first created by the iconic Finnish author, illustrator and artist Tove Jansson in the 1940s, and are now a global brand. They feature in a series of novels and picture books, and at one point had their own daily comic strip which ran for over years and was read across continents, by a readership of 20 million.
The 1960s and television culture brought with it a merchandising explosion, and Moomins were among the first characters to be reproduced in commercial prints for the retail market.
This Moomin print was among the first ever produced for the retail market. Buy a reproduction here.
There is something uniquely Finnish about the Moomins, with their tales of endless summers and snowy winters. They are now so much a part of Finland’s national consciousness that the two are inextricably linked. But they also have a global appeal. Moomins are huge in Japan, and with the current trend for all things Nordic they are becoming much more well known in Ireland, the UK and the U.S. Read more about Moomins and Tove Jansson in another of our blogs.
2. Folk and Fairy Tales
Like Ireland, Scandinavia and the Nordic region has a very strong oral storytelling tradition and a wealth of folk history. Around the same time that Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats were collecting folk tales in Ireland, two folklorists set out to record the folk tales of rural Norway and published them in a volume called East of the Sun, West of the Moon. The tales were later reissued with illustrations by the Danish golden age illustrator Kay Nielsen, and what results is a feast for the senses.
East of the Sun, West of the Moon was recently reissued in a gorgeous hardback coffee-table book edition, (here), with full pages to show off Nielsen’s intricate designs. It also includes essays on the history of folk culture and Golden Age illustration. You can learn more about the incredible Danish illustrator Kay Nielsen in our blog on his life and work.
3. Classic authors like Elsa Beskow
Beskow was a turn of the century children’s writer and illustrator whose scenes of forests, nature and rural harvests are uniquely Nordic. The sense of humour in these books is very Swedish too, with grumpy goblins and well-meaning children who accidentally burn their mother’s house down!
While other cultures are au fait with translation, the English speaking world tends to stick to its own well known authors. Introducing children to classic Scandinavian literature in translation is a great way to broaden their world view and feed their curiosity. You can find our large range of Elsa Beskow books here.
Elsa Beskow's life was a fascinating story in its own right, you read more about her in our biography.
4. Wacky humour like Findus and Pettson
The Nordic countries have their own special brand of humour, which is very noticeable in Moomins and in other series’ like Findus and Pettson.
Findus and Pettson is a series of picture books by Sven Nordqvist, about a grumpy old farmer and his mischievous cat. Findus and Pettson are modern day Odd Couple who get themselves into all sorts of scrapes, with hilarious results. As with Moomins, this series is a household name in Scandinavia and Germany, but is largely unknown in Ireland and the UK. Anyone we’ve met who takes one of these books home always comes back for the rest in the series. They are wacky, warm and memorable. And look at those illustrations! Read more about the warmth and wit of Sven Nordqvist here.
5. Cosy homes
These Elsa Beskow homewares from Design House Stockholm show off slick Swedish design at its best. When you have to spend so much time indoors during the dark and cold winter months, you may as well do it in style! We could learn a lot from Nordic lifestyles about making the best of winter, and making your home pretty and cosy is a great place to start.
Words by Sophie Meehan.
The Man Who Made Miffy: Dick Bruna's Life and Art January 18 2018
Every month we blog about an illustrator that we love, giving you the opportunity to learn more about your favourite authors' background and influences, or to discover great picture books you may not have heard of. So far we've covered a diversity of artists, from the forgotten genius of twentieth century illustration Kay Nielsen, to the underground icon Tomi Ungerer. This month we've been learning about Dick Bruna, the man behind one of our favourite children's characters.
Dick Bruna was a Dutch illustrator, most famous for creating the iconic children’s character Miffy the rabbit. Miffy stars in a series of picture books, and a global range of merchandise; everything from chopping boards to cushions. Bruna was a very diligent worker, during his lifetime he created over 30 Miffy books, and a staggering 124 picture books in total! Miffy is now a worldwide brand and a literary sensation; she is a household name in Japan, and there is a museum dedicated to her in Bruna’s hometown of Utrecht in The Netherlands. Dick Bruna distilled the simplicity and joy of childhood into his streamlined designs, and nowadays his work is appreciated by children aged 0 to 100.
How it began
Dick Bruna was born in Utrecht in 1927, in a Chinese Zodiac year of the Rabbit, naturally! His father Albert Willem Bruna was a partner in a successful publishing company called A.W. Bruna & Zoon. When the Second World War started, the Bruna family took refuge in a lake district in the heart of the Netherlands, and it was here that the young artist started to develop his talents. Dick Bruna was unable to attend school during this period, and instead had to entertain himself at home all day long by painting and drawing his surroundings. During the time away from the city, Albert Willem’s publishing colleagues in design and illustration would often visit the family, and they sometimes took the opportunity to give the young Dick Bruna a drawing lesson.
After the war ended, Bruna strongly resisted becoming involved in his father’s business, saying that he didn’t have what it took to become a publisher. His father sent him to Paris for work experience at a publishing house there, but he was more interested in the city’s art history. The time in France gained him some of his most lasting influences, and the artists he discovered in Paris continued to impact his style throughout his career. Eventually, he became involved in his father’s company in a different capacity, as a graphic designer. He worked on book covers and his role gave him the scope to develop his simplistic and graphic illustration style.
Book covers designed by Dick Bruna. (Photo by Present & Correct).
“And, sure enough one lovely day, their little bunny came.”
A couple of years after joining his father’s company, Dick Bruna married Irene de Jongh and three children followed. Having young children inspired Bruna to create his most well known character. After seeing a rabbit running in the sand dunes during a rainy holiday in coastal Holland, Bruna told his young son stories about the rabbit’s daily life, and Nijntje ,(the original Dutch name for Miffy), was born.
The first Miffy book. Buy it here.
Nijtnje is part of the Dutch word konijntje meaning “little rabbit”, (quite similar to the Irish coinín!). Initially, until the book’s translation into English required a pronoun, Miffy was simply a small bunny, neither a girl or a boy. People who grew up with Miffy in the Netherlands often perceive Miffy as a boy, or as simply genderless. The name Miffy, thought up by an English editor when the first book was translated, has a more feminine undertone than the Dutch Nijntje.
Miffy’s usual smock type outfit wasn’t meant to indicate her gender either, Bruna simply found that dresses were more shapely to draw than trousers. Bruna always had a lot of fun with Miffy’s clothes, like this snow hat which fits neatly around both her ears!
The simple life
Even though Miffy wasn’t originally conceived as a girl, she is a strong female rolemodel for young readers. Miffy has an active and independent lifestyle, she cycles, toboggans, and paints. And she doesn’t let wearing a dress, or being a rabbit, hold her back!
Miffy glides gracefully through the tempestuous years of a toddler, nothing much seems to bother her. The text in Bruna’s books is sparse and rhyming, there are only four lines per page, and the strories focus on simple actions and activities. It’s this simplicity which makes Miffy so reassuring for young children and for stressed out adults. In the first, eponymously titled Miffy book, we spend most of the book in anticipation for the birth of the bunny. She arrives fully formed, and with a tilt of the head, her story begins.
Buy the original Miffy book here.
Miffy never has temper tantrums, she expresses all of her emotions through a simple tilt of the head or an infinitesimal change in facial expression. In Miffy is Crying, the bunny loses her bear and is, understandably, very upset. With the addition of two single tear droplets on her face, Dick Bruna expresses her sadness without having to alter the iconic design of her face. Bruna said that for every book he made, about 12 pictures were published, but hundreds were drawn. He would draw and redraw Miffy’s two dots for eyes and cross for mouth and nose, until it had precisely the right micro-expression. He’s quoted in The Guardian’s obituary of him as saying “With two dots and a little cross I have to make her happy, or just a little bit happy, a little bit cross or a little bit sad – and I do it over and over again. There is a moment when I think yes, now she is really sad. I must keep her like that.”
Bruna meticulously created each of his illustrations by hand using the same method every time. First he would use black paint to create the outline of the drawing, and transfer the outline to a transparent cel. Then he would cut shapes out of coloured paper and hold them up the transparent drawing to see which colours fit best. Coming from a design background meant Bruna was extremely specific about what colours he used. He selected a small number of “Miffy colours” and stuck to them religiously. There is a Miffy orange and a Miffy blue, and these are immediately recognisable to young children who tend to associate stories with colours and design more so than text.
Get your very own Miffy to bring home here. Head tilt included.
Bruna was very particular about each and every illustration of Miffy, and he took his wife’s opinion as tantamount. If she didn’t like a certain drawing, he would put it away for several months. He always said that when he took it back out again, he would realise she was right!
A portrait of the bunny as a young artist
Dick Bruna’s start in graphic design meant that he was always regarded as a designer, rather than as a visual artist. He never finished high school and was completely self taught as an artist; at one stage he enrolled in art college in Amsterdam, but he felt out of place and soon dropped out.
Miffy made Bruna a huge success outside of his home country almost immediately, but the appreciation of him as a visual artist has been slower to grow. In 2015 the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam mounted a show of his work, poignantly titled “Dick Bruna. Artist”. This was designed to offer a new perspective on him as an influential visual artist, as well as a commercially successful designer and children’s book author. While living in Paris in his youth, Bruna was very influenced by his discovery of visual artists like Matisse and Léger. These artists’ work encouraged him to combine line and shape in a unique way. Like Matisse, Bruna would cut shapes out of coloured paper and arrange them by hand. (Read about how contemporary picture book maker Chris Haughton also employs this method in another of our blog posts, here).
This drawing of Miffy in an art gallery is often compared side by side to "La Gerbe" by Henri Matisse. It shows the influence of the Matisse’ sense of colour and shape on Dick Bruna.
"La Gerbe" by Henri Matisse. Image from Taschen’s book Henri Matisse: Cut Outs. Drawing With Scissors.
