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.

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

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

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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.

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

The secret lives of SELCIE’s books

Every Thursday afternoon the SELCIE team descend the long winding stairs which lead down into the Museum of Childhood’s book vault, as if entering a series of secret chambers! Every box of unpacked books holds secrets  –  you never know what lies inside. So too does every book. Except sometimes when opening them up we find little traces of their once-upon-a-time reader(s), and a hidden life can be glimpsed. Here, Niamh introduces one of her favourite ‘secret’ books, proving that appearances can be deceptive….

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Not every book for children can be a story of great ‘derring-do’ or of an escapade; sometimes, they have a serious edge. It was one of this latter group that I found in our terrific trove: the book Hymns for Children of 1814. It may not look like much from the cover but it became rather dear to me for underscoring one of SELCIE’s great facets.

 

children's-hymnbook

The Museum’s seemingly inauspicious, but well-worn, early c19th children’s hymnbook

 

Not every treasure found with SELCIE yields up information about itself but this one bestowed two such gifts. Upon opening it, the name ‘Jane Barrowman’ could be seen. Whose heart doesn’t leap upon finding a name and have a thousand images come together to create a possible life?

 

jane-barrowman-signature

The volume’s owner had carefully inscribed her name within it

 

Further, there was a charming blue bookmark. I do love finding personal objects in texts, as they tend to shed a light on an owner. I have found many markers, tokens and dried flowers over my time working with books on the SELCIE project. I instantly wanted to know which pages were being saved by the reader of this particular book. The two pages it was marking contained the hymn ‘Against cruelty to the Creatures’ and ‘Against Idleness and Mischief’.

 

the-blue-bookmark

This little blue bookmark is touching testimony to a reader’s former presence – did it belong to Jane perhaps?

 

While not exactly a joyous read, either of them, the two pieces and Hymns for Children as a whole show that the owner, or someone connected to the owner, deemed it fitting to read these works. Naturally, I have no way of knowing whether it was an enjoyable read to its owner but I can presume that it was scanned at the very least. This book, seemingly so insignificant initially, reminded me of one of the most wonderful things about SELCIE, namely that one gets to discover what another held in his or her hands and perused like us only many years ago.

This post written by Niamh

George MacDonald’s Hidden Autograph

Sometimes amazing wonders can be found in the most unexpected places. A few weeks ago the Museum of Childhood book collection revealed to us a treasure hidden within a tiny book in a box filled with other tiny books, within an even larger box initially thought to contain only magazines. It seems it was the proverbial needle in a haystack.

The book in question is ‘a child’s birthday book’, as explained in the note left inside by a Mrs Golding, who donated the tiny treasure to the Museum of Childhood. What makes this book truly remarkable, however, is a signature found inside for the 10th of December – George MacDonald.

George MacDonald Birthday Book

The note inside the Birthday Book

George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a famous Scottish poet and novelist who greatly contributed to the field of fantasy literature, so at first it was difficult to believe his signature could be found in a child’s birthday book. The whole team tried very hard to contain their excitement. However, after the comparison made with some examples of MacDonald’s other autographs, the signature could positively be identified as his.

George MacDonald Birthday Book

The signature of George MacDonald

This is a truly exciting find both for the Museum of Childhood and SELCIE, and it brings hope that all literary treasure that is hidden, even in the tiniest of books, can one day be found. Keep your eyes peeled for more information about this exciting find – we just couldn’t resist sharing it with you now!

This post written by Joanna