The launch of the Kindle got me thinking about all the things an e-reader can never be. You can't inscribe it to a loved one or press flowers between it's pages. It can never be an object, loved and cherished and passed from person to person, with any history. Your children cannot draw upon the pages and fill it with precious memories. Illustrations look terrible on it, especially art, which needs a grand scale. For these reasons and many more, help me celebrate the real thing: dusty old books!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

'Twas the Night before Christmas...

'Tis the season to enjoy traditions. Often reading an old favourite can be a quiet personal tradition. I have my own festive favourites that I'll be re-reading over the holidays. But here's a lovely Christmas tradition from Gerry Mayfield that makes me realise that I should be making more of my own favourite books and rituals...and sharing them with family and friends.

"As a child I have memories of being read 'The Night Before Christmas' on Christmas Eve before hanging our stockings on the mantelpiece and shouting up the chimney to Santa, our heart's desires. I often wonder if my parents got any surprises on that day!

However I digress. When our eldest was young I managed to acquire a board book of the poem which I then read to her each year. Not just on Christmas Eve though on any night on the run up to Christmas. We became word perfect but still reading the words and looking at the pictures together invoked a magic not to be found in just the recital. Our eldest went to university as our second child was born and each year I would follow the same tradition with our youngest. Again we are both about word perfect and reading is not restricted to Christmas Eve only.

This year we asked our eldest when she was coming over on Christmas Eve and we were told that she would be over for 'The Night Before Christmas'. Each year she still comes 'for the reading' and we have a real tradition in the making. Lizzie, although 12 now, will still have the reading and Cate, 18 years her senior, will be there for it too.

Whose this book is is a guess, but I like to think it's mine and will have the privilege of reading it to any grandchildren we do have with, hopefully, our 2 daughters watching and listening.

The copy isn't particularly old nor dusty at the moment as it has already been out this year, but without it the tradition would die immediately."

Thank you Gerry for sharing this. I've now found our version - not very old or dusty either. Gerry's book is obviously of a certain vintage that reminds me of my childhood (I had lots of "Dean" books I remember). I must also find our video of Tom and Jerry's Night before Christmas, which I just love. What else can I add, except...

"Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!"


Monday, 21 December 2009

Compliments of the Season!

Here's a lovely little "King Penguin" given to my wife by her sister many years ago, although the book was pretty vintage even then. It's a short history of the Christmas Card, and is illustrated with assorted and typical examples.

A lovely keep-sake and as we approach another New Year and move, at frightening speed, towards the end of the first decade of the 21st century, I find myself clinging to visions of the past like this, rather than embracing the digital future. But whether you are with me on that one or not: "A Merry Christmas to all my readers" !


Wednesday, 16 December 2009


A powerful reminder, from Saviour Pirotta, of the imporrtance of books in childhood: they shape us and influence us all our lives:

"I received a parcel of letters from a school in America this week. The children have been doing a project about Ancient Greece and read my ORCHARD BOOK OF FIRST GREEK MYTHS. Their teacher had suggested they each ask me a question, which I will answer in a class email sent to her. Most of them wanted to know if I liked Greek Myths when I was a child. The answer, of course, is 'yes, I loved Greek Myths.' I pored over pictures of Greek legends and heroes before I could read the often dense text in the books. When I did learn to read, I devoured every version I could lay my hands on! I re-worked the stories to suit my own ideas. The landscape where I grew up is quite similar to Greece's, so it wasn't hard to imagine monsters rearing their heads out of caves, or triremes coming round headlands in the med.

Writing back to the kids made me think of the old Greek Myths books I had, and the wonderful colour plates in them. I thought I'd share some of the most inspiring ones with the readers of this wonderful blog."

from the Ladybird book, Alexander The Great.

From Charles Kingsley's The Hereos. The Illustrations are by H.M. Brock.

Kingsley and Brock again!

From Look and Learn Annual, [the 1974, I think}

Another pic of Bellorophom on Pegasus

One of my own versions, illustrated by Jan Lewis

Thankyou Saviour.

Saviour blogs about historical fiction for kids at
Swords and Sandals

A Weekend of finds by Mary Mayfield

Here are some extraordinary discoveries from Mary Mayfield, both irreplaceable and rare (and dusty?), but quite different to each other. Thank you Mary for letting me post these.

The first is a Latin-English Dictionary. Here’s what Mary said about it:

“This is one of last weekend's finds. sitting on a shelf, in my parents' spare room, was an English-Latin dictionary dated 1774.

No one actually knows where this came from - it's last move from was from my grandmother's house to theirs, about 30 years ago.