Fernand Léger was another French artist whose expressive style influenced Dick Bruna. Léger, like Bruna, uses thick black lines and primary colours, the combination of which gives both artists' work a sense of childlike energy.
Bruna never used a ruler, and all of his lines have a slight hand drawn wobble. This gives his work more character and charm than anything that could be drawn carefully and measured. Even though Miffy is a minimalist design, she retains the charm of a hand drawn illustration.
Life imitates art
The more you learn about Dick Bruna, the more you see of him in Miffy. Like her creator, the young rabbit is interested in drawing and painting. In Miffy The Artist she visits a gallery and immediately decides to become an artist herself. Bruna was born into a family business that didn’t interest him, but he managed to use it to his advantage to become an illustrator. It's this straightforward “why not” attitude to life that makes Miffy such a brilliant role model for young children.
Get the print: Miffy the Artist
There are other similarities too, like Miffy’s practical nature. Whether it’s cycling a bike up a hill, or visiting the beach, Miffy gets on with the task at hand. Bruna himself was a punctual, hardworking man. He cycled to work in the same studio every day for 30 years, and when he accepted visitors to observe his work, he liked them to be on time and to leave promptly. You can almost imagine Miffy coming to visit her creator for tea, hanging up her raincoat, observing silently for precisely 20 minutes, and then leaving on her bicycle. Bruna and Miffy made a good team. We are lucky to know them.
We also have lots more Dick Bruna cards and postcards to choose from in our lovely shop on Drury Street, in Dublin's city centre.
Words by Sophie Meehan.
Our Christmas Gift Guide! December 07 2017
The most wonderful time of the year is here! And this year has been extra special for us already, with a fantastic shout out from Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late Toy Show!! He was talking about our fabulous Roald Dahl cushions, which have since flown out the door! Some of our most sought after cushions are now sold out, but they will all be back in next week; if you would like to reserve one, or be notified when they are back in stock, please call us on 01 679 2155 or email email@example.com.
As well as our fabulous cushions, we've got so many more amazing gift ideas: we've got some beautiful new stock, including new books, kitchenware and accessories. Below are some special gift ideas to add to the festive cheer!
Gifts for babies
Christmas is a special time for even the youngest in the family. Sharing classic stories is a lovely way to start building baby's library, while keepsakes help preserve the memory. View our full range of lovely gifts for babies here.
Homewares & Kitchenware
We have a large range of gorgeous homewares in stock too this Christmas. Brighten up someone's morning routine with our Miffy, Moomin or Peter Rabbit kitchenware! Or avail of 20% off our Elsa Beskow kitchenware from Design House Stockholm.
We have a large range of beautifully illustrated prints for all ages. Go for nostalgia with an image from your favourite children's book, or classical with something from the Golden Age of illustration. Or choose a modern take with our special designs from local artists. We can also frame any print in-store while you wait! Browse our full range of prints here. (You may have also spotted some of our Roald Dahl prints dotted around the Toy Show set!)
Decorations & Baubles
Christmas decorations can be charming tokens to help remember each festive gathering. We have loads to choose from this year, including designs from Hans Christian Andersen, Beatrix Potter, Elsa Beskow and Alice in Wonderland. (Most are available in-store only).
Stories are the greatest gift of all! We have lots of beautiful children's books that will introduce little ones to the joy of reading, as well as gorgeous gift books adults will love.
We really enjoy recommending books, so if you're looking for ideas feel free to pop in for a chat, or call or message us! Browse our large book collection online here, or pop in store for even more choice.
Bring sound to classic stories: this year we're stocking lovely Flower Fairies and Elmer music boxes.
Kay Nielsen: The Forgotten Genius November 22 2017
Every month we focus a blog on an illustrator that we love, giving you the opportunity to learn more about your favourite authors' background and influences, or to discover great picture books you may not have heard of. So far we've covered everyone from beloved Swedish children's author Sven Nordqvist, to the Australian artist Shaun Tan. This month we've chosen one of our favourite turn of the century illustrators, Kay Nielsen, whose work we have stocked since the first days of the shop.
Born at the right time
Kay Nielsen was a Danish illustrator who produced work during the Golden Age, a period of unprecedented excellence in illustration that stretched from the 1880s to the 1920s. The Golden Age came about when Carl Hentschel and other pioneers invented technologies that could reproduce paintings and drawings accurately and inexpensively for the first time. Public appetite for new graphic art grew, and sumptuously illustrated gift books became popular. Artists like Arthur Rackham, Warwick Goble and Kay Nielsen illustrated books of fairy tales from masters like the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, as well as new stories. Along with Rackham and Edmund Dulac, Nielsen is often considered one of the greatest illustrators of the age.
Nielsen was born into an artistic family; his father was the director of the Dagmar theatre in Copenhagen and his mother was the star of the Royal Danish theatre. He spent his early life being exposed to performance and design. As Noel Daniel points out in one of the brilliant essays in Taschen’s beautiful reissue of East of the Sun and West of the Moon, the figures in Nielsen’s illustrations often look like actors in front of stage backdrops. He draws lengthened bodies from a low-down perspective; his backgrounds are expansive and often flattened to make the figures stand out.
"And pop! Out flew the moon". Get the print here.
A new age for book illustration
The first book of fairytales Kay Nielsen illustrated was Powder and Crinoline, which shows a lot of the influence of Aubrey Beardsley, an illustrator who had a key impact on the Golden Age and on the history of book illustration itself. Before Beardsley, illustration had been mainly descriptive, and was to show only what the text had laid out. Beardsley treated every illustration as a work of art in its own right, and conferred new respect to the art of illustration. The advent of new technologies in reproducing images meant that artists could include more detail than ever, and Kay Nielsen’s illustrations for Powder and Crinoline are highly decorative. Every figure in his drawings is bedecked in flowing folds of clothing and the backgrounds are intricately detailed.
From Powder and Crinoline
In a testament to how much emphasis was placed on illustration over text in these gift books, several of the stories in Powder and Crinoline had already been published in another collection by the same publisher only three years earlier. The earlier collection was illustrated by Edmund Dulac, in a softer and more classical style. Golden Age publishers understood that a book could be transformed by its illustrator.
East of the Sun, West of the Moon
Nielsen’s break out book was East of the Sun and West of the Moon, published in 1914. Recently reissued in a sumptuous edition by Taschen, this collection of Nordic folktales were gathered by two folklorists in rural Norway in the mid 1800s and first published as a volume in 1841. As artists were starting to travel and study abroad more in the early 20th century, a cosmopolitan outlook was sweeping over Europe. But people were also beginning to focus more on their own country’s indigenous traditions. Many artists (including our own W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory), became interested in fairy and folktales from the oral tradition. The Kay Nielsen edition of East of the Sun and West of the Moon came about at the right time, and combined new heights of illustration art with an appreciation for rich folklore.
Taschen's glorious reissue of East of the Sun and West of the Moon
This book represents some of Nielsen’s best work, and is the source of many of our illustrated prints. The influence of Aubrey Beardsley is less apparent here; the stories’ Scandinavian background gives Nielsen a chance to embody a style all his own, encompassing both his Nordic origins and the myriad influences he had absorbed in his travels.
From East of the Sun, West of the Moon
Nielsen studied art in Paris, worked with theatre companies in Copenhagen, became a success in London, and later worked as a creative director in Hollywood, including at Disney. East of the Sun, West of the Moon shows off his diverse range of influences, from Japanese block prints to the costumes of the Ballet Russes. The Ballet Russes, a Russian ballet company, debuted in Paris while Nielsen was a student there and quickly became an international sensation. Their work combined some of the best costumes, art direction, music and contemporary dance the world has ever seen, their style likely impacted Kay Nielsen as a young art student.
Vaslav Nijinksy of the Ballet Russes, and one of Kay Nielsen's costumed figures from East of the Sun, West of the Moon
Too dark for Disney
Although their work for illustrated books was tremendously popular, artists in the Golden Age were still paid very little. Most had to depend on sales from their original work in gallery shows to make a living. In 1939, Nielsen moved to California to seek work with film companies, and was hired by Walt Disney to work on Fantasia. He worked on the memorably dark sequence “Night on Bald Mountain”, and the sombre procession for “Ave Maria”. Nielsen’s aesthetic stands out in stark contrast to the cute mice and dancing mushrooms in other parts of the film.
Nielsen's concept art for Disney's Fantasia
While at Disney, Kay Nielsen also produced concept art for The Little Mermaid, a project that was shelved until its eventual release in 1989. (He is credited on the 1989 version as a visual development artist). Although he was well respected by the other artists and animators at Disney, Nielsen was let go after four years, and entered a period of struggles in which he found little exposure. Unfortunately, his style had fallen out of favour in the latter years of his life. His last published book had been Red Magic, published in 1930, which shows a change in his output. His monochrome drawings here are more minimalist, as tastes were moving away from intricately detailed gift books and towards art deco simplicity.
From Red Magic
Descent into obscurity
The embellished gift books with which Nielsen made his name were no longer wanted, and neither was his artwork. He worked on a collection of illustrations for Arabian Nights which he was unable to find a publisher for, that remained unseen until many years after his death. Nielsen descended into obscurity and spent the remaining years of his life painting wall murals and farming chickens. Some of his murals can still be seen in California today, this one was commissioned by an L.A. high school and adorns the wall of their school library.
It is a testament to Nielsen’s dedication to his art that he put as much detail and effort into this library mural as he did his most prestigious commissions. The artist completed the mural in 1944 and later spent two further years in the 1950s restoring and extending it. The school librarian at the time remembers that Nielsen would always already be hard at work by the time she arrived into school every morning.
Kay Nielsen died in poverty in 1957. Before her death, Nielsen’s widow and longtime companion, Ulla, bequeathed some of his original illustrations to the artist Frederick Monhoff, who in turn tried to have them placed in museums. But no museum would take them.
