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.
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.
A Hidden Gem: The Warmth and Wit of Sven Nordqvist August 30 2017 1 Comment
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.
There are some childhood memories that we carry with us always, whether it’s the memory of a pet, a family holiday by the sea, or a favourite picture book. Then there are plenty more childhood memories that fade with time. But what determines the memories we keep and those we leave behind? As always with the human brain, there are numerous factors at play. Here, we take a look at 5 of the most interesting facts about childhood memories.
Picture books such as David McKee's Elmer feature strong lines, colours and textures which can stimulate recognition memory in a young child.
1. Infants have memories too (in a way)
The chances are that your earliest memory is not really your earliest at all – it’s just the one that’s lasted the course. The brain actually begins to develop memory from the time we are infants still in the cradle. This is called ‘recognition memory’ and it allows babies to recognise certain sounds and sights such as our parents’ voices and faces. Some researchers believe recognition memory is so powerful that it can stay with us well into adult life. While we may be unable to recall these memories with clarity, certain sights, sounds, colours or smells can still trigger a response that can directly connect our adult selves with certain experiences we first had when just wee tots.
2. Six-month old babies can remember words
What’s known as ‘working memory’ relates to one’s ability to understand and learn. This generally begins when we are just 6 months old. Though still largely without language, it’s believed that a child of that age will have a basic understanding of certain words such as ‘mummy’, ‘daddy’, ‘peek-a-boo’ or ‘din-dins’!
3. Babies can understand basic concepts after their first year
By the time they enter their second year, babies have already begun to develop what’s known as ‘semantic memory’. This relates to their ability to understand concepts such as ‘let’s go for a little walk’ or ‘look at the dog playing with the ball’. Memories formed in this period can be quite strong. Research shows that children between the ages of 4 and 7 can readily recall events from when they were just a year and 8 months old. Unfortunately, these memories mostly fade as the child grows (typically disappearing by the age of 7), which is attributed to the fact that the child hasn’t yet acquired the ability to place those memories in context (see number 5 below for more on this).
4. Between the ages of two and seven, emotions play a greater role in memory
Children are more likely to remember moments that create an emotional response. Image: Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney.
According to Carole Petersen, a professor of psychology at Memorial University Newfoundland, one of most important things in determining whether a memory survives or not is the emotion it has attached to it. This is because between the ages of 2 and 7 a child’s brain is busy soaking up as much information as possible. It’s a hugely important time in a child’s development and, as any parent will probably tell you, children of this age are curious about just about everything. Indeed, some studies report that the average 4-year-old asks about 437 questions per day! Naturally, this means that there’s a lot of incoming information for a young brain to process, and so the things that tend to stick generally have a strong emotional appeal. That’s largely due to the fact that when a person (adult or child) experiences an emotional moment or event, the brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which makes it easier for the person to recall that moment with greater accuracy as they grow older.
5. From age seven, children use stories to improve and order their memories
Remembering is really an act of storytelling. People often need to creatively fill in certain gaps so they can complete the narrative of an event so that it makes more sense to them over time. However, children below the age of 7 have less developed narrative skills and so struggle to keep their earlier memories in later life. This all changes as older children begin to acquire a greater command of language and context since these things help them anchor their memories on more specific details relating to time and place. In essence, the memory is stored in the brain as a kind of story in which the person remembering is the central character. According to the American Psychological Association, remembering the past in this way helps to reinforce a person’s independence and plays a vital role in allowing them to respond confidently to the world around them with their own thoughts and feelings.
Stories can play a powerful role in developing a child's skill to empathise with others. Image: Findus Goes Camping by Sven Nordqvist.
The takeaway: All stories are really part of your own story
Psychologists believe that reading stories to children at an early age can help develop a child’s narrative skills. This is because stories help stimulate parts of the brain that can place the reader/listener in the role of other characters in the story (this is known as neural coupling). Storybooks that feature strong images or illustrations alongside the text may be even more effective as the brain processes images some 60,000 times faster than it does text.
And there you have it. So if you’ve ever wondered why you still remember and love the stories and characters from your childhood, it’s probably because they engaged your mind during its most intense period of development. You might even say that instead of simply letting them into your life for a visit, you were inviting them to set up a little home.
Re-live or recreate your own childhood stories - browse a selection of our illustrated books here.