It has 2 inscriptions - Bridget and ------- Sharp 1820 (possibly 1829) and a fainter one from 1831, possibly to someone Parker or Barker.

Presumably these are distant relatives but no one knows…”

Mary went on to say how it had been:

“sitting next to an old car manual belonging to (husband) Gerry that looked like it had been chewed by mice!
I just wish we knew more about this.”

Well me too, so any information you might have, do post it!

Mary’s husband went on to say:

“It is 235 years old. It's described by some as a school dictionary and we have seen someone with one that is 236 years old. There is a handwritten inscription in the front but it is mostly illegible as the ink has faded but the inscription has 2 dates - 1820 and 1830. One wonders if the people mentioned were relatives or whether it was a find in a secondhand bookshop by an earlier generation of the family.”

And Saviour Pirotta called it

“A real treasure!”

And he’s right of course. What a beautiful and fascinating thing to have, full of history and mystery!

The second book from Mary is Buster Brown by R F Outcault. She writes:

“An extremely scruffy picture book from my mother's childhood, although she received it second-hand,copyrighted 1905 by The New York Herald. It's lost the cover completely and was folded in half and pushed in a cupboard.
A series of cartoon adventures each with a little "lesson" at the end - this one disapproves of Teddy Roosevelt shooting wild life for publicity.
I think this was originally a newspaper cartoon strip though I'm not sure if it was aimed at children exclusively - the bit here about "a president going out armed with a gun and a camera and a press agent" doesn't sound like children's material.”

Glorious finds! Thanks again Mary for sharing these on Dusty Old Books!

Friday, 4 December 2009

Costume Cavalcade

For many years I have collected costume books and good ones are surprisingly hard to find. Here are a few pages from my favourite: Costume Cavalcade by Henny Harald Hansen (there's a name to be reckoned with!), with its one hundred gorgeous plates. One of the most important things that any illustrator can do is learn about costume and fabrics; how they hang and fall, how they fold, how they function in different eras. It's one thing to become an expert at life drawing, but how many children's books feature nudes?

Costume Cavalcade is falling apart, but it remains the most useful of all my costume books for the images have a delicious clarity. Those costumes from before the great era of fashion plates (the early nineteenth century) are taken from famous masterworks. See if you can spot a bit of Uccello, a snippet of Fragonard, a taste of The Book Of Hours. Other plates not shown have glorious costumes from Vermeer to Velazquez.

The Regency costumes were especially helpful when illustrating Rossini's La Cenerentola (Cinderella), which I gave a Mozartian/Rossinian setting.

The book's vintage (1950s) is revealed in the final plate, with Audrey Hepburn inspired figures (all very Roman Holiday), but I also find the Edwardian he-men and the bathing beauties irresistable!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Treasure hunting with Saviour Pirotta

Many thanks to Saviour for letting me post his recent haul of Dusty Old Books. Treasures indeed, and full of the obscure and unexpected things - words and pictures - that give inspiration to writers and artists. You just never know what direction your imagination will go in...


9.55am What to do when you've stumbled home at the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning and can't yet go to bed but are too razzled/tired/antsy to do anything productive? I know, put on the kettle, sit back in a comfy armchair and and force your bleary eyes to focus on a Kindle...not. But look, there's a distraction from all this wonderful information and literature that must be stored in this modern little appliance...a table top sale in Victoria Hall, just round the corner. Perhaps they might have the latest ebook there......

11.00am - Return home definitely unkindled! Never mind, here's a few old bits of tit and tat to be had for £8.00 in total!

Treasure was the junior version of Look And Learn. This annual from 1974 includes comic strip stories about Ancient Greece and Hiawatha. There are also Chinese legends, facts about animals and the story of the printing press.

A little curio from, I guess, the 1940s. The text is really simple, the pictures all have one major colour. The sort of thing I would have memorised as a kid and acted out. No author is credited!

One of two books James would really appreciate, this includes articles about the Ballet Rambert, the Dance Centre in London and loads of brilliant photos of the greats at work
A photo from The Tina Ballet Book, showing a still from an American ballet based on The Wizard of Oz. These two dancers are the wind that carries Dorothy to the fabled land.

Another for James, this books is about all aspects of dance, including modern and classical ballet and folk.

From People Who Dance - a dancer in Italy!

The cover of this one says it all, really. Packed with astounding, high quality photos.

This poor book wasn't particularly well looked after but it seems to have given someone a lot of enjoyment. Christmas stories without presents or Christmas trees? Now there's a novelty."

by Saviour Pirotta