Christine Orr’s ‘Talks and Tales’: children’s magazine writing in early 20th century Edinburgh

Christine Orr (1899-1963) was a prolific novelist, poet, playwright and theatre-activist whose influence on Scottish cultural life in the first half of the 20th century is finally gaining recognition. Here, Susan Gardner, curator at the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh, introduces the creative and collaborative work of the young Christine through the magazine, Talks and Tales, produced from her Edinburgh home, and now the subject of a fascinating exhibition at the Writers’ Museum.

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Few children today would choose to spend their spare time producing a magazine. But this is what Christine Orr did between the ages of eleven and sixteen (1911-1916). Her magazine, Talks and Tales (now part of the Museum of Childhood’s collection), was produced in monthly or quarterly editions with contributions from friends and family in the form of short stories, poems, pictures, factual articles, jokes and puzzles. Christine edited and compiled the magazine, as well as writing a great deal of the content, before sending it through the post to readers both in Edinburgh and further afield.

Talks and Tales has taken on a particular significance since the discovery that Christine Orr went on to write professionally, publishing 18 novels as well as poems and plays. We can see the embryonic talent of a future author and trace her early interests which were to feature in later published works. However, the magazines are, in themselves, a fascinating glimpse into the lives of those who produced them and just one example of a popular pastime for children in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Museum of Childhood has several sets of magazines made by children, such as The Evergreen Chain (1892-99), The St. Bernard’s Budget (1892), Chuckles (1905) and The Pierrot (1911-15). Perhaps this creativity was inspired by school magazines or encouraged by competitions in publications such as Little Folks and Arthur Mee’s My Magazine? We know that the young Enid Blyton (born 1897) produced a magazine with two school friends —  she wrote the stories and they contributed poems and illustrations. She became a famously prolific writer, and it seems that Christine Orr had a similar compulsion to tell stories.

Christine was certainly the driving force behind Talks and Tales. I’ve yet to identify all the other contributors but some were friends that she met at St. George’s School in Edinburgh — certainly Patricia Greig, Cicely Steven and Isabel Thomson – and some were relatives, such as Helen Orr, Hugh Millar and Grant Millar. Christine’s parents also contributed occasionally, taking an active interest in the hobby of their only child. Inevitably, the magazines reflect the lives of all these people and that’s what fascinates me most — this window into middle class Edinburgh in the early 20th century.

In 1911 Christine’s mother wrote an account of a reception at Holyrood Palace hosted by the newly crowned King George V and Queen Mary. She describes how earlier in the day “decorations were hastily completed, banners, flags and flowery wreaths hung out, and citizens rich and poor, old and young, hastened to don their best and rally in their hundreds to the streets through which the Royal couple, with the Prince of Wales and Princess Mary, should drive on their arrival in the evening.” Having set off for Holyrood at 7pm (and started getting dressed at 4pm!), there is a great deal of queuing and waiting until the ladies finally arrive at the ante room to the Throne Room two hours later, “a brilliantly lit apartment full of a dazzling, laughing throng representing the cream of Scottish nobility”. Mrs Orr’s presentation to the King and Queen takes on a dreamlike quality and she is overawed by “feelings of profound reverence and loyalty”.

In 1913 Christine contributed an account of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland, describing in detail the United Free meeting on the Mound.

            “It was an impressive sight – the huge sea of faces on every side, the stately moderator in his gown and fine lace ruffles; and then the grand music as a thousand voices rose on the old Scottish psalm, ‘When lion’s bondage God turned back’, unaccompanied but led by the venerable precentor, Mr Fraser. Then followed many stimulating addresses and the dedication of the young missionaries when all sang to its most beautiful tune, ‘The Lord bless thee and keep thee’.”

       During the production of Talks and Tales lives everywhere were overshadowed by World War One and this is reflected in the children’s writing and drawing. There are poems and pictures on the theme of war interspersed with other stories and articles, all patriotic and positive in spirit, no doubt the prevailing attitude in their homes and schools. In May 1915 there is mention of a Soldiers’ Refreshment Lounge being provided in Edinburgh while Christine and some of the magazine contributors performed scenes from Shakespeare’s Henry V to raise funds for hospitals in Serbia.

In 1916 Christine begins the year with a stirring editorial message:

“A Happy New Year to all our readers, and may 1916 bring with it Peace! I think that is the uppermost wish in all our hearts this January, especially with those who have fathers, brothers or friends fighting in our Army and Navy. We at home can do our part best by working steadily & keeping cheery. It is to be hoped that ‘Talks & Tales’ may be a means, however small, to the latter end!”

