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The Wind in the Willows

Posted on Nov 7, 2012

Kenneth Grahame (text) & David Roberts (illustrations)
(Oxford University Press)

I only discovered The Wind in the Willows as an adult, another cultural gap attributed to my non-British upbringing, and I was not bowled over by it, I have to admit. But I do believe that if one is to build a library for a child The Wind in the Willows most definitely has its place.
It is rather a timeless tale after all, opening with Mole deciding to explore beyond his immediate world, the burrow. On his adventure he meets Ratty, with whom he makes firm friends and they spend many a glorious day along the river bank. When they meet Toad and Mr Badger, they find themselves embroiled in all sorts of reckless adventures.

The best classics deserve to be made contemporary.

This is the quote found on the back of this beautifully packaged gift book, and how true it is. Regardless of how we, as adults, feel about E.H. Shepard’s artwork for The Wind in the Willows, there is certainly an air of old-fashioned-ness and nostalgia about them which young readers will not get, in the majority Roberts’ illustrations breathe a new and totally different life into the tale. It is certainly rejuvenated, with the characters looking current and amiable, but it is also retold, in a way that only artwork can do.  David Roberts’ unique style manages to mix sophistication and cheekiness, as well as convey the majesty of the tal, the silliness of many of the adventures and the quirkiness of its protagonists, particularly with Toad.

The use of colour is stunning, with particular use of warm orangey colours for indoor scenes, and luscious greens of the outdoor scenes, as is well represented by this spread:

There is also a certain elegance throughout the artwork, often associated with the time in which The Wind in the Willows was originally published, and which is often found in the background of the illustrations. Look at the absolutely splendid wall here for example:

Another wonderful detail is that each chapter heading is adorned by a different art-deco style pattern, which are stunning:

Interestingly, a chapter,”The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” has been omitted in this edition. This is the chapter that features the Greek God Pan. Pan is still present within the artwork however, albeit a bit more elusively. 
I could go on about the artwork in this book, as it is simply sublime. What an amazing gift book, and what an addition to a child’s library. David Roberts’ transformation of this classic tale is outstanding, and  has brought a totally different experience of The Wind in the Willows to old skeptic me.
Highly recommended.
All illustrations © David Roberts
Source: review copy from publisher

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1 Comment

  1. So interested to see this book – I was brought up on this story and Shepherd has god-like status in our family, but I have to say this artwork looks really wonderful. The quote from the back cover is, I think, absolutely true.

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