Pooh and Piglet walk­ing

From E. H. Shep­ard’s pen­cil evo­ca­tions of A. A. Milne’s Christo­pher Robin and his friends to Quentin Blake’s lively in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Roald Dahl’s tales, Matthew Den­ni­son cel­e­brates the time­less ap­peal of chil­dren’s il­lus­tra­tors

Country Life Every Week - - My Week -

DUR­ING the In­fant-age, ever busy and al­ways en­quir­ing, there is no fix­ing the at­ten­tion of the mind, but by amus­ing it,’ as­serted pub­lisher Thomas Bore­man in his pref­ace to The Gi­gantick His­tory of the two fa­mous Giants And other Cu­riosi­ties in Guild­hall, Lon­don of 1741. Among Bore­man’s means of ‘amus­ing’ his in­fant read­ers were cop­per­plate en­grav­ings used to il­lus­trate his ti­tles. In the case of A De­scrip­tion of Three Hun­dred An­i­mals; viz Beasts, Birds, Fishes, Ser­pents and In­sects, which Bore­man pub­lished in 1730, im­ages of the unicorn (a beast ‘doubted of by many writ­ers’) and the man­ti­cora (a ‘de­vourer’ with ‘a triple Row of Teeth be­neath and above’) as­sisted the en­quir­ing in­fant, who was un­likely to glimpse ei­ther crea­ture in the flesh.

Bore­man ex­plained his pur­pose as ‘to al­lure Chil­dren to Read’. In the three cen­turies since he pub­lished his dozen il­lus­trated books for chil­dren, ‘al­lure­ment’ and ‘amuse­ment’ have re­mained key aims of chil­dren’s il­lus­tra­tors and Bri­tish artists have ex­celled in this field. Leonardo da Vinci sug­gested that the more minutely a writer de­scribes events or char­ac­ters, ‘the more you will con­fine the mind of the reader’. Da Vinci’s so­lu­tion? ‘It is nec­es­sary to draw.’

The work of the best chil­dren’s il­lus­tra­tors pro­vides a layer of de­scrip­tion im­pos­si­ble in words. Each of us re­mem­bers favourite im­ages from our own child­hood read­ing. In a hand­ful of cases, an il­lus­tra­tor’s vi­sion has tran­scended sim­ple en­hance­ment to stamp it­self upon the na­tional con­scious­ness. Sir John Ten­niel’s Alice, E. H. Shep­ard’s Win­nie-the-pooh and Beatrix Pot­ter’s Peter Rab­bit are as in­stantly

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