Growing Up With Books

As you may already know (we have mentioned it once or twice), the SELCIE team is currently in the final stages of planning for an exhibition. Growing Up With Books, which will open at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood on International Children’s Day 2018 (June 1st), aims to tell the story of children’s literature in Scotland.

Beginning in October 2015, the road to this exhibition has been long and winding. The SELCIE team has spent around two years sorting and cataloging books in the Museum of Childhood’s archives. For the last year or so, this task has been done with the exhibition in mind. To organise the exhibition, each member of the team has taken responsibility for an exhibition case. We all decided on the themes of the exhibition, and of our specific cases, and chose which books to feature.

Trial run of setting up one of the cases

Now we are in the final stages of preparing for the opening. The walls of the exhibition space have been painted. The final case layouts have been decided. The exhibition catalogue is in the final stages of production. It seems unreal that the exhibition will be open to the public in less than a month, but the whole team is ready and excited.

The exhibition space, freshly painted for Growing Up With Books

Today we wanted to share some details of events that will be happening alongside the exhibition. We want everyone to get the very most out of Growing Up With Books, so we have organised a series of storytelling, creative writing, and book illustration workshops:

  • Storytelling: Enchanting Tales 10 June, Puppets and Prose 19 August, Magical Victorian Fairy Tales 8 September, Musical Stories 2 December
  • Children’s book illustration workshops: Rubber-Stamped Mini Books 9 June, Magical Story Books 23 June, Bookmark Beasts 7 July, Marvellous Puppets 22 September, The Spooky Enchanted Forest 13 October, The Biggest Explosion 3 November
  • Creative writing workshop for adults: Tunnel Books: Illusions and Stories 18 August
  • Creative writing workshop as part of Luminate festival: Stitching Stories 1 September

More details about these events (and others) to come soon! However, the fun does not stop with these workshops! In conjunction with Growing Up With Books, we are also speaking at Lauriston Castle about the project (25 September) and we are in the process of organising a conference to bring to bring together academics and archivists working with children’s history and literature (23 November).

Myself and SELCIE artist-in-residence, Katie Forrester, at the last exhibition planning meeting

The team is very excited about all of these things, and we can’t believe that we are so close to being able to share more of the stories that we have found hidden in the Museum’s archives. We are always delighted with the responses we receive to these stories, and cannot wait for the doors to open. (In fact, in other exciting news, it was just announced that the doors of the Museum of Childhood will be open 7 days a week from now on!) We want to thank everyone for coming on this journey with us, and we hope that you are enjoying it as much as we are. The countdown has begun!

This post written by Danielle

The First World War Through the Eyes of a Child

There are many elements of the Museum of Childhood collections that reflect what was happening in the world at the time they were made – fashion can be followed in the costume collection, technology in toy manufacture and popular film stars in dolls and magazines.

The book collection, however, offers a unique insight into not just what adults were communicating with children about the world, but also what the child thought about what was happening and what they were being told. Through inscriptions, drawings and hand-made publications by children we have access to their perspective on the world around them.  The Museum holds a series of magazines called The Pierot made by a group of children across Britain in 1910-1914. 

The authors were spread across the UK, with given addresses for Essex, Edinburgh, near Bristol, Yorkshire, County Down, County Derry, Fife, Suffolk, Kent and Hampshire.  The magazine was circulated by post, the cost of the stamp being the subscription fee, and each child would add their own contributions, remarks and advertisements, before passing it on to the next contributor. Those who held onto the magazine for more than 3 days were charged a fine of one pence for each additional day, which would be passed on to Dr Barnado Homes. There is an awareness of charitable acts represented throughout the magazines. It was common at this time to encourage children to raise money for charitable organisations and be aware of those less fortunate than themselves.

Seen throughout the editions of the magazine is the influence of the popularity of fiction and romantic stories, an interest in fashion with colour illustrations in watercolours, and poetry. The magazines are a creative output for the children, and they are also seeking validation from their peers on their efforts with pages for comments and votes for the best submissions at the back of the magazine – comparable to ‘likes’ on social media today.

The Camp at Lyndhurst written by Miss R Dent of Beacon Corner, Burley, Hampshire, on the edge of the New Forrest near the village of Lyndhurst, is a perfect example of the other subjects in the magazine, that of the children having an awareness of world events and an interest in them. As well as this article, there are several other references to the ongoing conflict in this edition and an advertisement that offers the sale of wooden toys with funds raised going to the Belgian Relief Fund.