Most of the content of Talks and Tales consists of short stories, serial stories and poems. The stories are a mixture of adventure and romance, often featuring children as the main characters. For short stories some of them are very long indeed! Presumably, the children were inspired by the books and magazines they were reading and this is a subject which is ripe for further investigation. In a feature called ‘Bedroom Book-Shelf’, Christine mentions her copies of Tennyson, Browning and Shakespeare, Miss Proctor’s Poems, A Child’s Garden of Verses and an anthology called English Poetry for the Young as well as George MacDonald’s fairy tales.

We know from an article written in 1915 that Christine was very familiar with Edinburgh’s literary heritage. She talks about Allan Ramsay, Sir Walter Scott, Dr. John Brown and Robert Louis Stevenson:

“Were there space and time we could go on indefinitely, recalling Edinburgh’s men of letters – ay, and women too, who lived and wrote long ago. The old streets are grey and dull now but what must it have been like to see and speak with these wonderful folk! Imagine a chat with Sir Walter or a ramble out by the Pentlands with RLS! They are gone alas! But they have left us a rich and goodly heritage.”

Christine Orr also left us with a rich heritage of novels, plays and poems, and I hope that many more people will be able to discover and enjoy her work in future.

                                                                            This post by Susan Gardner

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Susan Gardner has worked as a curator at the Museum of Childhood, Edinburgh since 1993. During that time she has built up an in-depth knowledge of the museum’s collections which chart the experiences of British children from the early 19th century to the present day. She has produced exhibitions on gender stereotyping in girls’ toys, children’s diet, developmental toys for babies and toddlers, outdoor play, fairy tales, school stories and needlework samplers among many others. She is very excited to have discovered material in the museum’s collection recently relating to Edinburgh author, Christine Orr, and is delighted that SELCIE are helping to share this new information.

Talks and Tales: the childhood writing of Christine Orr is showing at the Writers’ Museum until 22 March 2020. The exhibition features two volumes of Talks and Tales as well as some of Christine’s personal possessions and examples of her published works.

Behind the Scenes at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood: A Look at the Technical Side of Accessing Collections

What secrets can the skills of a cataloguer unlock about a book collection? In this blog, Kathryn Downing, MSc student in Book History and Material Culture at the University of Edinburgh, shares some fascinating insights from her experience working with some of the oldest books in the Museum of Childhood’s archive in the ongoing process of making its treasures more accessible.

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One of the biggest barriers to conducting research can be an un-catalogued collection. It is not often – if ever – that libraries and museums let you peruse their stacks or stores to your heart’s desire. Researchers, then, often become experts at navigating catalogues and databases in an effort to locate the right resources. In many cases, the strength of someone’s research is dependent on the strength of the records they can access.

If you’ve been following SELCIE’s work at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood, then you’ve witnessed one of those rare times when a museum does let researchers into a store to peruse its contents. During the SELCIE team’s time collaborating with the museum, they have produced a publication and an exhibition in addition to pursuing individual research topics. More valuable than even these tangible outcomes, however, is the process they began of sorting and organising the thousands of books residing in the City Chambers. Simply knowing the extent of the collection is the first step towards facilitating public access to it.

Although SELCIE has made great strides in uncovering the treasures of the City Chambers book store, much still remains hidden. The sheer extent of the Museum of Childhood’s book collection (an estimated 15,000 items) has means that many important details associated with the books remain unrecorded. While publications and exhibitions are a fantastic way to bring collections to the community, knowing what to write or display next can be challenging when there are thousands of items and no way to search through them efficiently.

Enter the cataloguer! Continue reading

Book Launch

SELCIE is delighted to announce that a new publication –  The Land of Story-Books: Scottish Children’s Literature in the Long Nineteenth Century, edited by Sarah Dunnigan and Shu-Fang Lai (Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2019) –  will be launched on Friday 14th June at 5pm at Edinburgh University, kindly hosted in association with the Department of English Literature’s SWINC [Scottish Writing in the Nineteenth Century], alongside the launch of Edinburgh University Press’s Commemorating Peterloo. Please join us for this joint celebration.

Location: 50 George Square, second floor, in the space outside room 2.43.

