Illustration Research with SELCIE Artist-in-Residence

I became involved in SELCIE when member of the group, Sarah Dunnigan, kindly invited me to have a look in the museum of childhood archives held at the city chambers, where I met the rest of the team and joined the journey! In the basement, there is a room full of boxes the team have catalogued and another room with older books and chapbooks dating back to the seventeenth century. Over the last year, I have been privileged to have the opportunity to sketch from some of the books in the archive as SECLIE’s artist-in-residence and to inform my doctoral research on cultural representation in picturebooks.

Through my research, I found that the concept of childhood, and so the tradition of printing books for children in general, is part of Western tradition. In the archives, I search for clues of ideological bias that underpins illustration in children’s literature and how this has changed over time.

For instance, among the first adult books redacted for children were ‘adventure’ stories in the late eighteenth century that embedded colonialist messaging. I found versions of  adventure stories such as Robinson Crusoe (1719) by Daniel Defoe and Gulliver’s Travels (1726) by Jonathan Swift redacted for a  child audience in chapbooks held in the Museum of Childhood archive:

Notes and typographical layout from chapbook of Gulliver’s Travels (1819)

I made a note of the following quotation from a version of Robinson Crusoe found in a chapbook in the archive:

“After this, Crusoe sailed to the Brazils, and recovered much of his property and plantations, and returned to England very rich. He sailed to his beloved island in a ship he had given to his nephew, and took many useful articles for the inhabitants, divided the island among them, and recommended religion and good fellowship as their guide.”

In this excerpt, it is evident that colonialism was socially-accepted in the UK at the dawn of children’s literature and normalised the hegemony of European cultures over their colonies.

Soon, stories appropriated from colonised parts of the world were commonplace in children’s literature in the UK as collectors of fairy tale began to redact folktales originating in other traditions and cultures. Andrew Lang, for instance, in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century, included tales from many sources, for example, the Brothers Grimm, Madame d’Aulnoy, and Antoine Galland’s translation of One Thousand and One Nights from Arabic. I found The Yellow Fairy Book (1899) in the archives, and in it, Lang uses stories from countries including Norway (East of the Sun, West of the Moon); North America (The Boy and the Wolves, or the Broken Promise); and Russia (The Story of King Frost).

Cover of The Yellow Fairy Book (1889)

I made some sketches of the illustrations in The Yellow Fairy Book by Henry Justice Ford, which are included below:

East of the Sun West of the Moon

The Boy and the Wolves, or the Broken Promise

The Story of King Frost

This western bias in children’s literature began to be challenged in the mid-twentieth century during the civil rights movement in America, which influenced US and UK  illustrators to  include representations of a wider range of ethnicities in picturebooks (Whalley & Chester 1988). For example, Italian illustrator Gianni Benvenuti illustrated Russian Fairy Tales, translated by Marie Ponsot and published in New York in 1960:

Russian Fairy Tales

In the 1960s and 70s the move toward inclusiveness in children’s literature, encouraged by the tragedies of the Second World War and ethos of the civil rights movement, had an affect on how children were taught about cultural diversity. As a result, more illustrators experimented with styles that took inspiration from the folk art and crafts of other countries to illustrate collections of folktales. However, it can be argued that Western illustrators arguably often appropriated the vernacular of foreign cultures and so repeated colonial tendencies.

A sketch of a title illustration from page 11 of Russian Fairy Tales


Supported by sketches and notes made on visits to the SELCIE archive, I found the fairy tale narrative to be adaptable to changing social environments, while the essential elements of the story stay recognisably intact. In this way, fairy tales are one-dimensional enough to be remembered and retold, but expansive enough to take on ideas and meaning of a multitude of cultural contexts. My own artwork aims to be open to interpretation, giving more narrative voice and agency to readers. I try to provide further scope for readers’ imaginations to be unhindered by pictorial detail, as the fairy tales are able to evade specific descriptions of time, place and character in the text, enabling them to be malleable narratives, and so forever relevant.

Mulan leaves home (2018)

Battle on the Black Mountain (2018)


The SELCIE archive has been a very important part of my research project and continues to influence my illustration work, such as in the snippets from a recent illustration I made based on The Ballad of Mulan (c.5-6th CE), above, which I close this article with. Thank you for reading!



Chandler, D. & Munday, R., 2011. A Dictionary of Media and Communication, Oxford University Press.

Harding, J. & Pinsent, P., 2009. What Do You See?: International Perspectives on Children’s Book Illustration, Cambridge Scholars.

Lang, A. & Ford, H.J., 1903. The yellow fairy book, Longmans, Green.

Luthi, M., 1976a. Once upon a time. On the Nature of Fairy Tales (Bloomington, 1970), pp.85–86.

Nodelman, P., 1992. The Other: Orientalism, Colonialism, and Children’s Literature. Children’s Literature, Association Quarterly, 17(1), pp.29–35.

Pinsent, P., 1997. Childrens Literature and the Politics of Equality, David Fulton.

Rose, J., 1984. The case of Peter Pan, or, the impossibility of children’s fiction, London: London : Macmillan.

Whalley & Chester, 1988. A history of children’s book illustration, London: London : J. Murray with the Victoria & Albert Museum.

This post written by Katie Forrester, SELCIE artist-in-residence

Chapbooks for Children: the missing link in the history of Scottish children’s literature?



