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.
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.