Please contact Sarah for more information: s.m.dunnigan@ed.ac.uk

For details on the 1819 symposium which precedes the event, see  http://www.swinc.englit.ed.ac.uk/events/scotland-in-1819/  

 

This collection of twenty essays is the first extensive study of the range and diversity of Scottish children’s literature in Gaelic, Scots, and English, encompassing chapbooks, poetry, popular fiction, fairy tales and more by both well-loved and unknown writers. It also includes a chapter by some of our very own SELCIE team on some treasures from the Museum of Childhood’s archive. Beautifully illustrated, it brings to life the materiality of children’s reading lives and culture in the period.

 

 

Children Pictured in Children’s Literature

In this blog post, I will explore how many factors – both technological and ideological – have affected changes in the development of the illustration of children’s books. Within contemporary children’s literature criticism, it is argued that ‘children’s books’ can be for readers of any age (Beckett 2008). This age crossover is obvious in the case of popular fiction titles across centuries, such as Robinson Crusoe, which has been adapted to children’s fiction, a pop-up version of which can be seen below. Whereas literature marketed primarily to adults has traditionally been adapted to the child audience, in more recent decades, children’s books have been making their way into the adult market[1] . But, how did a literature for children emerge and how do past messages contained in children’s books inform manifestations of books made specifically for children today?

A pop-up version of Robinson Crusoe on display in the Growing Up With Books exhibition at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood

Through my position as Artist-in-Residence at the children’s literature archive in the Museum of Childhood, I have been lucky enough to be able to explore this question for my personal research. As a starting point for this topic, I examined chapbooks held in the archive at the Museum of Childhood, which has bindings from the seventeenth century. Chapbooks were the first articles of printed literature that were affordable for families in Britain and had influence in their daily lives. The content was varied and covered many subjects and stories including nursery rhymes, morals and fairytales, but also, crude jokes and stories of an adult nature (more information here). These chapbooks were not usually made for a specific age of audience, it was only in novels of the twentieth century that illustration began to be omitted from books for adults (Michals 2014). Therefore, up until fairly recently, illustration was a part of most literary prints for all ages.

Illustration both for chapbooks and bound books had until the early nineteenth century been printed using woodblocks, which, though often skilful, were sometimes crudely printed. In the case of chapbooks, the woodblocks could often be worn and mismatched with colour sometimes painted by hand. Three examples of woodblock-printed chapbooks from the archive are shown below:

Chapbooks on display at the Growing Up with Books exhibition on display at the Museum of Childhood

The presses that were used to print such chapbooks were forms of the Gutenberg press, which uses a flat ‘platen’ and screw mechanism to exert pressure evenly on the paper below. The Gutenberg and similar designs of press that would have printed chapbooks were originally made from wood; later, they were made from cast iron, which made more precise prints. An example of a press used in Edinburgh is the Columbian Press; one of these presses is on display in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, pictured below:

Colombian Press at the National Museum of Scotland

As printing production technologies advanced, the illustration of children’s books became more detailed and explorative. By the late eighteenth century, illustrators’ drawings could be reproduced in books using the more refined process of metal-plate etching, a method capable of achieving finer detail than the previous woodcut (Whalley & Chester 1988). Etching, or ‘intaglio’[2] printing, could provide a reproduction of a much finer pen and ink drawing made by the illustrator, which would have been transferred to a copper plate by the engraver, and then printed using a ‘mangle’ type press. Colour could also be added using woodblocks to give hue and tone to the intricate linework achieved through the intaglio process (Salisbury & Styles 2012).

The results of these new reproduction processes enabled representations of stories depicted in books to become more exact and specific. Illustrators were able incorporate popular stylistic trends from the fine arts, such as in the art of Victorian illustrator and book designer Laurence Housman, who used of art nouveau in his drawings for Goblin Market (Rossetti 1862) seen below:

Goblin Market (1893)

As the nineteenth century progressed, a process of printing using oil-based ink and water-resist was invented called ‘lithography’. Lithography allowed for both linework and colour to be printed more quickly and efficiently. Printing as an industry boomed with steam-powered presses, and, alongside these technological advances, how society thought of children in the nineteenth century was also rapidly changing.

Generally speaking, before the Enlightenment period, children worked alongside their elders from the age of eight and assumed adult responsibilities and dress (Cunningham 2012). This changed as a consequence of industrialisation and urbanisation; campaigners began to seek to protect children from dirty and dangerous labour. Children began to be thought of as part of nature and, through the process of ‘becoming social’, joined the civilised, adult world (Prout 2005, p. 67). This idea was expounded by Rousseau (1762), who likened childhood to primitivity and argued that children are inherently ‘good’ and adult society corrupted (Whalley & Chester 1988).