The war had started in July of 1914, and by the autumn when this issue was circulated, the true horrors of what was to come had not even been grasped by the adults, let alone filtered down to children’s consciousness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Camp at Lyndhurst is written as a jolly tale of chatting to the soldiers and the men are making jokes about what will happen at the front – was this what the men naively believed war was to be like or were they making the best of it for the benefit of the children? The author describes the landscape: ‘The whole of the moor and links are covered with hundreds and hundreds of tents, soldiers are to be seen everywhere & the road which runs through the camp is blocked by every kind of traffic.  Last week the 7th division was temporarily encamped there previous to starting for the front via Southampton – they were delayed owing to the presence of German submarines in the Channel.’ This shows a good level of knowledge about the activities at the camp and the shipment of troops, gleaned from newspapers or adult conversations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘The first time we went over to see them we took about 100 appleswhich we threw to any soldiers we saw along the road.   One apple was badly thrown & it knocked off one of the men’s caps and hit him on the head A passing soldier said I hope the bullets won’t do that!  Everyman we asked if they were looking forward to going to the front answered with faces lighting up “I should think so” or “The sooner the better”’.  The author goes on to describe what batallions were in the camp, that they were marching in full kit for hours, what they wore, how there were big guns covered up and they were practising fixing bayonets: ‘It made one realize how very near the war was.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a fascinating postscript saying that since writing the article the Scottish troops had left for the front and have been replaced in the camp by Indian troops, reflecting the fact that soldiers from all over the British Empire were brought into the conflict. The author describes in detail what they are wearing, how they ride bareback, and that their shoes were heelless. It is possible they hadn’t been given their uniforms for the front yet and were still wearing clothes more suited to the warmer climate of India: ‘They nearly all have bare legs and heelless slippers and they look rather cold.’ They are described as wearing turbans and were probably part of the 130,000 Sikhs who saw active service in the conflict.  Although accounting for just 2% of the population of British India at the time, the Sikhs made up more than 20% of the British Indian Army at the outbreak of hostilities.

On page 29 of the magazine, Elegy of a Dying War-Horse by C. Turton  shows a more realistic idea of what war must be like – ‘All around us lie bodies of dead men and dying, Some passive, and others contorted with pain, And one Highland laddie – a mere boy of twenty, Is groaning, and moans for his “mither and hame”‘. The poem speaks of the hot sun in the Indian valley. The Charge of the Light Brigade by Tennyson and tales of Clive of India would have been familiar to children at this time and would inspire heroic ideas about British soldiers and battles in faraway lands.

This September to October 1914 edition of The Pierot is the last one in the Museum’s collection. It isn’t clear if this was the last one made or not, but certainly as the authors got older their interests would have moved on. The magazines offer a wonderful insight into the lives of the children who contributed – their interests, concerns and creative talents – as well as a window into the world around them.

This post was written by Lyn

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)

The Art of Labeling

As preparation for Growing Up With Books, opening at The Museum of Childhood on June 1st, busily continues, Niamh presents a personal reflection on the art of writing about the collection’s treasures.

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This week finds the SELCIE team typing up museum-appropriate labels for our respective cabinets at the exhibition. This activity has presented me with an excellent opportunity to learn a new skill, that of writing for an audience made up of the general public. So very often I find that I have to check myself as my writing veers towards verbosity with its colour verging on purple. This self-censoring grounds my prose and prevents it from flying off into swirls of academic affectation. The most important aspect for me is that the tone is appropriate for the readership. This exhibition is all about children’s literature and therefore it aims to cover the gamut of ages, with texts suitable for little ones as well as for more adult readers. That being so, writing in a register more appropriate for a monograph would exclude a great number of the visitors. A child wants to know what he or she is seeing but does not need to be drowned in information. As such, a happy medium has to be struck.

Along with Sarah Dunnigan, I am in charge of the Other World cabinets. One of my research interests is fairy tales and another is national identity in the arts and therefore I can very easily find myself going to town with details that would interest only a very specific group. This occasion was no exception but, thankfully, I managed to notice where I was going and rein myself in before getting too far down the rabbit hole. No one likes extreme didacticism! Lyn Stevens has been so very helpful with providing museum guidelines, as well as numerous hints and tips on what to do. The most useful trick Lyn furnished me with is to think of the case as a story and the label as the narration of that tale. I absolutely adore creative writing but this activity is no mean feat. I have been trying to find a story to tell. It took me a while to narrow down the many ideas that I had bouncing around in my head. I decided that I wanted the viewer to expand their appreciation of what was already present in their literary knowledge, whether it be about authors already famous in Scotland or about the style of illustrations, already recognisable. Consequently, I have chosen to talk about … well … you, dear reader, shall have to come to our displays and find out. With that enigmatic ending, I am going to finish this blogpost. I do so hope that you visit our exhibition, which is opening very soon now.

                                                                      Archive bookshelf

                                                                                     This post written by Niamh

 

A Spotlight On Our Handmade Books

SELCIE’s exhibition at the Museum of Childhood is opening in less than four months, therefore today I would like to spotlight one of the many types of books that will be included in the exhibition’s collection: the rare handmade books.