Revival of popularity
Despite the decline of appreciation for Kay Nielsen’s style in his own lifetime, there has since been a revival of interest in him and in the Golden Age of Illustration in general. Since the 1970s people have been appreciating the art of these Golden Age masters anew, and Kay Nielsen in particular has stirred people’s imaginations. Perhaps this is because of his modernity and imagination, which still feels fresh today. For those interested in book illustration or in 20th Century art, Kay Nielsen’s work combines some of the greatest innovations in artistry with an amazingly diverse range of worldwide influences.
Browse our collection of Kay Nielsen prints and books here.
Lesser Known Masterpieces from Your Favourite Illustrators November 08 2017
A Drink of Water, illustrated by Quentin Blake
The nature of children's books and childhood memory means that we often associate our favourite illustrators with just one book or series. Quentin Blake's recognisable inky illustrations will forever be associated with Roald Dahl, and Shirley Hughes' soft style immediately stirs fondness for her well-known Alfie series. But illustrators usually create masses of work in the span of their careers, and some of the most accomplished work from our favourite illustrators lies in books you might not have heard of yet! Here are some of our favourite lesser-known books from the most iconic illustrators of the last century.
Best known for Alfie
In 1968, Methuen commissioned the artist Shirley Hughes to illustrate the fourth collection of Dorothy Edwards’ My Naughty Little Sister stories, which began as a series of popular radio broadcasts. The series' author Dorothy Edwards loved Hughes’ illustrations so much that she was asked to re-illustrate the earlier collections for reissue, and the most well-known image of My Naughty Little Sister is now Shirley Hughes' depiction of her.
This work was a breakthrough success for Hughes, who went on to illustrate over fifty books, including her own massively popular Alfie series. Egmont recently released My Naughty Little Sister: A Treasury Collection, which has Shirley Hughes’ illustrations in full colour for the first time! You can buy it here.
Best known for creating The Moomins
In 1959, Tove Jansson, best known as the creator of the Moomins, was commissioned to illustrate a Swedish translation of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark. Her illustration style suited Carroll’s strangeness perfectly, and this project is hailed as a meeting of two of the greatest children’s authors of the past 150 years.
Jansson was later asked to also illustrate Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which presented her with an exciting opportunity to try out a new style. Upon receiving her work the book’s delighted editor immediately sent Jansson a telegram which read “Congratulations for Alice- you have produced a masterpiece”.
Best known for Winnie-the-Pooh
E.H. Shepard sometimes lamented that his beloved illustrations for Winnie-the-Pooh overshadowed his other work. He was a brilliantly versatile illustrator, adept at capturing the atmosphere of any writer’s work. Shepard was the original illustrator of the first edition of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. His drawings for the book show his skill at capturing characters and atmosphere, in a world that is very different from the Hundred Acre Wood. The Wind in the Willows has since been taken on by countless illustrators, Inga Moore’s version is one of our other favourites.
Best known for collaborating with Roald Dahl
Long before he ever heard of Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake was already a popular illustrator. He first became well known for illustrating covers of Punch magazine, but always wanted to illustrate a full book. He asked his friend John Yeoman to write a collection of stories for him to illustrate, and in 1960 A Drink of Water was published. The book had been out of print for about fifty years, but Thames and Hudson recently released a new facsimile edition which is completely loyal to the original. (You can get it here). Blake’s illustrations, in his now iconic scratchy style, are immediately recognisable. Because of early sixties printing methods, the illustrations only use only two colours, which today gives them a lovely vintage feel. (You can see more of this 1960s print style in The Mellops go Spelunking and A Balloon for a Blunderbuss).
Quentin Blake’s amazing ability to illustrate a book’s most complex concepts is maybe best exemplified in Michael Rosen’s Sad Book. He said that this illustration, of the author “being sad but pretending [he’s] being happy”, was the most difficult he’s ever done, as he had to capture the sadness behind a smile. The image that follows it depicts how Rosen is really feeling. The comparison strikes to the heart of what the book is about.
Best known for The Velveteen Rabbit
William’s Nicholson was the original illustrator of Margery Williams’ Velveteen Rabbit, a story which has not declined in popularity since its original publication in 1922. Nicholson’s other books are now less famous, but are no less brilliant. He both wrote and illustrated Clever Bill, which Maurice Sendak described as “among the few perfect picture books for children”.
Best known for Findus and Pettson
Sven Nordqvist is a household name all over Scandinavia and in Germany for his series of books about an old farmer and mischievous cat, Findus and Pettson. But arguably his best work as an illustrator is in his stand-alone book Where Is My Sister.
He conceived this book before Findus and Pettson ever existed, and came back to the project after becoming a successful illustrator. Where is My Sister is a surreal dreamscape of intricately detailed double spreads, published in large format which allows you to escape into its world for hours.
Best known for The Hat Trilogy
Jon Klassen is one of the most popular picture book makers working today. He’s best known for his explosively funny trilogy of books about animals and hats; I Want My Hat Back, This is Not My Hat and We Found a Hat. His collaborations with the writer Mac Barnett have also brought him acclaim. Their latest, The Wolf the Duck & the Mouse, was published only last month.
Klassen and Barnett’s books are marked by their sly humour and expressive, devious animals, but Klassen's collaborations with other writers show a versatile range. House Held Up By Trees is written by poet Ted Kooser, and Klassen’s illustrations for it are on a completely different register to his other work. They have a sombre stillness that works well with the book’s reflective and poetic text.
Jon Klassen has also collaborated with the writer of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket. Their book, The Dark, is all about the balance of light and dark, both in its story and its artwork.
Our carefully curated selection of books includes lots of lesser known works by iconic illustrators, as well as books from amazing artists you may not have heard of. You can browse the entire range here.
Chris Haughton's Deceptively Simple Storybooks October 25 2017
Every month we focus a blog on an illustrator that we love, giving you the opportunity to learn more about your favourite authors' background and influences, or to discover great picture books you may not have heard of. So far we've covered everyone from beloved Swedish children's author Sven Nordqvist, to the Australian artist Shaun Tan. This month we've chosen an Irish illustrator and one of the most popular children's book authors of the last decade, Chris Haughton.
Chris Haughton was born in Dublin and is now based in London. His books are pitched at a very young audience, and designed to be enjoyed by children even before they develop language. But his unique art style, and his use of build-up and humour to create a story, make him very popular with adults too.
A colourful start
Haughton’s books for children to date are A Bit Lost (2010), Oh No, George! (2012), Shh! We Have a Plan (2014) and, most recently, Goodnight Everyone (2016). They immediately stand out on any bookshelf because of their vibrant and unusual use of colour and shape. Haughton's colour palette is full of vibrant pinks, purples, greens and oranges. He uses all of the primary and secondary shades on the colour wheel at once on some pages, sometimes placing sharply contrasting colours side by side.
Primary and secondary colours in Goodnight Everyone
Haughton makes these colour clashes work with his keen sense of design, and the way he can seamlessly balance a variety of block shapes into a cohesive overall picture. To make his illustrations, Haughton first sketches out the scene by hand, then scans and fills them out digitally with block colour. He likes to hide shapes within shapes, so there are often animals hidden in his forests, and his books reveal new details every time you read them.
Chris Haughton creating characters from cut paper, (via CLPE on Youtube)
Colour also helps to tell the story. In Oh No, George!, tangy oranges and reds go side by side with purples, but instead of seeming incongruous, the loud tones just add to the sense of urgency and danger George the dog feels while trying to resist his base urges to eat cake and dig in the flowerbeds!
Character sketches for Oh No, George! From blog.chrishaughton.com
These vibrant colours might partly explain Haughton's wild popularity with very young children. (We can barely keep up with the demand for his books in Tales for Tadpoles!) In Shh! We Have a Plan, small children can enjoy pointing out the colourful pink bird in a landscape of blues. And they get a great payoff in the double spread near the end of the book where there are suddenly dozens of birds to point at. Speaking to picturebookmakers.com, Haughton said that he tries to tell stories “as much as possible through images rather than through words”. This means his books can be understood by the youngest children, who can read visuals long before they can read text.
From Shh! We Have a Plan
A little owl who made it round the world
Chris Haughton’s ongoing work in design and fair trade textiles brings him around the world, and his work combines a homeliness with a universality that has made him popular worldwide. His first book for children, A Bit Lost, was first published in Korean in 2009 before it was published by Walker Books in 2010, and has since been translated into 20 languages to date, including into Irish as Ar Strae Beagán. It tells an old story in a new way; the story of getting lost and trying to find your parent.
Little Owl falls out of the nest, “Bump…bump…BUMP!” and a neighbourly pink squirrel decides to help him find his way home. The squirrel keeps getting it wrong, leading the little owl to a bear and a rabbit, before a frog eventually recognises him and leads him to his mother. The reader turns the page to witness this emotional reunion!
This is one of our most popular board books, and sells like hot cakes (or biscuits, which as Squirrel and Frog say at the end of the book “are our favourite thing”). And like all the best picture books, there is always something tucked in for adults to enjoy, too. Chris Haughton likes to include a relevant philosophical quote at the end of his books, which help to illuminate the deeper meanings of his seemingly simple stories. In A Bit Lost, it's from Robinson Crusoe:
"Thus we never see the true state of our condition, till it is illustrated to us by its contraries; nor know how to value what we enjoy, but by the want of it."
Playing with pages
Although he didn’t start out in books, the format suits Haughton’s work perfectly. He has a lot of fun with the drama of the page-turn, and he uses half-pages to add a sense of physical play to the act of reading. In a blog he keeps about his work processes, he writes that he often formulates the stories in his book around page-turning moments. When making Oh No, George!, about a dog who tries to be well behaved but fails spectacularly, he realised that it “can be great fun when reading aloud if there is a bit of a build up, so [he] decided to build up to a page turn where the dog messes up somehow… that was how the basic idea came about”. Haughton has said he is most proud of these two double spreads from the book; where three images build up to us wondering what George will do, and the next spread shows us exactly what he has done!