An example of the art included in books for children in Children’s Stories from Shakespeare

Interestingly, Chester and Whalley point out that there is a visual change in the depiction of children in literature from the first publications during the nineteenth century:

“In the earliest books, children were shown as young adults … At the beginning of the 19th century they were depicted more as children … by about the 1840s, or even earlier, we sometimes get the feeling that the artist was making a conscious comment on the child: ‘See how quaint – cute – amusing – pretty’ he is saying to us, the onlookers’” (1988, p. 53).

As described by Chester and Whalley, examples shown in the pictures below show how illustration coded attitudes towards childhood by othering the audience they were made for. This change in adults’ view of young people is linked to children’s exclusion from the workplace and, the stress of living in close, dirty cities away from nature, as was described earlier.

Divine and Moral Songs (1830)

Divine and Moral Songs (c.1899)

In the first woodcut image by an unknown wood engraver, the child is dressed similar to the adult and their posture is similar; it shows the child learning from the adult, but does not portray the youth as naive. However, in the latter illustration by Mrs. Arthur Gaskin (c.1899) the children look almost like dolls; their dress is extravagantly floral and their faces are flushed with innocent expressions that looked oddly blank. Though the woodblock engraver was restricted in terms how detail and colour, it is a striking difference from the vision of childhood shown in Gaskin’s illustrations.

The romantic concept of childhood remains evident in the censoring of children’s books today, though there are signs of a changing notions of what childhood is in the twenty-first century. Notably, I Want my Hat Back by Jon Klassen alludes to the insincerity that children are aware of and perform in the same way as adults. This picturebook ends with the audience sharing in a sinister joke that the bear ate the rabbit and is guilty (Klassen 2011).

I Want My Hat Back (2011)

In today’s busy, scheduled lifestyles in modern, urban society, it is interesting that books such as Klassen’s are extremely popular. They appear to acknowledge that children are not faultless and are able to make moral decisions. This attitude to childhood is reflected by sociologist Alan Prout: “… the appeal of the idea of children as active and socially participative can be traced to the obvious advantage that such children would have in the everyday management of household timetables” (Prout 2005, p. 24). Additionally, this book and others by Klassen are bought for adult-reading too:

“The negotiations between what grown-ups and children want, and between what adults are familiar with and children are still apprehending, provide the tension that makes children’s books possible” (Sutton 2012).

These ideas challenge the long-established Rousseauian, Western view of childhood as innocent, as inferior and in need of civilising. The concept of contemporary childhood, then, has a direct effect on the way illustrators construct images for picturebooks.

To summarise, as is evidenced in Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood archives, literature made for children is continuously adapted to new demands and challenges within society. Contemporary books for children, such as Klassen’s, act as sites of tension between preceding generations and the next, exploring new ways of viewing and defining what it means to be a child. A selection of books from the archive are currently on display in the exhibition Growing Up With Books, open until December 9th!

This post was written by SELCIE Artist-in-Residence Katie Forrester

Works Cited

Beckett, Sandra (2008) Crossover Fiction: Global and Historical Perspectives. New York, USA & Oxon, England: Routledge.

Cunningham, H. (2012) The Invention of Childhood. London: Random House.

Maclean, Robert (2012) “Book illustration: engraving and etching.”  https://universityofglasgowlibrary.wordpress.com/2012/08/28/book-illustration-engraving-and-etching/

Michals, Teresa (2014) Books for Children, Books for Adults: Age and the Novel from Defoe to James. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Prout, Alan (2005) The future of childhood: towards the interdisciplinary study of children. London, New York: Routledge.

Salisbury, M. & Styles, M. (2012) Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling. Laurence King Publishing.

Sutton, R. (2012) “Little Tug” and “This Is Not My Hat.” The New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/11/books/review/little-tug-and-this-is-not-my-hat.html.

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

For more information on book illustration: 

https://lithub.com/a-brief-history-of-book-illustration/

http://www.designishistory.com/1450/printing-techniques/

https://www.nls.uk/collections/rare-books/collections/chapbooks

[1] Most notably fantasy fiction authors such as JRR Tolkein, Phillp Pullman and JK Rowling.

[2] ‘Intaglio encompasses a variety of different techniques including engraving, etching, stipple, aquatint and mezzotint. While each of these techniques implies a different method of making impressions in the metal (usually copper) plate, they all share the same basic principle: an image is transferred to paper, under pressure, from the incised ink-bearing grooves of a metal plate’ (MacLean 2012).

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!

