FABULOUS FIVE: James Mayhew presents five picture books from the 1950s
I am delighted to welcome James Mayhew to Library Mice for the inaugural post for my new feature Fabulous Five, which will focus solely on picture books and illustration.
James created his first Katie book Katie’s Picture Show over twenty years ago as a way to share his enthusiasm for art with children. His series of Katie books are much-loved and respected as an early introduction to art. Ella Bella Ballerina and the Sleeping Beauty was James’s first title featuring the adorable Ella Bella, and has been illustrated using a new delightfully retro art style. James lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and son.
You can find a more detailed biography of James here.
You can find James on the blogosphere too:
by James Mayhew
Keeping this list to just five has been difficult. For example Ardizzone is a favourite artist of mine but I have left him out as his books are mostly well known.
The immediate post war period was a golden age for children’s books, and any constraints left over from the war were a spur to resourceful and creative design.This was an age when full colour printing was expensive, and the techniques involved were complex. Art was often reproduced lithographically and therefore created in separate layers for each colour. Because of this, illustration and design were often far more carefully considered than in recent years.
The following books are all classics from the ‘Fifties, and shouldn’t be too hard to find having been recently reissued.
The Pet of the MetDon & Lydia Freeman (1953)
This is a glorious book about a brave mouse and his family, who live inside the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. It’s not at all worthy or dully educational. It’s an enchanting romp with Mozart’s Magic Flute as the lightest and happiest of back grounds, in which Petrini the Mouse faces his nemesis, the theatre cat Mefisto. But theatres are, of course, magical places where wonderful things can happen. Gorgeous vintage illustrations capture the majesty and excitement of the old Met theatre – just a few short years before it was demolished.
The Book About Moomin Mymble and Little My
Tove Jansson (1953)
Moominvalley is an extraordinary creation; a whole community of eccentric trolls, terrifying Gaffsies, the grim and terrible Groke (who freezes the ground where she sits), of anxious Fillyjonks, bad tempered Hemulens and electrified Hattifattners. Finnish author and artist Tove Jansson was a genius when it comes to capturing recognisable family foibles in her bizarre yet endearing creatures. Everyone knows a Hemulen or two, and I have several Fillyjonks in my family! Her series of Moomin novels have never been out of print, but this rare and obscure picture book has only quite recently been revived.
Here Moomintroll is on a quest for fresh milk. Each page invites the reader to turn over, with “What do you think happened next?” tag and a die cut hole in the paper reveals a mystery object for further imaginative suggestion. His journey becomes a search for the missing Little My and all sorts of adventures follow. An absolute masterpiece of invention.
The Happy Lion
Louise Fato and Roger Duvoisin (1954)
Roger Duvoisin is one of my favourite illustrators, and his simple but brilliant use of colour and line is a huge inspiration to me. This story about a boy and lion is enchanting. At the zoo everyone loves the lion and says “Bonjour”. The lion loves having so many friends. So when his gate is left open he decides to visit them and say “Bonjour” back. But why are all his friends suddenly so terrified?
The limited colour is joyfully childlike and the nervous line work is full of humour and characterisation.
The Little Red Engine Goes to TownDiana Ross and Leslie Wood (1952)
Written by one Diana Ross (not the disco diva!), this is another series begun earlier – the ‘Forties this time, with illustrations originally by Lewitt -Him. But it was the later books with pictures by Leslie Wood that became really popular in the ‘Fifties, none more so than this one, in which the train goes to London to the Festival of Britain (which this year celeberates its 60th anniversary). The glorious vintage illustrations capture perfectly the futuristic, optimism of the festival, with its sky rocket shapes. But of all the exhibits, which does the little prince want to see most? Why, the Little Red Engine of course!
Eve Titus and Paul Galdone (1956)
A Caldecott Honor Book, this was the first in another successful series, again with the most gorgeous vintage illustrations, with the sort of careful attention to colour, form and line that you rarely see today.
Anatole is an enchanting character, a dapper little French mouse with a sophisticated palate.
Upon discovering how despised mice are in France, Anatole decides to put things right by earning an honest living rather than stealing cheese. And so he sneaks into the local famous Duval cheese factory to taste-test the cheeses. The Duval company evidently need a boost and when they act upon the written suggestions he leaves beside each cheese…their company becomes a success. Thus Anatole earns the cheeses he eats…but will anyone ever actually discover who the secret cheese-taster really is?
Thank you so much to James Mayhew for taking the time to take part and for writing this lovely post.
A big thank you too to Emma from Hachette, for being so fab!