His latest offering, Goodnight Everyone, has a more reflective tone than previous books. Perhaps influenced by his travel and work in fair trade, witnessing the long supply-chain that many Western consumers take for granted, Haughton had for years wanted to create a book about scale and connections. But it took the author years to find his way to this book. He abandoned earlier versions before coming back to the idea a couple of years later, after becoming an uncle. His young nieces who were visiting for Christmas were having trouble sleeping, and so he created this deceptively simple bedtime story.
Goodnight Everyone is a book about going to sleep, but it’s also about the scale of the universe. A contagious yawn moves from the smallest animal to the biggest, and Haughton uses a series of mini-pages to reveal bigger and bigger animals behind the leaves.
Each new colour here marks a mini-page to turn in the book.
His nieces enjoyed being able to turn the smaller pages, and being included in the story when the yawn caught on to them too. When Little Bear eventually decides to sleep, the reader says goodnight to all of the animals individually, and as we move on to the next page the books “zooms out” to include the animals from the previous page in the background. This is a clever way to visually introduce children to the scale of the world, and how we all relate to each other. The main characters are Little Bear and Great Big Bear, and in the end papers we see their shapes in the constellations of the night sky. The maps of the stars and solar system either end of the book provide a great opportunity to teach children about the rotation of the earth, and to explain that on our side of the planet, it is time to go to bed!
Chris Haughton’s books are visual enough to be enjoyed by the very youngest readers, but they are far from simple. They can be enjoyed on so many levels, through everything from colour theory to philosophy.
You can buy all of Chris Haughton’s books from us here.
Seven Things You Didn't Know About Winnie-the-Pooh October 11 2017 1 Comment
A.A. Milne's wonderful stories and poems about the bumbling bear Winnie-the-Pooh are loved the world over. With the release of the new film Goodbye Christopher Robin and an upcoming Pooh exhibition in London this winter, there is more focus than ever on the true stories behind the bear. Most people know that Christopher Robin, the small boy in the books, is based on the author's son, and that the stories take inspiration from his childhood. But did you know where exactly the name Winnie came from, or who the books' illustrator E.H. Shepard based Pooh's appearance on? Here are six facts about Winnie-the-Pooh that even the hardcore fans might not have known.
Winnie-the-Pooh was named after an actual bear, who was named for Winnipeg in Canada
In 1914 a military vet called Harry Colebourn was heading into World War One to look after the Canadian regiments horses. When the train stopped for a break, he spotted a trapper on a station platform with a baby bear cub by his feet. Colebourn impulsively paid for the bear, and took her on the train to the soldiers’ camp! He named the bear Winnipeg, which was shortened to Winnie, and she became a mascot for the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade. Harry Colebourn’s great granddaughter wrote a picture book telling the story of Winnie the real life bear, called Finding Winnie.
You can buy this book in our online store, here.
Christopher Robin met Winnie the bear at London Zoo
When Winnie’s Brigade shipped out to England for training, Colebourn brought the bear all the way over with them on the ship. But when orders came to fight in France, he knew that Winnie couldn’t stay by his side any longer. He drove her to London, where he handed her over to London Zoo. Later, when A.A. Milne brought Christopher Robin to the zoo, the little boy was immediately enchanted by the bear. He would even be let into her enclosure to feed and play with her! As for the "Pooh" part of the name, that came from a nickname Christopher Robin gave to a swan he befriended.
Christopher Robin and Winnie the bear in London Zoo
The first Christopher Robin books were actually books of poetry, and the Hundred Acre Wood came after
A.A. Milne’s first books for children were When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six, which are books of poems. Milne had previously been a journalist and editor but had wanted to move into novels for some time. He was moved to write the poem "Vespers" after seeing Christopher Robin saying his prayers.
This poem was well received and Milne decided to write a full book of children’s poetry. It wasn’t until these books of verse proved wildly popular,(When We Were Very Young sold out of its first print run on publication day!) , that his publisher suggested he start writing stories for children too.
Christopher Robin’s real toys inspired the Winnie-the-Pooh books
The characters Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, Eeyore, Kanga and Roo were all based on Christopher Robin’s real life teddies. The same teddies now reside in New York public library, where they can be viewed by the public. All except Roo, who was tragically lost in the 1920s and has never made contact with home. Kanga must be heartbroken…
Owl and Rabbit are the only characters who are meant to be real, as they’re based on the animals found in forests around A.A. Milne’s home.
A.A. Milne rejected E.H. Shepards illustrations at first
When a publisher first suggested E.H. Shepard as an illustrator for his children’s story-books, A.A. Milne was very sceptical. Shepard was known for his drawings in magazines such as Punch, and Milne described him as “perfectly hopeless”! Thankfully, he was convinced to try using Shepard's illustrations for his first poetry book. When it was a rave hit, he realised that Shepard was the perfect fit for Winnie-the-Pooh.
In an unusual move for the time, Milne even arranged that Shepard should be paid part of the Winnie-the-Pooh books’ royalties, rather than a flat rate for his illustration work. The split was arranged at 80/20.
E.H. Shepard modelled Pooh on his son Graham’s teddy bear, not Christopher Robin’s
While still working on early drafts of Winnie-the-Pooh, the pair decided that initial sketches based on Christopher Robin’s teddy looked too gruff, and not cuddly enough for the whimsical character that Milne had written. So Shepard instead looked to his son Graham’s teddy bear, Growler, and drew a bear with a big round tummy and quizzical expression that was the perfect match for Pooh. The illustrator’s depiction of Christopher Robin was also an amalgamation of the boy himself and his own son.
E.H. Shepard's initial sketches of Christopher Robin's teddy (left) and Graham's teddy (right). © EH Shepard/The Shepard Trust, via The Guardian
A huge, real life game of Poohsticks takes place in England every summer
In The House at Pooh Corner, Poohsticks is a game that Winnie-the-Pooh invents by accident when he drops a pine cone into the river from a bridge. The object of the game is to drop two sticks into a river from one side of a bridge, and then watch to see which one comes out first on the other side. A.A. Milne and Christopher Robin played this game in real life, at a bridge in Ashdown forest which now attracts masses of visitors and has been officially renamed Poohsticks Bridge.
In 1984 a lock-keeper of the river Thames saw an opportunity to create a fundraiser around the game of Poohsticks, and the World Poohsticks Championships has been running annually ever since. The event is now held in Witney, Oxfordshire, and has raised tens of thousands of pounds for the RNLI.
Suburban Surrealism: The World of Shaun Tan September 27 2017 1 Comment
Our Illustrator of the Month blog series is a chance to find out more about your favourite illustrators, or to discover new ones. So far, we’ve written on classic authors like Elsa Beskow, cult illustrators like Tomi Ungerer and Tove Jansson, and modern picture book makers like Jon Klassen.
This month we’ve chosen a living and working artist, the brilliant Shaun Tan. Shaun Tan is known for his surreal and socially conscious work, which manages to blend outlandish imagination with real-life relatability. His work as an illustrator is unique and recognisable, he combines vivid, sweeping backgrounds with his distinctive character shapes. His work is challenging and difficult to categorise, often addressing things not broached in standard picture-books. So much so that bookshops in his native Australia and beyond have begun carving out sections for picture books for adults. Though dark at times, his writing is ultimately optimistic, and his drawings show the limitless scope of his imagination.
Double spread from Tales from Outer Suburbia
Tales from Outer Suburbia
Shaun Tan grew up in the suburbs of Perth in Western Australia. He became known at school for being good at drawing, and while still a teenager he began publishing illustrations for sci-fi and horror stories in small-press magazines. It’s easy to imagine the young artist creating imaginative worlds to escape from the blankness of a suburban upbringing. Tales from Outer Suburbia, one of Tan’s books as both writer and illustrator, is a collection of stories of surreal goings on in an otherwise normal suburb. In Eric, (which was also released as a stand-alone book due to its popularity), the narrator tells us about a foreign exchange student coming to stay with his family. The exchange student’s hard-to-pronounce name is shortened, and the spare bedroom is all made up and ready for him. But the text’s first hint that something is amiss comes when Eric tells the family he would prefer to sleep in the pantry. Eric is endearingly tiny,(illustrations show him carrying a hollowed out peanut shell as luggage), and polite, so his strangeness is basically accepted by the family. “It must be a cultural thing”, is the mother's explanation.
Many of Shaun Tan's books feature characters who feel out of place in the culture and context they find themselves in. The Arrival, his most famous work, tells the familiar story of a migrant seeking new opportunity abroad, but tells it in a completely new way. The man in this book lands in a bewildering city of strange animals, floating objects and an indecipherable language, and his journey is shown entirely through pictures.
From The Arrival. A full blog post on The Arrival is coming soon!
In an article for Viewpoint Magazine about creating The Arrival, Shaun Tan wrote that he has,
"a recurring interest in notions of ‘belonging’...One contributing experience may have been that of growing up in Perth, one of the most isolated cities in the world, sandwiched between a vast desert and a vaster ocean... Being half-Chinese at a time and place when this was fairly unusual may have compounded this..."
He gathered anecdotes of immigrant experiences; including those of his father, friends and partner, and found the common threads in their stories to help create The Arrival. This has meant that even though its setting is outlandishly inventive, this story is a very familiar one for most people.
The ''Real" in Surreal
In Rules of Summer Shaun Tan again allows us to recognise ourselves in settings that lie beyond the realms of our wildest imaginations. In a book made up of large format illustrations and double spreads, we get a sense of Australia’s open expanses of sky and roads, and its shimmering heat.