‘The Entertaining and Instructive History of Little Jack’. Courtesy of GUL Special Collections

Children’s literature has a long history of being ‘entertaining and instructing’. I’ve taken this week’s blog title from a specific chapbook: The Entertaining and Instructing History of Little Jack.  This copy belongs to Glasgow University Library’s Special Collections, and I am very grateful for their permission to include some images from their Scottish children’s chapbooks here.


The story of Aladdin was a favourite amongst Scottish chapbook makers! Courtesy of GUL Special Collections.

I first came across children’s chapbooks myself while working alongside David Hopkin, on chapbooks and broadsides for adults. As part of a teaching project, we digitised two hundred items from the David Murray collection:  I noticed one or two titles which might appeal to children—a version of ‘Cinderella’, for instance, as ‘Catskin’, and mentions of pieces such as ‘Aladdin, or the Magical Lamp’.

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Introducing Katie Forrester, our artist-in-residence!



This special blog post has been written by our new artist-in-residence, Katie Forrester. Katie is a PhD research student of Illustration at Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland, UK. You can find her blog, ‘Katie’s Illustration’, here

Scotland’s Early Literature for Children Initiative (SELCIE) is an organisation which aims to rediscover Scotland’s heritage of publishing for children. Founding member, Sarah Dunnigan, kindly invited me to have a look in the Museum of Childhood archives held at the City Chambers, which I have been planning to do for a while and finally got the chance! In the basement, there is a room full of boxes which Sarah and her team have catalogued and another room with older books and chap books dating back to the seventeenth century.

The collection provides a historical context to my research project on cultural diversity in picture books made for children. In the archives, I am looking for clues of what ideologies may be included in children’s literature and how this may have changed over time. One of the books that caught my eye was a binding of Hungarian folk tales, which has a cornflower blue cover printed with yellow, green and red folk-style decorations (there is a picture below). It has a very orientalist (in the pejorative sense) preface written by Leo Sarkadi: “During all these centuries they [Hungarians] were the key to Europe, and as such often a mighty stronghold that held the wild eastern hordes at bay” (Pogany, 1913). At the time of publishing if this book, expanding empires were striving for cultural domination, which may be why Sarkadi describes these nations derogatorily and collectively as ‘eastern hordes’.

fairy book

Cover to The Hungarian Fairy Book, by Nandor and Willy Pogany

Clues to a propaganda against non-western civilisations- such as the Ottoman Empire – were evident in literature as can be deduced from this excerpt. It reveals a glaring example of western hegemony embedded through the subversive power of literature. The characters illustrated by Pogany  allude to charming tales told by wholesome and well-meaning storytellers such as the sketch I made below of a Hungarian woman below who is carrying baskets as if after a harvest – a familiar and modest role. However, the preface suggests the agenda of the book may not be as apolitical as it seems, instead it suggests certain cultures are of higher value than others, as well as that a conformist nature is a virtuous trait.

Hungarian Woman

My sketch of a Hungarian lady (maybe the source of the original stories?) who ornaments the end of some of the folk tales printed in ‘The Hungarian Fairy-Book’ by Nandor Pogany and illustrated by Willy Pogany

I also found an edition of Goblin Market (1893) by Christina Rossetti and illustrated by Laurence Housman with very intricate and spindly art-deco styled illustrations.The Goblin Market is a poem about two sisters, one of whom is seduced by the fruit of the goblins, and how they manage to overcome their ill-fate with sisterly care. I copied the typography on the front and a little goblin-like creature that seems to be hunched up in the heart of a chestnut:


My sketch of the typography and a goblin on the cover and front page of ‘The Goblin Market’ by Rossetti and illustrated by Housman (1893)

The illustrations by Housman are very decorative and, like the poem, heavy with symbolism and visual meaning. Christina Rossetti and Laurence Housman were both part of the Pre-Raphaelite movement which reacted against realism by revivifying medieval ideas of chivalry and romance, drawing heavily on archetypal imagery common in folktale and medieval romances (Roe, [online]). Archetypal imagery, or motif, is a subject I am particularly interested in as it tends form links between tales originating in disparate places (Propp, 1990 [1968]). For this reason, I use storytelling motifs to make illustration with the aim to create intercultural picture books. The SELCIE project allows me the opportunity to see how former illustrators have used symbol and engineered it to carry cultural meaning, which allows me in turn to question what ideological issues arise from my own work.

Goblin Market Cover Housman

The binding for The ‘Goblin Market’ designed by Housman



Figure 1: Laurence Housman’s cover design of The Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti (1983) [online] Accessed 17/03/2017

Figure 2: My sketch of a Hungarian woman (possibly harvesting, perhaps the storyteller).

Figure 3: My sketch of Housman’s typography and illustration for The Goblin Market by Rossetti.

Figure 4: Cooke, Simon (2014) Laurence Housman as a book binding [online]


Pogany, Nandor and illustrated by Willy Pogany (1913) The Hungarian Fairy-Book
London: T. Fisher Unwin

Propp, Vladimir (1990 [1968]) The Morphology of the Folktale USA: University of Texas Press

Roe, Dinah The Pre-Raphaelites [online] Accessed: 17/03/2017

Rossetti, Christina and illustrated by Laurence Housman (1893) Goblin Market London:Macmillan

Said, Edward (2001, [1978]) Orientalism  UK: Penguin