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!

Saturday, 2 January 2010

All the world's a stage...

The Children's Theatre Book
("For young dancers and actors") by Cecile Walton is the sort of book that just isn't produced anymore. There are plenty of modern activity books for children, all in garish full colour and with busily-designed pages that put you off immediately. This wordy and worthy book, published in 1949, is far more discreet and lengthy at over 100 pages, but somehow the thoroughness and the concentration required is far more inspiring, more mysterious, more satisfying than the gaudy modern counterparts.

Here, two rather middle-class children Paul and Pauline are encouraged by the kindly old Mr Curio to discover art, movement, expression and performance. Inspired, we are then shown how to make a toy theatre, in some substantial detail. Prosceniums, curtains, lighting and scenery are all explored.

Other chapters cover drawing, mime, the history of costume, "Make up and make believe" and even feet get their own chapter. Deportment and gesture are things modern children would barely be able to grasp I suspect.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a rather dry and old fashioned "lesson" book, yet what a treasure trove of imagination it contains. There are many beautiful drawings (not least the balletic endpapers)and there are even black-and-white reproductions of pertinant Old Masters, from Botticelli to Degas. One chapter is called "Another World". This book takes us there in more ways than one...


  1. I spent most of my life wanting a cut out theatre like this. I made one of my own from plywood but it lacked the ornate embelishments I wanted. Had to wait for those till I came to London for the first time in 1979 and bought myself a Pollock's. Nice book! Thanks for sharing.

  2. It's a lovely little book, you'd love it Saviour. I wishe we could collaborate on something theatrical one day... Maybe the stage version of Clockwork Ballerina (ever the optimist!)

  3. This book looks wonderful. I loved anything cut out as a child and I recently bought my daughter a pop up theatre book (Edwardian Doll's House series of books - off the top of my head...will brave her room at some point to find it) which is just lovely but not nearly as detailed or informative as this book appears to be.