Picture This

Picture This 

What’s the relationship between text and image in illustrated children’s books? In this blog, Niamh reflects on this question, thrown up by having to choose between a multitude of beautiful different editions of the same text for our ‘Growing Up With Books’ exhibition.

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As you know, the SELCIE group has been deciding which books will end up in the exhibition and the catalogue next year. I have no need to tell you how hard it is to making such choices. However, during this time, I have come across a difficulty that I had not really thought about until now: how to evaluate volumes that contain the same text but have differing illustrations.

Dr Sarah Dunnigan and I are putting together the “other world” cabinet, a box that will showcase magic, fairies and various other enchantments; we decided that, for this, the Scottish author J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan would grace us with its esteemed presence. However, in our numerous boxes, there are countless versions of the text. This got me wondering how far does illustration work in conjunction with the text of a book.

Some writers are particularly demanding in what they want the pictures in their books to demonstrate, as was the case of author Lewis Carroll and cartoonist-cum-illustrator John Tenniel: ‘The charts [Carroll] drew up for the sequence of llustrations [sic] include not only meticulous numberings, endlessly scratched out, redrafted and revised. … He wrote copiously to Tenniel to monitor his progress and control his interpretations’ (Warner). So many questions spring from these actions. To list a few: (i) How far do illustrations work independently of the text? (ii) What happens after the work no longer must be printed with these illustrations? (iii) How much power does the illustrator have over the narrative of the story? (iv) If the author has demanded a set of drawings be commissioned for his or her text, then does it become a different piece of work if other illustrations are used? I think these are very important issues, which demand close consideration but that does not mean I have any settled opinions on the matter.

If one were to argue that such things are unimportant then he or she would do well to consider the situation as applied to picture books or comic books: two components that work less with the written word and more with the illustrations. As one who is currently researching postcolonial paraliterature, including Hugo Pratt’s ‘Corto Maltese’ series, I would say that a lot of information is implicit in what appears in the frame, as opposed to what is explicitly declared in speech bubbles. Indeed, within a comic strip, ideas can subtly be diffused to and absorbed by the reader/viewer, in just as many ways as the written words of a text can be transmitted.

In choosing which Peter Pan text to exhibit, this idea of the importance of illustrations and their differing values and meanings has really come into focus for me. With that in mind, which volume of Barrie’s text should be chosen to show the general public? I am hoping that we can exhibit as many as possible, in part to manifest these ideas but, additionally, to give a showcase to as many different artists’ ideas as space allows.

References

Warner, Marina. ‘Curiouser and curiouser.’ Tate Etc. 1 Sept. 2011 <http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/curiouser-and-curiouser> Web.

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Time for a close up

Today it was time for some of our favourite finds to have a little photoshoot! For our exhibition, Growing Up With Books, which will open at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood on June 1st (International Children’s Day) 2018, we are producing an exhibition catalogue. Over the last few weeks, our team members have been choosing some of their favourite items to feature in this catalogue.

Favourite books

These are a few of our favourite things!

Today we took these items on a little trip down the road to the Centre for Research Collections in Edinburgh University’s Main Library.

In the CRC

Lyn Wall, Museum of Childhood curator, in the CRC

There we had them photographed for the catalogue, which involved some heavy duty equipment! Some of these books haven’t seen light like this in a long time!

Lights, camera, action!

Lights, camera, action!

We are very excited to be moving forward with the catalogue and the exhibition, which will feature these special items, and even more! Keep your eyes peeled for more sneak peaks as we continue planning! For now, here is one of the big books that will feature in Growing Up With Books: 

Morgan and A Day in Fairyland photoshoot

SELCIE Research Assistant Morgan helping to photograph “A Day in Fairyland”

 

This post written by Danielle

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A Doll’s Life

The book vault of the Museum of Childhood spans the globe both imaginatively and geographically. Russian fairy tales and handmade Japanese books nestle in boxes alongside home-grown favourites such as Peter Pan or Treasure Island. This often makes our task of sifting through the archive one of curiosity and unexpected delight. And the common thread that links these volumes is that each has somehow made a journey to the Museum’s collection. In that sense, there is always a local connection to each book, no matter how far-flung or remote it might seem.

