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
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