References

Anon, http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/ps/china/mulan.pdf

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

Science, Nature, and Children’s Books: finding Jane Marcet in the archive

Our hours spent happily in the Museum of Childhood’s archive revealed the richness of its collection of nature and science books written for young people, and confirmed the magnitude and diversity of women’s writing for children. Both elements will be on show in the Museum’s forthcoming exhibition, Growing Up With Books, which opens on June 1st!

A detail from the cover of one of the loveliest nature books in the collection!

But they are strikingly combined in a very particular mode of writing —  one which combines a flourishing culture of science writing for children and young people in the c19th century with the creative and intellectual interests of women in scientific developments. Beatrix Potter is not alone in being a children’s writer with a keen fascination for natural science.

This was crystallised one day when we picked up a book called The Seasons written by a woman called Jane Marcet, first published in 1832.  Though its familiar-sounding title might echo Romantic literature, this is in fact a collection of stories intended  for ‘very young children’ . These present a world in which nature unfolds through the year’s natural cycle in active and participatory ways for the volume’s fictional child protagonists who are a boy called Willy and his sister Ann.  Encouraged by his mother — ‘You must open up your eyes, Willy, and observe as well as you can’ —  the child peers inside a bud picked from a horse-chestnut tree.

A portrait of Jane Marcet

In another chapter, a little mouse intrudes through a hole in a corner of the nursery to enchant Willy at first, then to provoke him to ‘tantrums’ when the terrified housemaid suggests feline intervention! A fairly happy compromise for all is reached by the end  –  but along the way the story suggests that children’s sympathy for, and kindness towards, animals should be combined with respect for their natural instincts and habitats. It implies a rhythm and harmony existing both within nature and the domestic order which even the nicest of little mice shouldn’t disturb.

Such miniature nature narratives are sprinkled with a dose of moral conservatism. But they also try to teach their young readers to engage in close and empirical observation of the creatures, plants, and living things which encompass their world. The children’s curiosity leads them to discover everyday lessons about physiology, botany, the weather, and even the redness of robin feathers…

Illustrative detail from *The Child’s Zoological Garden*

Jane Marcet (1769-1858) passionately believed that science should be made accessible. With her husband, a medical graduate of Edinburgh University, she belonged to a scientific and intellectual community which had diverse creative and educational interests. She knew Maria Edgeworth, novelist, educationalist, and children’s writer (the Museum archive holds a number of her books), and the extraordinary Mary Sommerville —  the scientist, mathematician, and astronomer who came from the Borders and spent her girlhood in in Fife and Edinburgh.

As her extensive publications attest (such as the Conversations on Chemistry which took place between a teacher and her two female students), Marcet believed in the democratisation of knowledge. Her books reached a variety of readerly communities who usually suffered from various forms of social and cultural exclusion —  children and young people; women; members of mechanics’ institutes. And they were famously read by a youthful Michael Faraday when he worked as an apprentice bookbinder.

Marcet seemingly turned to writing for children and young people later in life. Ever mindful of the potential dullness of any subject, she enriched a grammar book by references to fairy tales and sponge cakes! For her younger readers, her enduring aim was to make science ‘familiar’. This intimacy can be seen in The Seasons where the child-worlds of garden and home become a playground for scientific revelation, and the mother is portrayed as a figure of learning as well as nurture.

In one way, this might be construed as a way of ‘talking down’ to children yet in another as simultaneously respecting and expanding a child’s worldview. Whilst obviously very different in form and style, one can see a connection between her work and Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales which so vividly convey a sense of wonder and life in natural things. [As demonstrated above in SELCIE’s banner image, taken from the botanically-themed front cover of an Andersen edition!]

And it also brings to mind the beautiful nature illustrations of Jemima Wedderburn (1823-1909), the Edinburgh-born artist, ornithologist, children’s illustrator, and constructor of scientific toys.

Jemima Wedderburn – painstaking artist of the natural world, and cousin of the Edinburgh physicist, James Clerk Maxwell

In such ways, then, a single book chanced upon by the SELCIE team in the Museum archive opens up a world of interconnecting skeins between scientific creativity, children’s books, and the women who were so frequently their makers and illustrators.