Part of our exhibition, ‘Growing Up With Books’ (opening June 2018), will celebrate the well-travelled nature and diversity of the Museum’s archive —  a little history of the binding and interconnected story of children’s literature. In today’s blog, Sarah presents a ‘taster’, or miniature, of that aspect in describing a small illustrated French book which we pulled out of a box one day. Continue reading

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‘Helps Heavenward’: the story of a boy called David and an Edwardian Edinburgh family

In this post, Lyn Wall and Susan Gardner, curators at the Museum of Childhood, share this poignant and touching story which they pieced together from the discovery of a little book in the archive… 

One of the great benefits and pleasures of working with the Museum of Childhood book collection is sometimes finding a direct link to the person who owned the book originally, and sometimes we have an insight into an event in their lives, or how they lived their lives.

Help Heavenward titlepage Help Heavenward cover

Whilst working with the SELCIE team we came across a small unassuming hardback book with a plain cover called ‘Helps Heavenward  For Young Believers’.  On opening the book there was a pencilled inscription as follows: ‘In Memory of My Dear Brother David Stewart Who Died Feb 25 1904  B.S.’

The name David Stewart is not an uncommon one, but even so, we were able to track down what seems to be the correct Stewart family using the 1901 census return, and then found David’s death certificate.  The certificate states that he died age 12 at the Infirmary in Edinburgh and the cause of death was ‘pseudo-hypertrophic musc. Paralysis’ (today known as Muscular Dystrophy, a disease where muscles waste away over a period of time), which he had suffered from for a period of 5 years and then for the last 2 months of his life he had tuberculous.

The census shows that David had a sister called Elizabeth, who in 1904 when he died would have been aged 21, and that she was a rubber shoe maker.  David was listed as an invalid, and he had two other sisters, Isabella and Margaret.  Presumably ‘B.S.’ at the end of the inscription was Elizabeth known as Beth, Betty or Bess?

The date of the inscription and David’s death falls in the middle of the Edwardian era, which in essence hadn’t changed greatly from the late Victorian era in terms of people’s domestic and work experiences.  Christianity featured large in most people’s lives at this time, and with high infant mortality rates, and short life spans, it was a comforting thought for most people that their loved ones entered an afterlife.  Most people attended church regularly and even if they didn’t they would have been exposed to Christian teachings through their schooling or even work environments.

Scraps were discovered amidst the book – perhaps put there for safekeeping by David’s sister, Elizabeth?

Our records show that this book was donated by Mrs Pringle of Edinburgh in 1981, but there is nothing to confirm if she was connected to the Stewart family.   It wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume there was a family connection, as this is a book which obviously meant a good deal to Elizabeth as she had gone to the effort of writing an inscription in memory of her brother.  But sometimes, books and toys of great emotional significance to individuals, end up disconnected in a charity shop or forgotten in an attic or cupboard.

The book instructs the reader in ways they can be better Christians, and how they can use their faith to strengthen their character and hence send them ‘Heavenwards’ through their beliefs and actions in life.  The chapter called ‘Growing in Grace’ speaks of a child who lived in a cradle for 29 years: ‘He could neither talk, walk, nor recognise anyone, and was as helpless when he reached manhood as the day he was born’.  The reader is then encouraged to ‘grow in grace’ rather than physically grow, by learning to ‘love reading your bible’.  The message is — your faith and character make you a strong person, not your physical strength or health.  Other chapters guide you on how to rid yourself of doubts about your faith, and how to live a good Christian life.   

 The Stewart family may have had to draw strength from their faith.  David was obviously a poorly child for many years, and they would have known it was unlikely he would reach adulthood.  They were not a rich family, living in the Fountainbridge area of Edinburgh, known for its breweries and the site of the North British Rubber Company.   The company was established in 1856 alongside the Union Canal and it employed thousands of workers over five generations in manufacturing a variety of products from rubber Wellington boots, pneumatic tyres and hot-water bottles.  This is probably where Elizabeth worked.  Her father was a lorry driver, who also probably worked for the Rubber Company or one of the breweries.  It was a working class and industrial area that by the early twentieth century had declined into slum tenements and generally poor living conditions for the neighbourhood.