But these recognisable elements are woven into bizarre worlds, to which the sparse text offers no explanation. “This is what I learned last summer” the narrator tells us. The lessons listed and seem simple enough, “never leave the back door open overnight, “never eat the last olive at a party”. But the images show us the consequences of these actions: if you leave the door open a spontaneous growth of lizards and glowing fungi will take over your living room. If you eat the last olive at a party an army of humanoid hawks will devour you. Shaun Tan’s world is what you get when you mess up the dials on the TV. Colour and contrast are suddenly heightened and skewed, but we can still see the reality that remains underneath. The growths in your living room might be poisonous spiders from your Australian back garden. The hawks might be a room full of your parents’ friends who think you’ve got bad manners. Tan has said that he created this particular illustration while attending various social functions related to his Oscar win in 2011, (for an animated adaptation of The Lost Thing), which might explain why the hawks are wearing tuxedos!
Millions and Millions of Rabbits
The allegories in Shaun Tan’s work aren’t limited to harmless suburban happenings though. In 1999, the Children’s Book Council of Australia awarded him and writer John Marsden a Picture Book of the Year award for The Rabbits. In reference to colonialism and the destruction of the Aboriginal way of life in Australia, rabbits invade a country in their millions, build a rabbit society, and wipe out what was there before. The choice of rabbits as the invading animal in this book adds another frame of reference, as rabbits caused havoc in Australia’s unique ecosystem when artificially introduced into the country by humans. The Rabbits is an allegory for all times, and all cultures, about human ignorance and greed.
From The Rabbits
It would be easy to classify Shaun Tan as a writer for adults alone, based on the challenging content of some of his books. Responding to criticism levelled at The Rabbits in the Australian media, Tan writes on his website that the book was originally conceived for older readers. But to limit his books to an adult readership would be to do children a disservice. Children can handle more than they’re given credit for, and at the core of a lot of Shaun Tan’s work is a childlike innocence and ultimately optimistic outlook on the world. His books often feature creatures that the average adult wouldn’t find sympathetic, but that children will be drawn to. And in a scenario that many parents will recognise, the oddest creatures are adopted as pets! In The Lost Thing, the narrator tells us about a time he found a Lost Thing and tried to find a place for it. No reference is made in the text to what this “thing” looks like. Shaun Tan gives himself full rein to design a completely unrecognisable creature, which ends up as massive red metal thing with octopus legs and metal spikes on top… and somehow still manages to be sort of cute!
Because this is a picture book, and not a novel, there is no long passages of text explaining where the Thing came from or why it exists. It is just there, and when we read the book we become its friend, and that’s that. This essential lack of judgement is what makes Shaun Tan so appealing to children, and adults who want to stay in touch with that glimmer of innocence inside themselves. There is also plenty here for children who love to read the same books over and over again, playfulness abounds in the small details of Tan's illustrations. A newspaper page shows us where the Thing might have a place after all; The Federal Department of Odds & Ends, whose Latin motto is sweepus underum carpetae. (If Harry Potter has taught us anything, it’s that children love a bit of nonsensical bureaucracy in their books). Other articles on the page, that adults might gloss over but sponge-like children will not, include a product recall for a potentially lethal fault in “model 350A Deluxe ‘Suck & Slice’ automated beet cutters”.
Back to Basics
The majority of Shaun Tan’s work comes from a completely new and invented place, but like all great writers he is also interested in where stories come from, and what came before him. He explores this in The Singing Bones, a collection of sculptures he created based on the Brothers Grimm fairytales. In the introduction to the book the writer Neil Gaiman says that Tan’s sculptures do “something profound. His sculptures suggest. They do not describe. They imply; they do not delineate. They are, in themselves, stories.” Gaiman’s evaluation could be applied to any of Shaun Tan’s work; all of his illustrations leave themselves open to interrogation. But Tan may have found his perfect form in sculpture. The rounded shapes of his character design and pointed shapes of his buildings find a perfect balance here, and each sculpture hums with movement and energy even though they are still and quiet.
In his 2D illustrations, Tan often uses collage and mixed media, and his sculptures are no different. In his Hansel and Gretel sculpture ,(which was the first one he made), the children kneel to gobble up real cake decorations from the house behind them, while a witch leers from the shadows. Such a simple idea immediately tells us what story this is, and distills it to its essence.
You get the sense, when reading a Shaun Tan book, that he enjoys his work immensely. That he feels lucky to be able to create such weird stories and drawings and not only have them published, but have them loved and appreciated by masses of people. The feeling is infectious. Seeing an artist give their imagination full rein makes us wonder what else there is to be discovered in the world, if we open ourselves up to all of life’s infinite possibilities.
Find all of the books mentioned, and more Shaun Tan books, here.
A Hidden Gem: The Warmth and Wit of Sven Nordqvist August 30 2017
Our Illustrator of the Month blog series focuses on some of our favourite illustrators, their lives and their works. This is a chance to learn more about the people who illustrated your favourite books, the influences that shaped their art style and storytelling, and some of their lesser known projects.
This month we’ve chosen the amazing Swedish illustrator Sven Nordqvist, best known for his Findus and Pettson series. Findus and Pettson are household names in much of Scandinavia and central Europe, and the books have been translated into 44 languages and read by millions. Which just goes to show the blinkered vision of the English speaking world when it comes to what the rest of the planet is reading! He's not well known in Ireland, but we've found that anyone who buys one of his books from us always comes back for another, and another. As soon as you open any Sven Nordqvist book, you’ll fall in love with his characters, his humour and his style.
Sven Nordqvist was born in Helsignborg, a coastal city in southern Sweden. He always wanted to be an illustrator, but amazingly was rejected by several art schools! Instead he went on to study architecture, and to this day describes himself as a draughtsman rather than an illustrator. Nordqvist became an architecture lecturer, but continued to seek illustration work in advertisement and posters. In 1983 he won first prize in a picture book competition and since then he has been working solely as and author and illustrator. This was a lucky break not just for Nordqvist but for us all, as the world would be a sadder place without his work! Findus and Pettson have brought joy to millions of children and adults worldwide. That said, Nordqvists’s background in architecture may have been a blessing in disguise for his unique illustration style. His books are full of busy but impeccably balanced compositions, and beautiful landscape drawings.
Landscape from Findus Goes Fishing
He manages to be able to include massive amounts of detail without his illustrations ever feeling overcrowded. And a keen sense of balance is also key to why his writing is so brilliant. The Findus and Pettson series is full of wacky antics, but it can also be quite sentimental and touching at times. So, if you haven’t met them already, it’s time to be introduced to Findus and Pettson!
The old man and the cat
Pettson is an old farmer who lives a contented, if somewhat lonely, life on his farm, until the sudden arrival of a tiny kitten in a box of Findus Green Peas. The kitten is a gift from a neighbour, and Pettson names him Findus. And then… all hell breaks loose.
Findus and Pettson's first meeting as described in When Findus Was Little and Disappeared
Thus follows a whole series of brilliant escapades of this odd couple, the rambunctious Findus and the crotchety old Pettson. Nordqvist is brilliant at capturing gestures and expressions, and he shows Findus’ manic energy through drawing him contorting countless times on the same page, which children of course find hilarious!
From Findus Moves Out
There is plenty for adults too, in the intricate details that swarm every page of illustrations. All of the best illustrators know that pictures can tell us things that words cannot, and we get an amazing sense of homeliness and eccentricity from Nordqvist’s depictions of Pettson’s cluttered house and garden. Tiny creatures called “muckles” are hidden in every corner, pictures on the wall watch the action unfold, and badly mended contraptions give a perfect sense of Pettson’s stubborn independence. Here is a man who has lived alone for decades and does things his own way; fireworks are kept in a hatbox by the door, and pepper is kept in the bicycle basket. Obviously.
From Findus and the Fox
Although humour is the main focus of these genuinely witty books, Nordqvist’s writing can be very emotionally astute too. We see this in Findus Goes Fishing, when Findus tries to cheer up a despondent and irritable Pettson. Findus may be a scatty cat but he knows how to help out his friend. He pretends to scrabble around for fishing equipment to go fishing on his own, clanging around the toolshed and trying to lift the cumbersome fishing rod all alone. Pettson of course eventually gives in and accompanies him, and the fresh air and the stillness of nature quickly reminds him how good life can be. Soon the pair are laughing together again.
Findus helping with our accounting. Get your own Findus here!
Nordqvist has said that he believes Pettson is popular with children because he allows Findus his freedom, while still providing the security and stability that children (and cats) need. Findus often tests the limits of the old man’s patience, but Pettson remains ultimately forgiving. In Findus Moves Out, the cat decides to to fly the nest, and Pettson provides what he needs to build a new home…in the garden shed. This will be familiar to any child who has ever sought independence by pitching a tent in their parents’ garden. In the end, Findus realises that Pettson’s company isn’t so bad after all, and invites him over for their favourite food, pancakes. (But Pettson cooks the pancakes of course). Warmth and wit are hallmarks of these books, and it’s not hard to see why they’re so popular in other parts of the world.
From Findus Moves Out
Nordqvist is definitely best known worldwide for the Findus and Pettson series, but the book that shows his amazing artistry to its full potential is probably his stand-alone picture book Where Is My Sister. The idea for this book came to him before he ever started Findus and Pettson, and he came back to it years later, now a successful illustrator with the means to focus on this experimental and highly unique project. Where Is My Sister was originally designed without text, and large double page spreads of images give Nordqvist the scope to show off his mercurial talent as an illustrator. Small passages of text tell the story of a little mouse who is looking for his straying sister, and we travel with him through the sprawling landscapes of her mind, to find her hidden on every page.
In a note at the back of the book Nordqvist writes, “What appeals to me… is the idea of images telling stories and capturing all of our attention. Without the need for explanations, anything can happen.”. Illustrations often leave more room for interpretation and imagination than text does, which is one of the reasons children love picture books, and Nordqvist’s work in particular. His range of detail allows children to pore over the page and discover its secrets for themselves. In a modern world where everything rushed, he recognises the special feeling of getting lost in a single page of a book, allowing it to take you away and shut out the outside world.