                                                                                    This post written by Sarah

Further reading

Debbie Bark, ‘Science for Children’, in The Routledge Research Companion to Nineteenth Century British Literature and Science, edited by John Holmes and Sharon Ruston (2017)

Elizabeth J. Morse, ‘Jane Haldimand Marcet’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Kathryn A. Neeley, Mary Somerville: Science, Illumination, and the Female Mind (2001)

‘Jane Marcet’, Science History Institute, https://www.sciencehistory.org/historical-profile/jane-marcet

The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science. Pioneering Lives from Ancient Times to the Mid-Twentieth Century, edited by Marilyn Ogilvie, Joy Harvey and Margaret Rossiter (2000)

Katie Morag goes to Edinburgh University

The little red-haired girl who lives on the Hebridean island of Struay, always attired in her welly boots and Fair Isle jersey, is an icon of contemporary Scottish children’s literature. This, of course, is Katie Morag, the much loved creation of Mairi Hedderwick.

SELCIE was therefore delighted at the news that Edinburgh University had awarded the writer and illustrator an Honorary Degree at a graduation ceremony held at the University of Edinburgh on Monday 27th November. Every one of Hedderwick’s stories opens up a vivid world world for its young reader; in Katie’s companionship, the distinctive culture and heritage of Scottish island life is also brought to life. And Hedderwick’s illustrations also capture a child’s perspective of landscapes, weather, and environment. This striking combination of the visual and verbal was adapted for television in 2013, and a new generation of children discovered Katie Morag in a new medium.

Interestingly, though, the stories didn’t come directly from Hedderwick’s own childhood. The nearest she came to island life was the view through the window of her Gourock home across the Firth of Clyde to Dunoon and the Cowal peninsula: ‘I knew I wanted to go there, across the water and over the hills and far away’, she has remarked. As a student she studied mural painting and ceramics at the Edinburgh Art School (now ECA), graduating in the early 60s. It was an experience that would give her ‘sudden freedom […] It was totally classless […] You had room to develop your personality’.

During this time, she first visited Coll, the small Hebridean island lying to the west of Mull and the real-life inspiration for Katie’s island. Working as a ‘mother’s help’ to the laird’s family, she lived without electricity or drinking water but it was still ‘joyous’, she recalls. She subsequently returned and stayed for ten years where she raised a young family and began her career as an illustrator of children’s books by writers such as Rumer Godden and Jane Duncan, and of collections of Gaelic stories and Scottish folktales. Though the family left Coll in the early 70s, its inspiration was deeply seeded, and the first of the Katie Morag series appeared in 1984.[i]

It forms one strand of a rich body of work which encompasses other stories for children (as well as her travel writing which often draws on this rich seam of island experience). Thanks to Hedderwick’s captivating blend of word and image, the material presence of Katie Morag’s world is everywhere — not just in bookshops and television but in cups and calendars. The books belong to the classroom too, and Hedderwick herself is a regular and popular visitor (along with Katie’s teddy bear!) to primary schools and local book festivals; as she herself has said, ‘storytelling [is] a shared activity’.

These stories have become an intimate, homely presence in children’s lives — a vital contribution to a longstanding tradition of Scottish children’s writing, all the way back to Robert Louis Stevenson and A Child’s Garden of Verses, which so memorably captures a child’s view of the world. And, happily, that tradition is still flourishing across the  diversity of contemporary Scottish children’s literature, and the small, independent publishing houses which so often nourish and sustain it.

                                                               This post written by Sarah

[i] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-26483303

Dear Mrs Shillabeer

While working in the book archives of Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood, we sometimes find books that hold traces of their authors. This usually takes the form of an authorial inscription, as is the case with the charming Mr Barnacles and His Boat book that appeared in a previous blog post. It is also always very exciting when we find traces of illustrators, as was the case recently when we found this 1960 copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses: 

Child's Garden of Verses Cover

This edition is illustrated by Mary Shillabeer, who was based in Edinburgh. She was known both for her children’s book illustrations and for her beautiful marionette puppets, which you can see here and here, for example. Our own Museum of Childhood here in Edinburgh even holds some of her puppets! She also sketched and painted Edinburgh’s Rehearsal Orchestra for many years; you can see some of those paintings here. The book we found certainly shows how skilled she was:

Shillabeer illustrations

However, the most interesting thing about this book is that it was owned by Mary Shillabeer herself. Tucked into the front cover is a letter from Martin Dent, the publisher. It is addressed to “Mrs Shillabeer” at her address in Edinburgh:

Letter to Mrs Shillabeer

The letter contains the publisher’s opinion about a “question of colour”; he states that he “will happily leave it for you to put it right in whatever way you wish after Christmas”. This is a lovely little glimpse into the life and work of this talented illustrator that we were very happy to find. As the season approaches for us to start wishing each other “a very happy Christmas”, we hope that you find this as interesting as we do!

Shillabeer illustrations

This post written by Danielle

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.

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