Throughout the pages of this book are apparently randomly placed colourful scraps.  They do not mark the beginnings of chapters, but it is possible they mark passages of significance to Elizabeth.  However, there are also some placed at the back of the book amongst advertisements.  It may just have been a way for Elizabeth to keep her scraps safe and flat, or perhaps her brother David had enjoyed playing with or collecting scraps. 

Scraps had been mass produced since the early nineteenth century, usually embossed and colourful and cheaply bought, they were accessible to most people.  Sometimes they were collected and stuck in books, or used to decorate Valentine or Christmas cards, or even screens.  They were extremely popular throughout the Victorian era and well into the twentieth century.  They are still made and collected today.

                                                                   This post written by Lyn and Susan Gardner

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A thousand years of Star-Eyed Deirdre

In this post, Kate Mathis explores the significant achievement of Louey Chisholm’s *Celtic Tales Told To the Children(1910) —    a portrait of Deirdre which preserves some of the intricacy, danger, and violence of a thousand-year-old Gaelic tale…

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Sarah’s recent post on Ella Young (1867-1956) introduced us to her best-known, beautifully-illustrated work, Celtic Wonder Tales, published in 1910 in collaboration with Maud Gonne. The copy belonging to the Museum of Childhood, owned formerly by our elusive reader, Dora Rose, contains two of the loosely-linked group of tales known to scholars of medieval Gaelic literature as ‘The Three Sorrows of Storytelling’, whose origins extend at least as far back as the fifteenth century. Ella included ‘The Children of Lir’ as well as ‘The Eric-Fine of Lugh’ (a simplified version of Oidheadh Chloinne Tuireann, ‘The violent death of Tuireann’s children’, in which three brothers attempt, unsuccessfully, to placate the king of the Tuatha De Danann), but she omitted the other, which is of even greater antiquity and by far the most famous of the three.

Often referred to, erroneously, as ‘the story of Deirdre’, it is more than a thousand years old, composed in Ireland during the eighth or ninth centuries, written down in the twelfth (as Longes mac n-Uislenn, ‘The exile of Uisliu’s sons’), and a regular source of inspiration to historians of the Gaels like Seathrún Céitinn (ca. 1569-ca. 1644) as well as to their poets and seanchaidhean (tradition-bearers). The prominence of Deirdre, by no means the tale’s original focus, was developed most notably during the Celtic Revival (ca. 1880-ca. 1920), when the various tragedies of her short-lived life were explored, by both Scottish and Irish writers, in nearly thirty plays, novellas, and epic poems. One of these authors, ‘Fiona Macleod’ (alter-ego of Paisley-born critic and travel-writer William Sharp), exclaimed approvingly that “the name of Deirdre has been as a lamp to a thousand poets”. Continue reading

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Mona Margaret Noel Paton (1860-1928), ‘a gifted teller of tales’

A visit to the Museum of Childhood’s archive one afternoon uncovered a forgotten Scottish Victorian children’s writer. Here, Sarah introduces the fairytale, folkloric worlds of Mona Paton…

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In 1871, Charles Dodgson, or Lewis Carroll, paid a visit to the island of Arran to see the Edinburgh painter, Joseph Noel Paton, bearing a letter of introduction from George MacDonald. Paton had a reputation as a distinguished artist of religious and mythic subjects but it was as a painter of beautiful and bizarre fairyscapes that he had piqued Carroll’s interest. Though John Tenniel’s images for the Alice books are now much loved, it was Paton whom Carroll had initially wanted as an illustrator for Wonderland’s first publication two years prior.

Mona’s father, the painter Joseph Noel Paton; the family lived at 33 George Square, Edinburgh

One of Paton’s most famous fairy paintings, The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania (1847)

Despite it being a ‘rainy and misty’ September day, Carroll records that he had a delightful time with Paton, his wife, Maggie, and their large family who were holidaying, as they frequently did, on Scotland’s west coast. This marked the beginning of a long-standing acquaintance with one of Paton’s daughters, Mona Margaret Noel (1860-1928), who was then eleven years old.[i] In a later memoir, Joseph Noel Paton’s granddaughter gives this lovely description of Mona as having:

 more than her share of artistic temperament (the ‘DAT’ as those of the family who suffered from it most, called it). High-spirited, determined (sometimes pigheaded), a gifted teller of tales, a not unaccomplished pianist, a sweet singer, a clever mimic, Mona also had ‘the sight’. She grabbed life with both hands and  thereby suffered much. Her appearance was striking. She adored her father and, with hair waving crisply back from her forehead, appears in a number of his paintings, sometimes as angel, sometimes as devil’.[ii]