Nordqvist explains that he kept very closely to his original sketches when creating Where Is My Sister. He trusted his spontaneity, and he was right to, as this only adds to the dreamlike quality of the book. To find his sister the little mouse in the story must get inside her head, and some of the things he finds there are unexpected, naturally. But as the little mouse gets closer to finding his sister, we get to know her better, and in the end, it all makes sense. The text for this book was added afterwards, and is very different from the zany and action-packed stories of Findus and Pettson. The text here is more like a collection of short poems; atmospheric and sometimes melancholy:
“She’s in her thoughts, somewhere else, where I can’t reach her. And then suddenly she’s happy again and says: let’s make a car, a racing car, and zoom around at the speed of sound!”
All in all, both the pictures and text in this book delicately reflect the complexities of any relationship between a younger and older sibling.
Sven Nordqvist’s books are funny and zany, but it’s the way he can combine humour and sentiment that really sets him apart. His sense of humour is sometimes sarcastic, but always warm. His world is surreal, but it is grounded in the real love that exists between his characters. And of course, he has the rare quality of being equally accomplished in both his illustration and his writing. Do yourself a favour and pick up one of his books today, for a child you know, or for your inner child!
View our whole range of Sven Nordqvist books here.
Too Much Too Soon? Dark Themes in Children's Books August 16 2017
We believe that children’s books have a special importance in teaching people about values, imagination and the world in general from a very young age. But should that education include the darker side of life, or should children be sheltered from life’s unpleasantness as far as possible?
Grimm & grimmer
Since stories for children have been in existence they have functioned as warnings and behavioural codes for children. The Brothers Grimm Fairytales have become part of our psyche without us even realising, everyone knows the meaning of a Big Bad Wolf. Stripped back to their core, fairytales are just lessons for life: don’t talk to strangers (Little Red Riding Hood), don’t stray too far from home (Hansel and Gretel), and things are not always as they seem (The Princess and the Frog).
The original Grimms stories didn’t hold back when getting these messages across, some of the original tales are downright gory. Cinderella’s ugly sisters hack parts of their feet off to fit into the glass slipper and Red Riding Hood’s huntsman cuts the sleeping wolf’s belly open to find her grandmother still alive inside!
These stories have since been softened up and Disney-fied, with most people now knowing them in much fluffier forms. But what is still capturing the imaginations of artists and writers generations later is their dark edge, the way they touch on the less talked about sides of life. Stories can sometimes be the only place where we can freely explore difficult subjects, especially when we are children.
This stencil artwork by UNIT. design studio captures the ambiguity and threat of the Red Riding Hood story. Read our earlier blog all about how UNIT. create their artwork here.
Play-pretend and growing up
Books for children have a vital function not only in teaching them about the world, but also in allowing them to explore emotions such as fear and sadness, in a safe way. For a lot of children, giggling and cowering from an adult reading in the voice of the Big Bad Wolf is how they learn to act out fear for the first time. A lot of children enjoy scary stories in the same way adults enjoy rollercoasters and horror films. They present a chance to experience the full range of human emotion, without having to be in it for real. For children, learning what it is to be frightened within a make-believe context can help them process an emotion that they will inevitably face for real sooner or later in life.
Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf by golden age illustrator Arthur Rackham.
Our Illustrator of the Month blog series has touched on some of the best children’s authors, and what these authors all have in common is the fact that they don’t talk down to children. Instead, the best among them have a special ability to get in touch with the child’s psyche. Great children’s writers remember that children have a unique view on the world which is all too easy for grownups to forget. Learning about the absurdities of the adult world can be immensely confusing for children, when we consider that adults lie out of politeness, they accept things that are totally unfair, and they spend much of their time doing things they don’t enjoy. The best children’s books delight in this absurdity and create a world where the author and the child reader are in on it together. Think of the dedication preceding Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s The Little Prince: “I ask children to forgive me in dedicating this book to a grown up” and the exasperation in its first pages, “Grown ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to explain it to them again and again”.
Working at Tales for Tadpoles gives us an insight into what children really like to read, and two books we’ve been told children love are This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen and The Three Robbers by Tomi Ungerer. Looking at what these books have in common, it may be their moral ambiguity that children delight in. In This Is Not My Hat, a flustered little fish tells us he has stolen a hat, and even though he knows that is wrong, he is going to keep it anyway. Adults tend to let out a guffaw of shock when they read the ending, as it not so subtly implies that the hat-stealing fish we have been rooting for all along has met a sticky end. But children love being let in on a secret from the adult world: sometimes good fish make bad decisions. And sometimes bad things happen to good fish.
Find out more about Jon Klassen's work here.
The Three Robbers is another story in which the difference between good and evil is less clear than in more conventional children’s books. Three highwaymen hold up a carriage with a little orphan girl inside, and steal her away to a better life. They use their stolen gold to build a house for all mistreated children to live in. But does this make the fact that they’ve stolen the gold okay? The question is left unanswered. For children, who are always being told what is what, it’s exciting to get to decide this one for themselves.
Reality in fiction
In an article on dark subjects in children's books for The Guardian, young adult fiction writer Rebecca Westcott had this to say: “Children live in families; they are surrounded by adults with all their adult problems…Life happens and they are a part of that. Their books need to reflect what they hear, what they see. They need to recognise their situations in a book”.
It is natural for parents to want to protect their children from what’s going on in the world. But children are also citizens of the world, and older children who are aware of life’s cruelty need books to help them process it. In A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay, a young boy deals with his mother’s cancer through talking it out with a monster who visits him nightly. Jim Kay’s illustrations create an atmosphere of foreboding that anyone who has been touched by illness can recognise and appreciate, and this book bridges childhood and adulthood by representing a loved one’s illness in a child’s terms; a monster hiding in the dark.
Often in children’s books, illustrations help to fill the gaps when not everything can be expressed in words. Michael Rosen’s Sad Book is an excellent example of the importance of interplay between word and image when dealing with difficult subject matter. This book explores grief and depression in an accessible way, with Quentin Blake’s illustrations alternately lightening the mood and reinforcing the sadness of the text. The image below is among the most evocative illustrations in the book: the dearth that a loved one leaves after their death is explained simply through a blank space.
For children who have experienced the death of someone close to them, this is a straightforward visual representation of death itself, and of how it feels. Someone was there, and now they’re not. There is simply an empty space.
Maia and What Matters is another book that uses illustration to explore family situations that are hard to discuss in words. Maia’s grandmother’s loss of speech after a stroke is represented by illustrator Kaatje Vermeire in an image of Maia and her grandmother out to sea, perched on the edge of a boat. The water swells around them, isolating them, while a squirrel struggles against the swell, trying to reach out a phone to the boat. In Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling, research interviews show even the youngest children to be very adept at picking up visual metaphors. Where language fails small children, they express themselves in pictures, and this allows them to read images in a way that many adults lose. Trying to explain loss of speech to a young child in words may seem insurmountable, but a lot of children will associate the idea of someone holding out a phone with a memory of talking to their grandparents. Children can read the image and realise that the phone being lost at sea means that Maia can't speak with her grandmother anymore. Visual cues that adults might miss are honed in on by children, and in this way illustrations can open up a discussion.
Not just for children
As all wise grown-ups know, children’s books are not just for children. And illustrations can also help adults process difficult emotions. One of our most popular books with adults in the shop has been The Big Question, in which a committee of animals ask the question “How do you know when you love someone?”. There are a range of different answers, but they all leave the chairperson, a small ant, feeling lonely. If any book tried to manage this same story in passages of text, it would feel heavy handed, but the picture book format leaves space for us to feel things without having to process them consciously.
Reading children’s books later in life also links us back to our own childhood. The journalist Bruce Handy has written extensively on the subject of enjoying children’s books as an adult, and wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he “really hadn’t expected to be turned into an emotional puddle by Winnie the Pooh”. He spoke of reading the Pooh books to his own children, and the new layers of meaning he could come to appreciate. He was particularly moved by the passage at the end of The House at Pooh Corner where Christopher Robin struggles to explain to Pooh that he might not be around so much anymore…because he is not going to be a child forever. Tissue, anyone?
Educating the next generation
As children’s books are written by adults, there are certainly always elements of them that we can only understand when we have grown up and seen what the world is like. But the likes of children’s authors Tomi Ungerer and Maurice Sendak would argue that even sheltered, happy children should be exposed to the adult world, including things like war, violence and injustice through books. Tomi Ungerer writes in the treasury of his work that “children should be exposed to what war is like as early as possible. If you don’t share stories like this, how are you going to bring awareness?”. For Ungerer, books are an important tool to teach young people about prejudice and injustice so that they can go into life wanting to improve the world. (For more on Tomi Ungerer and his unique outlooks and experiences, see our previous blog on his work).
A little boy says goodbye to his soldier father in Tomi Ungerer's Otto
For Ungerer’s friend Maurice Sendak, children’s books also have an important function. Sendak had a difficult childhood and felt alienated from the happy-clappy world of conventional children’s books. In the 1990s he approached Tony Kushner to adapt Brundibar, a Czech opera, into a picture book. The resulting book functions on two levels, it is a colourful tale of working together to defeat unfairness, full of rhyme and song. But its historical background can help parents teach children about history. The opera this book is based on was performed by the children of Terezin, a Nazi concentration camp, in order to fool Red Cross inspector into thinking camp conditions were acceptable. Maurice Sendak’s childhood was affected by the death of many family members during the Holocaust, and today Walker Books donates a portion of proceeds from the book to the Holocaust Educational Trust.
Children inhabit a world of imagination, and that’s what makes childhood such a unique and special time. But whether we like to acknowledge it or not they also live in the real world, an adult world with all its contradictions and questions. Children’s books can help build a bridge between this world of play and imagination and the darker side of human life. The best books for children don’t talk down to children, but understand their natural curiosity about all aspects of life, even the unpalatable ones. And even when we grow into adulthood, children’s books can help us process things about this world that are hard to understand.
