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.
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.
Who is the Best Bunny in Children's Literature? May 24 2017
We here at Tales for Tadpoles like to bring you the hard-hitting questions of the day. It’s important to take the time to question your beliefs and make up your mind on where you stand on important issues. So ask yourself this, who really is the best children’s book bunny? We ran a quick poll on Twitter and Instagram earlier this month, but now we want to open this conversation further and delve into what makes each bunny unique. We’ve listed five of the main contenders here, with rabbits from classic literature to more modern picture books. To make it easier we’ve assigned each rabbit a music genre or song, type of cuisine, and mode of transport, so that you can figure out which one you might relate to most. When you’ve decided who you’re backing, make sure to give us your opinion in the comments below!
1. Peter Rabbit
Possibly the best known rabbit of all the children’s book rabbits. Will score points with the rebellious crowd for his flagrant disregard for the rules in pillaging Mr. McGregor’s produce, just when his good mother told him not to. Perhaps he is also an eco-warrior concerned about food waste in modern farming methods? There’s definitely an undergraduate thesis in there somewhere…
Peter is a beloved nostalgic figure for many generations, and has been part of peoples’ childhoods for over a hundred years. In terms of design, Peter is an anatomically correct rabbit, but he wears a tiny jacket and pair of loafers. What a combination! Beatrix Potter’s fine balance between realism and whimsy is what makes her still so popular today.
Soundtrack: Peter is definitely a little punk
Mode of transport: Wanders about going “lippity- lippity-, not very fast”
Tiny jacket rating: 10/10
Miffy is everyone’s favourite minimalist, everyone’s favourite bicyclist and everyone’s favourite artist. How she fits all these activities into the day is frankly remarkable, and all without opposable thumbs!
She is an action bunny and has starred in such stories as Miffy the Artist, Miffy’s Bicycle, Miffy is Crying and Miffy at the Playground. Miffy will win points with some for being slightly alternative. She is originally from the Netherlands, where she is known as Njintje, and like all cool, alternative things, she is very popular in Japan. In terms of illustration, Miffy is very different to Peter Rabbit, being created out of minimal strong black lines, block colours and defined shapes.
Dick Bruna created his own colour palette to work with on the Miffy books so that they would be recognisable instantly. Miffy has been on the scene since the mid 1950s, but Bruna's style of drawing still looks modern today.
Soundtrack: Minimalist electronica
Mode of transport: Bicycle
Tiny jacket rating: Miffy has many tiny, well put together outfits. Dick Bruna made her a girl bunny because he found dresses more interesting to draw than trousers. Miffy also gains sartorial points for the snow-hat she can sometimes be seen in, which is shaped to cover her entire ears.
3. Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh
Unlike most of the other animals of the Hundred Acre Wood, who are based on Christopher Robin's soft toys, Rabbit is a real rabbit. This gives him a sense of self-importance that he usually fails to live up to. Like Peter Rabbit he is drawn realistically and often shown standing on two feet and gesturing at things. Rabbits can stand on two feet in real life, but whether they gesture at things is a matter of debate. Rabbit is introduced to the Winnie the Pooh stories when he invites Pooh into his burrow for a visit. Pooh, being Pooh, eats too much and gets stuck in the hole on the way out, and for this scene alone Rabbit deserves a place on this list.
He loses points for not having a tiny jacket, though at one point he says he would need seventeen pockets to carry all of his friends and relations around with him, so perhaps he has an overcoat in his burrow that we don’t know about. Rabbit is looked up to by the other characters; he is often called upon to settle things, and to take charge of group events. However he usually gets rather flustered and messes them up.
Soundtrack: ‘For Emma’ by Bon Iver: “for all your lies, you’re still very lovable”.
Food: Vegan fine dining
Mode of transport: Public transport, because he is community minded.
Tiny jacket rating: Rabbit is a naturist and wears no clothes.
4. The White Rabbit from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Without the White Rabbit there would be no Alice in Wonderland! There would merely be Alice Sitting on the Bank of a River While Her Sister Reads A Book, which would not have made a very good story at all. The White Rabbit is the first hint that things are about to get weird in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. When he takes a watch out of his waistcoat pocket, Alice realises that not only do rabbits not generally have watches, they don’t generally have waistcoat pockets either. The White Rabbit leads Alice down the rabbit hole and so begins the great adventure we all love! It’s possible that the White Rabbit is the rabbit of most literary significance on this list, with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland having never been out of print since its publication over 150 years ago. Another point to consider is that there is no end to representations of the White Rabbit, so he has something to suit any taste in illustration style.
The White Rabbit consulting his pocket watch (Helen Oxenbury) and breaking into a run (Robert Ingpen)
Sir John Tenniel's original White Rabbit
Soundtrack: Psychedelic rock
Food: Afternoon tea
Method of transport: Running late!
Tiny jacket rating: Most certainly has a waistcoat, and a watch in his pocket.
5. The rabbit in I Want My Hat Back
The most recent rabbit on this list, this rabbit is a key character in I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. He is the one seen wearing the hat that looks suspiciously like the hat the bear is looking for in the title.
Soon after the bear realises this, the rabbit mysteriously disappears and is never seen again. Like Peter Rabbit, this rabbit is undeniably a petty thief, but unlike Peter, who sheds a tear or two, he expresses no remorse. He is rendered in Klassen’s recognisable clean style, using watercolour and ink, with very expressive (shifty) eyes. Klassen's subsersive sense of humour means the fluffy bunny rabbit is the dishonest villain in this book, so he may deserve your vote for subverting bunny norms.
Soundtrack: 'Smooth Criminal' by Michael Jackson.
Food: Whatever is on someone else's plate.
Mode of transport: Getaway car.
Tiny jacket rating: All this rabbit is wearing is the hat that will lead to his demise.
Please cast your vote and settle this once and for all! And if you have another suggestion for the best rabbits in children’s literature, please let us know - we may even let you include hares…