Mona, for instance, is known as ‘the curly headed imp’ who appears as a group of wild yet cherubic fairy children (three of her siblings) in one of Paton’s most popular paintings, ‘The Fairy Raid’.[iii]

Eighteen years later Mona would have a volume of fairy tales published by a small Edinburgh printer  —  retellings of Beauty and the Beast and Jack the Giantkiller.  The former is essentially drawn from the literary fairy tale culture of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France, particularly associated with women writers, though stories of forbidden, ‘monstrous’, or cross-species desire go deep in terms of cultural and historical lineage (the tale of Cupid and Psyche, for example). The latter, on the other hand, springs out of indigenous folkloric and popular tale traditions of the British Isles.

This is a beautiful book —  sharp, funny, tender, and bizarre —  but scarcely well-known,   forgotten amongst a plethora of Victorian fairytale literature. But amidst the depth of a dusty box in the Museum of Childhood’s archive it surfaced one day. With a pale ivory background, text and image in what might best be termed a ‘rusty’ or garnet-coloured ink, and marginal embellishments at the top and foot of each page in neo-Celtic design, Paton’s book was designed to have an ‘antique’ feel even then. Read in an afternoon, it convinced us that Mona Margaret Noel Paton deserves her own place in the history of Scottish children’s literature.

Here, then, is a little taste of how she reimagines such two ‘very old’ fairy tales…. Continue reading

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The Love Song of Mr Barnacles

Many of the books in the Museum of Childhood’s stores contain more than we expect. In our last blog post, Morgan explored how books themselves can tell a narrative. Sometimes they are inscribed or annotated, and we often find things – such as flowers, bus tickets, and comic strips – contained within them. This week, however, we found a book that was itself contained, and which tells a beautiful love story.

enveople

An envelope addressed to Miss Heischmann

Sorting through a box of colourful picture books, this worn brown paper immediately stood out. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that the paper was an envelope, which contained a book entitled Mr Barnacles and His Boat. This lovely book, published in 1858, is full of beautiful illustrations. It tells the story of a man who visits Wales to go fishing, but ends up meeting – and marrying – an old acquaintance.

Mr Barnacles illustration

An illustration from ‘Mr Barnacles’: ‘He encounters the object of a former attachment, and discovers that his affections are involved’

We love finding charming stories like these, but this find was made even more exciting by an inscription before the title page, which says ‘Pauline Auguste Johanne Heischmann, with the author’s kind regards’. The author of this book was a William Ayrton, who also wrote a book called The Adventures of a Salmon in the River Dee in 1853 – you can find it online here. It is always great to find books signed by their authors, and in this case it seems that the author sent the book in the very same envelope in which it still rests – a remarkable thing.

The author's inscription

The author’s inscription

However, the most remarkable thing about this book involves another inscription, written in a different hand on the page before the author’s message. It says ‘The author is William Francis Ayrton who later married Pauline Heischmann’.

The second inscription

The second inscription

It seems so romantic that almost exactly 160 years ago William Ayrton wrote this book about a gentleman finding a wife, and then sent it to the woman he would later marry. Their relationship remains a mystery, but to hold this book – still in its envelope – is a humbling and emotional experience: a little of their love remains, even if they are long gone. We can only hope that Pauline was more understanding of William’s hobbies than her fictional counterpart!  