View our full hand-picked range of books here.
Our ‘Illustrator of the Month’ blog series focuses on some of our favourite illustrators, their lives and their works. This is a chance to learn more about the people who illustrated your favourite books, the influences that shaped their art style and storytelling, and some of their lesser known projects.
So far we’ve written on contemporary gamechangers Jon Klassen and Tomi Ungerer, and the classic Swedish children’s author Elsa Beskow. Now it’s time for another iconic Nordic woman, the incomparable Tove Jansson!
Tove Jansson is best known for creating the Moomins, those whimsical hippo-like creatures who first appeared in the 1940s and later exploded across the world. The Moomins are a sensation across central Europe, Scandinavia and Japan, and are recently also becoming more popular in Ireland, the U.K. and the U.S. Though best known for her Moomins, which starred in a series of novels, picture books and a daily comic strip, Tove Jansson was also an accomplished painter. She was a very unconventional character, and her unique contributions to the world are still loved and appreciated by millions.
A Bohemian Upbringing
Tove Jansson was born in 1914 in Helsinki, Finland, to a sculptor father and an illustrator mother. Her parents encouraged their daughter’s creativity from the moment she was born. When she was only three years old her father wrote to her mother : “Maybe our Tove will grow up to be a great artist. A really great artist!”. And he was right! Tove learned to draw almost before she knew how to walk. Many have seen the influence of this Bohemian family in the Moomin family, who are famously laid back, always inviting newcomers into their home and choosing creativity and spontaneity over the practicalities of life. Though intensely prolific as artists, the family also loved to throw parties. And as anyone who is familiar with the Moomins knows, they too love to entertain!
Tove’s family were also an important influence in terms of gender equality. When Tove’s father dreamed that his daughter may become a great artist, he set no limitations on her because she was a girl. Tove’s mother Signe was a strong feminist, pursuing outdoor activities and an independent career despite societal expectations at that time that women should be reserved and dependant. Signe was involved in starting a scouting society for girls, as the scouts had previously only been open to boys. She is still remembered for this contribution in Finland. The inhabitants of Moominvalley, the idyllic world in which the Moomins reside, are famously androgynous. Tove’s niece Sofia told The Guardian that even now people still write to the family asking about the gender of certain characters, and they respond that it does not matter. The Hemulen, an inquisitive researcher who hangs around the Moomin house, is known to be male but wears dresses! If it helps with his ease of movement while collecting specimens, then why not? Anything goes in Moominvalley, as long as you’re not hurting anyone.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman
Tove began publishing illustrations in magazines while still a teenager. In her teens and early twenties she studied art both at home in Finland and abroad in Sweden and Paris, and she had her first solo exhibition in 1943, aged 28.
An early painting by Tove Jansson, Before the Masquerade, 1943
Photo: Helsinki Art Museum, Hanna Kukorelli
© Tove Janssonin kuolinpesä
In that same year, her first Moomin-like illustrated character appeared in Garm, an anti-fascist satirical magazine. The official Moomin website blog gives an interesting insight into the genesis of this first Moomin figure. The story goes that Tove invented the main Moomin character, Moomintroll, to get back at her brother when they were bickering as children. She drew the ugliest creature she could think of on the outhouse wall of their summer cottage, naming it “Snork”!
The name Moomintroll came later when Tove was staying with her uncle as a student in Stockholm. To discourage her from midnight snacking, Tove’s uncle told her that frightful creatures named Moo-oo-oomintrolls lived in the kitchen cupboard and behind the tile stove, and at night they would come out to press their noses against your leg and blow cold air down your neck! Tove herself said that if she were to pick one formative influence into the design of Moomintroll, it would be the big-nosed trolls drawn by Swedish artist John Bauer.
War and Moomins
The first Moomin novel, The Moomins and the Great Flood, was published in 1945. It was written earlier, upon the breakout of World War Two. Tove’s brother was dispatched to fight and it was a time of great anxiety for the family. Tove herself was depressed by the war and wanted to write something innocent to escape from it, a kind of fairy tale for adults. It wasn’t until years later that a friend pointed out that if the story was finished and illustrated then maybe it could be published as a children’s book.
The book is illustrated in sepia tone watercolours, as well as the pen and ink drawings that would become the hallmark of later Moomin novels. The Moomins and the Great Flood went largely unnoticed but it’s sequels Comet in Moominland and Finn Family Moomintroll made Tove Jansson and Moomins household names all over Scandinavia. Several novels followed, and in 1952 Tove published the first Moomin picture book, The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My. Of course she used the picture book format to its full potential, and this is a dynamic book full of bold colours, graphic shapes and cut out segments that lead the action from page to page.
In 1954 The Evening News, a London newspaper, commissioned a Moomins daily comic strip, which had 20 million daily readers in over 40 countries! Understandably, Tove began to find this Moomin saturation detrimental to her other projects. It’s hard to comprehend her workload in the 1950s; her range of public and literary commissions during this decade included everything from a mural for Helsinki’s children’s hospital to illustrations for a Swedish translation of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark.
The demands of a daily comic strip meant that Tove had no time to paint, so her brother Lars took over the comic strip duties in 1960. That same year, she created one of her greatest picture books, Who Will Comfort Toffle. According to the official Tove Jansson website, she wrote this story after a little boy wrote to her about his insurmountable shyness and fear, and signed the letter “Toffle”. In the book, a shy little boy goes on a journey to comfort a scared little girl and defeat the menacing Groke. It was Tove’s belief that the only way to overcome shyness and fear is to find someone even more downtrodden than you are, and support them. That way both of you will find a friend and be able to face things together. Throughout her long career, Tove always wrote back to any “Toffles” who sent her letters, especially if they were children.
Who Will Comfort Toffle was followed by the last Moomin picture book, The Dangerous Journey. Loosely based in Moominvalley, it is a surreal journey through dramatic landscapes and weathers and shows off Tove Jansson’s outstanding command of form and colour.
TV and merchandise
While Tove Jansson continued to work on new projects, Moomin merchandise was becoming increasingly popular. The Finnish crockery company Arabia brought out the first range of Moomin accessories at the end of the 1950s, and a relaunch in the 1990s made their Moomin range wildly popular. These products, especially the mugs, are still highly sought after collectibles. Arabia continue to release new limited edition mugs each year, and discontinue old ones, making collecting them a highly competitive pursuit! So far this year they’ve released two new mugs, one to mark the summer season and one to celebrate the opening of the first Moomin museum in Finland.
The summer mug features illustrations from Moominsummer Madness, in which an earthquake forces the Moomins to shelter in an old theatre. The Moomins don’t understand what a theatre is, and wonder why this house is full of old wigs and staircases that lead nowhere. They think whoever Mr. “Props” is must be very important, because he has his own room with his name on it! The mug is beautifully designed and coloured by ceramic artist Tove Slotte
Moomin summer mug available instore
The Moomin museum mug is the first Arabia mug ever to use Tove Jansson’s aquarelle’s paintings as opposed to her line drawings. It was made in collaboration with Tampere Art Museum, which houses most of Jansson’s archive, to celebrate both the opening of the Moomin museum and the 100th anniversary of Finland’s independence.
Moomin art mug available instore
As well as merchandise, TV animations also helped Moomin-mania go global, with many Irish people’s first impression of Moomins being the Polish stop motion series which was broadcasted in Ireland during the 1980s.
Moomin animation by Polish studio Se-ma-for
The obsession continues with Moomins long after Tove Jansson’s death in 2001. Moomin merchandise continues to grow, with everything from coffee to pillowcases getting the Moomin treatment. Our Moomin range alone includes prints, children’s cutlery, crockery and more. There are even Moomin theme parks! This year the Southbank Centre in London hosted an immersive Moomins exhibition, which will run until the end of August. And this autumn, Dulwich Picture Gallery will hold an exhibition of Tove Jansson’s other work, including a large body of her self portraits and paintings. This exhibition will seek to reintroduce Tove as an artist of amazing scope and versatility, as during her lifetime she had begun to lament that Moomins had taken over from any appreciation of her as a fine artist. For those unsure where to start with Tove Jansson and Moomins, any of the books will hook you in immediately! Take a leaf out of Moomintroll’s book and just dive in.
It’s our birthday! Our Drury Street store was one year old last week and we have celebrated by giving out gifts in our massive sale and our social media competitions!
To celebrate our first year, we’ve been thinking about one year olds through the ages; how they were raised and most importantly what they read! We’ve picked out some of the best children’s books published in every decade from the 1920s up to now, and taken a look at some of the popular parenting advice of their time.
Childhood in the 1920s
One year olds in the 1920s were an unfortunate bunch if their parents followed the popular parenting advice of the day, which ranged from touching the baby as little as possible to having it spend as much time outdoors as possible. Robert and Mary were the most popular names for babies, so while sitting alone on the lawn all day, little Mary or Robert may have found some comfort in the great picture books published in that decade, which included The Velveteen Rabbit and Clever Bill, both illustrated by William Nicholson.
And who could forget the beloved Pooh! The first Winnie the Pooh collection of stories was published in 1926, so perhaps these 1920's parents may have read it to their little ones out the kitchen window, while keeping a safe distance of course.
In the 1920s the emphasis on the need for fresh air and sunshine for babies persisted from the previous decade, and led to parents in high rise tenement blocks in places like London and the U.S. installing wire "baby cages" on their windows so that their toddlers could spend enough time outdoors! The '30s also saw the introduction from Vienna of a theory called “democratic parenting”, a method of kind but firm childrearing that aimed to treat children with more equality to adults than was common in that era.
Among the most popular baby names in the 1930s were Margaret and John, and these babies were treated to the adventures of Babar the Elephant, the popular series of books about King Babar and his wife Celeste. A.A. Milne, author of Winnie the Pooh, said “If you love elephants you will love Babar and Celeste. If you have never loved elephants you will love them now".