Mr Barnacles hangs up his paddle

The end of the story: ‘Overpowered by the entreaties of his wife, Mr Barnacles consents to hang up his paddle and abandon his dangerous pastime’

This post written by Danielle

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Judging Books by Their Covers: A Reflection on Peritext in Children’s Books

An old adage learned at a young age: “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, and yet unavoidable cover-judging happens each time the SELCIE team attends to the archives.  Some covers hint at the year in which the book was published, some are hand drawn, and others are beautifully illustrated, and we categorize the book in our minds even before flipping to the title page.  As we have been often surprised by the secrets these books hold, we need to ask ourselves a series of questions each time we catalogue a new book.  Thus, a great deal of conversation on this project has been dedicated to how children would have interacted with a certain book found in our archives, just in the way that we too interact with the books.  Would some of the images of animals have frightened or amazed them? Would they have moved the parts of the few mechanical books as they read them?  Would the weight of the book itself have made them place it on the floor or in their laps as they read?  As we ask ourselves these types of questions, it all comes down to our interpretation of a child’s interpretation of peritext.

Hand-made book cover

An example of an interesting hand-made book cover the team found recently

Continue reading

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News – Orkney’s Victorian children’s library

A new exhibition has opened at Orkney Museum in Kirkwall which makes for a rich new addition to the history of Scottish children’s literature  –   and to the role of children themselves as writers and readers.

In the 1860s, three young Orcadian girls  –   Maria and Clara, and their cousin, Isabella  –  created their own library. Held by Orkney Library and Archives, this extraordinary collection of short stories, poems, plays, and fairy tales  –  which the children astutely named  ‘The Minervian Library’!  –  can now be seen.

We are delighted that Lucy Gibbon, Orkney Library and Archive’s Assistant Archivist, will be sharing more of the history of this wonderful collection with us in a future blogpost.

Meanwhile, you can find out more at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-40247004, and follow the Library’s dedicated blog here.

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The beauty of pawprint tracking: c19th nature books for children

One recent box-unpacking afternoon led Niamh to discover the Museum’s extensive collection of nineteenth-century naturalist writing for children. Here, she reflects on the beauty and vibrancy of these books which encouraged their child readers to be keenly alert to, and understanding of, nature’s wonder and diversity. Something more than ever worth being reminded of, given the fragility of our own world   –   and all our connections to, and within, it. 

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Just the other day, while rummaging around the boxes deep in the bowels of the City Chambers, I came across some books on wildlife. Their covers were far from all-singing, all- dancing but I am a real sucker when it comes to things that seem all too neglected.

 

c19th nature book by Eliza Brightwen

The Museum’s copy of a volume by Eliza Brightwen, published in 1897; the self-taught Aberdeenshire-born naturalist illustrated her own writing

   

 

J.A. Atkinson's *British Birds, Eggs, and Nests* (1861)

John Christopher Atkinson’s *British Birds, Eggs, and Nests* (1861); both naturalist and children’s writer, he was also fascinated by the local legends, lore, and dialects of his Yorkshire parish

 

On opening one of them, I was rewarded for my taking pity; this volume had been awarded as a prize for Physics. The choice of books awarded for scholastic achievement is often very indicative of the values that Victorian schools, and thus that society, held dear. Natural History occupied a very privileged place in the education of that group. It was a discipline that ‘fascinated the Victorians … [it] was a fashionable activity and significantly participated in the construction of a bourgeois ethic’ and for the Victorians was key to exploring ‘ways in which … literary tales are informed with natural historical knowledge’ (Laurence Talairach-Vielmas, Fairy Tales, Natural History, and Victorian Culture [2014], pp. 1, 3). This branch of learning, once rather mainstream, has dwindled; it is now a discipline largely reserved to those who have chosen this aspect of science.

 

1892-3 school prize book

William Wright of George Heriot’s school, Edinburgh, was awarded Brightwen’s book in 1893 for coming second in his Physics class

  

It seems, to me, more and more important that we look back, not in a nostalgic misty-eyed way, but in a spirit of reassessment of our current situation, in order to live better, that is to say truly to live. Slowly, slowly, as a species, we are letting technology exert more and more influence over our day to day existence. This is not wholly lamentable but it does strike me that there is need to take stock. A people glued to social media may be more informed about certain things but they will miss out on the beauty of life all around them. Surely, a world viewed in the raw and unprocessed is one that is much more beautiful than one subjected to the filters and tints of technology because it is all the more real.

 

Animal tracks from c19th nature book

Tracking paw-prints! c19th naturalist writing taught children to be keen readers of the visible life within their landscapes

 

                                                                                This post written by Niamh

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