In 1946 a new parenting book was published by Dr. Benjamin Spock, advocating parents to reject the previous decades’ distant parenting style and reconnect to their natural nurturing instincts. This brought more focus to warmth and bonding than in previous years. Good news for little John and Margaret, who were still the most popular names! This decade was also a great one for children’s books, with one of the most popular children’s books ever, The Little Prince, being published in the original French in 1943. The Little Prince is the third most translated book in the world, after the Bible and the Koran! For children in Scandinavia, Moomins were also starting to make an appearance, with The Moomins and the Great Flood being published in the original Swedish in 1945.
Because of advertisements like the one above, 1950s common wisdom about what was healthy and correct is the source of much amusement these days! However some people have started to question whether they might have had some things right after all. Because factory production hadn’t returned to pre-war levels, more parents made their children’s toys by hand and used reusable cloth nappies, and with television still uncommon at home, young children were likely to be read to often. And what a choice of books those children had! Our perception of 1950s culture these days is usually of a conservative mainstream culture, but in children’s books as well as other areas a lot of artists were reaching new heights of innovation. Little Susan and David, the most likely names for babies born in the 1950s, may have grown up with the wacky Dr. Seuss as a household name, and Tove Jansson's Moomins also exploded in popularity during this decade.
In 1962 a paediatrician called Walter W. Sackett Jr. published Bringing Up Baby, a book which recommended that babies as young as 10 weeks should be eating bacon, eggs and even coffee, to acclimatise to the family’s eating habits! In the same decade, Harry Harlow’s controversial experiments on baby monkeys showed that infants prioritise warmth and comfort from a parent over basic needs. The Sixties was a good time for children’s books, with little David and Susan ,(still the most popular names!), likely to grow up with now-iconic characters such as Miffy.
In the U.S., artists like Tomi Ungerer and Maurice Sendak led a swerve towards darker and edgier books for children, such as Ungerer's The Three Robbers. And cutting edge designers experimented with children's illustration in books like A Balloon For A Blunderbuss.
The 1970s saw the rise of a more child-centred and intuitive parenting style proposed by Penelope Leach. In contrast to the parenting styles of previous generations, mothers and fathers were now encouraged to put the baby’s needs above their own and to trust their instincts. Jennifer and Michael were popular names for babies, and little Jenny and Mike grew up with Judith Kerr’s scatty cat Mog, who is still loved to this day.
Other books that '70s kids might remember include When Tom Beat Captain Najork by Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake.
This decade’s babies were likely to be named Sarah or Paul, and they would have grown up with more TV than previous generations. Children's books were still an important part of early childhood though, and some of our favourite books were published in the '80s. Jill Barklem’s Brambly Hedge stories were first published in this decade, along with Shirley Hughes’ Alfie books.
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen demonstrate the 1990s trend for attachment.
By the time the 1990s came along, Michael and Jessica were the reigning babies! Guides advocating attachment parenting became popular, which is reflected in one of the most popular children’s books of the decade, Guess How Much I Love You.
Jacob and Jack, Emily and Sophie have all been popular names in the last few years, and social media has meant that childhood is more publicly shared and discussed than ever before. Children’s books have been booming with award-winning artists like Jon Klassen, Carson Ellis and Oliver Jeffers enjoying mass popularity. Klassen’s ‘Hat Trilogy’ may be remembered by this generation’s children as the iconic books of their childhood.
And in 2016, a little shop on Drury Street opened, with the aim to bring the best illustrated books from the last 100 years to children and grown up children in Ireland and beyond! A big thank you to all our customers for your valued support in our first year. Here's to the next hundred!
You can view our full collection of illustrated children's books here.
Illustrator of the Month: Elsa Beskow July 05 2017
Our ‘Illustrator of the Month’ blog series focuses on some of our favourite illustrators, their lives and their works. This is a chance to learn more about the people who illustrated your favourite books, the influences that shaped their art style and storytelling, and some of their lesser known projects.
Elsa Beskow was a Swedish children’s writer and illustrator who published dozens of books during the early 20th century. She is often referred to as “the Beatrix Potter of Scandinavia”, and children in that part of the world have been growing up with her stories for over a hundred years. She was a very prolific worker, and her stories reflect her interest in nature and the freedom of childhood.
Elsa Beskow was born Elsa Martmaan in Stockholm, Sweden in 1874, the second of six children. As a small child she was already a natural born storyteller, and her older brother Hans would help fill in the words when her imagination was bigger than her vocabulary! She grew up surrounded by fairy tales and nursery rhymes, and would later create her first picture book The Tale of the Little, Little Old Woman from a nursery rhyme her grandmother taught her. When this book was originally released, the publisher convinced her to add in an ending with the Old Woman's cat running to the woods and never coming back, because this was the way he remembered the rhyme from his own childhood. But years later she added an extra page to say that maybe she came home in the end, so that children wouldn’t be sad!
When Beskow was 15, her father died, leaving her mother penniless, and the family moved in with her unmarried aunts and uncle who were already living together. This living arrangement later inspired the Aunts series, some of Beskow’s most popular books. The stories feature Aunt Green, Aunt Brown, Aunt Lavender and Uncle Blue, who take in the unfortunate children Peter and Lotta and educate them at home.
Beskow began publishing the Aunts series during the First World War. The war traumatised her and recalling childhood memories to create an idyllic world was a way of escaping from reality. The generosity of the three aunts is a hallmark of these stories:
“For now and then Aunt Brown put toffee and gingerbread in their pockets, Aunt Green secretly told them they could eat all the gooseberries and pears they wanted from the garden, and Aunt Lavender kept calling them into the kitchen to taste her berry syrup.”. - Aunt Green, Aunt Brown and Aunt Lavender, 1918.
Sweden suffered food shortages during the war; bread and sugar were rationed, followed by meat, eggs, milk and butter. Women went on strike demanding food for their children, and there were even outright riots over the shortages. The bountiful world of the Aunts series was an appealing fantasy for Swedish families at this time.
Providing for the family
Elsa Martmaan met Nathaniel Beskow at art college and she became Elsa Beskow when they married in 1897. They had six sons. Although they met when they were both studying art, (Elsa was a model for Nathaniel’s paintings), Nathaniel changed direction suddenly and went back to his abandoned theology studies. This career didn’t bring in much money, so Elsa became the main provider for her growing family. She described her married life and career as “every year another book and every other year a boy”. One of her sons, Bo Beskow, (who became a successful artist in his own right, with some of his work being housed in the United Nations headquarters), looked back with amazement at his mother’s work ethic in his book Krokodilens middag:
"How did she find the time to work with her picture books! She had to produce one a year in order to support the family…We understood that father’s work was important; he was not to be disturbed, but mother only drew and painted – it was fun and we could disturb her as much as we wished. Mother was always available; she didn’t have her own work room, she wrote and drew at a large white table in the parlor. Everything and everyone in the house that moved passed by there, someone always needed her help with something."
The financial pressure to provide for her family explains why Beskow was such a prolific author and illustrator, with 21 books by her in our collection alone! Her sons made their way into her books, she used them as models for her illustrations, and wrote books for each of them. She also used her garden as inspiration for the plant life in her books, and was interested in nature all her life. Working in a domestic setting didn’t limit Beskow’s imagination. In Krokodilens middag her son said his mother “could work magic. Sometimes when it was gray and cloudy, she would take a stick and stir up the clouds and say: ‘Come out sun!’ and the sun came out.”
Beskow’s first book was The Tale of the Little, Little Old Woman, but her first major success was her second book, Peter in Blueberry Land. It was first published in 1901 and translated into German in 1903, Danish in 1912 and English in 1931. In this book, Peter gets shrunken down to tiny size by the King of Blueberry Land, while collecting fruit in the forest for his mother. Beskow often combined her love of nature with her fairytale imagination, and in this book Peter gallops on mice with the blueberry boys to meet Mrs Cranberry and her five daughters.
Beskow’s illustration style is as gentle as her stories, with delicate watercolours and rosy-cheeked children, but as a writer she was not as conventional as she may seem to modern audiences.
The aunts and uncles who helped raise Elsa Beskow had progressive views on childhood and education, and founded a school where enjoyment and games were central, and emphasis was placed on helping children understand what they were learning, as opposed to teaching by rote. This probably influenced her stories, as they are full of children showing their initiative and striking out on adventures of their own. Even though this doesn’t always end well, (like when The Children of Hat Cottage end up accidentally burning their mother's house down when she’s away on errands!), these stories reflect Beskow’s upbringing and the belief that children should decide things for themselves to fulfil their unique potential. Beskow’s attitude to class struggles and women’s liberation can be seen in another of her popular books, The Flowers’ Festival, in which the haughty flowers dismiss the weeds as “rabble”, but the weeds refuse to be silenced.
Some critics have even suggested that Mrs. Chestnut, who wears a loose, flowing dress, is depicted as pregnant. If true, this challenged the conservative Swedish bourgeois view at the time, that pregnant women should be hidden from view.
Like all great children’s authors, Elsa Beskow believed that childhood was special and that children’s imagination should be respected. She enjoyed creating her picture books, saying that “there is something blessed about children, they are always willing to meet you halfway”. Her work still stands up over one hundred years after it was created, and her books are now also interesting from a cultural history perspective as they detail clothing and interiors from turn of the century Scandinavia. Her illustrations are still inspiring designers to this day, recently details from her work were reworked by Catharina Kippel in a beautiful range of kitchenware from Design House Stockholm.
Beskow is considered the earliest Swedish author to have had mass popularity outside Sweden, and her work has been translated into nineteen languages. In 1958 there was a prize named after her, the Elsa Beskow Plaque, which awards excellence in Swedish picture books.
View our large range of Elsa Beskow books and accessories here.
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