We have found only a handful of these touching and beautiful pieces of history, whose pages teach and tell stories meant for someone special. These three following books in particular will be available to view at our exhibition opening on June 1st, 2018.

One of the handmade books that I personally found in a box full of French and German novels is titled Nénette et Rintintin. This is a love story, written in French and illustrated in watercolours. It tells the tale of two dolls that were very famous during World War I named Nénette and Rintintin.

These dolls were widely produced in France around the year 1913, and were considered good luck charm dolls, as long as they were continually kept together. The dolls’ story tells how they met, both having been displaced because of the war, but how they both found love and happiness together, until the day when Rintintin was forced to leave for the front. He is injured, and this particularly lovely illustration shows how he is ‘sewn up’ and healed so that he can return to his dear Nénette.

We do not know much about this small, lovely book, but we can imagine that it was possibly made for someone who owned the dolls, or perhaps it was even given with the dolls themselves during a time of hardship and heartache.

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The ‘Pink Books’ as the SELCIE Team likes to refer to them, are handmade books that seem to have been made by a mother for her daughters, Sibella and little Mary. They are handwritten, and the script is broken up syllabically, perhaps in order to help the young girls learn to read. They were both made in 1811, and both have their pages separated by small pieces of wax paper, which has left the drawings and script in excellent condition.

One of the books is titled: ‘The Rhy-ming Al-ph-bet and the History of Mary Anne’

and the other book is titled: ‘Two Times Two Make Four, Lucy and Her Mamma, or the Pink Book’.

These books provide an interesting glimpse into an early 19th-century home, where is seems the mother of these two young girls was especially integral to their education: the lessons within the books teach everything from mathematics to morality to reading and rhyming.

While many of the books in the SELCIE collection are able to tell a story about their owners, their users, or the person that gifted them, these handmade books are entirely about their makers. They bring us closer to understanding the importance of both giving and receiving books, whether they provide narrative or education, we can find a great deal of love and devotion in each pen and brush stroke.

This post written by Morgan Boharski

Chapbooks Considered

Amongst the many treasures that SELCIE have unearthed, there are a number of chapbooks. These pieces are often small in size and volume, usually up to 6×4 inches, having only a small number of pages. However, one must be careful not to be fooled by their superficial appearance. They are highly important owing to their multi-faceted great socio-political significance.

Their measurements and number of pages go some way to illustrating this important facet. The controlled costs of creating and printing these works guaranteed that the sale price of these texts were such that the average man, woman or child on the street could afford to purchase them. Put another way, the readership of these writings was expanded from the restricted reach of only the very wealthy; previously, books had been very much confined to the domain of the rich. Paper was an expensive commodity because of the competition for timber, a product for which there was great demand for ships, building, furniture and fires. Wooden furniture, such as writing desks, together with various wooden artefacts often featured in portraits of the wealthy. However, possession of the written word by the general public ensured that democratisation was well on its way to becoming a reality.

Chapbooks often contained abridgements of classic works. These edited versions were simply segments of what was available to the wealthy in its entirety. Nevertheless, it is the action of reading that is the important aspect to note here: namely, reading was no longer the preserve of the upper echelons of society and access to culture was likewise available to all. Equality of opportunity appeared on the horizon. The degree to which there is a direct cause and effect between increasing levels of literacy and increasing availability of chapbooks is contentious. Alexander Pope wrote that ‘[a] little learning is a dangerous thing’ (215) and that sentiment holds true for readers also. With a general public that was literate, the ruling classes had newly to contend with a group of people that were less likely to accept the status quo.

Among the vast array of material printed as chapbooks, nursery rhymes featured prominently. In our exhibition later this year at the Museum of Childhood, ‘Mother Goose’ will be presented as one such example of the genre. While such a text does not seem at first glance to have the capacity to set the world ablaze with revolutionary change, it is clear that nursery rhymes are socio-political by their very nature. They can and often do impart a moralising gloss. In point of fact, the reader of works such as ‘Mother Goose’ is one who has learnt to assess other thoughts and opinions and thus to re-examine one’s own ideas and attitudes.

Aristotle said that ‘man is by nature a political animal’ (10) and a chapbook upon which a common nursery rhyme is printed testifies to the validity of this idea.

mother goose chapbook

References

Aristotle. Poetics (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995). Print.

Pope, Alexander. ‘An Essay on Criticism,’ in ‘Essay on Man’ and other Poems (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008). Print.

This post was written by Niamh

Simon Sommerville Laurie: Edinburgh Educationist

One of the more interesting recent finds from the Edinburgh Museum of Childhood’s book store is, perhaps surprisingly, a school book – The Sixth English Reading Book (fig. 1).

Figure 1

The book, which used to belong to Euphemia M. Millar, contains a timetable of various classes attended by the girl at school (fig. 2), as well as some cut out characters, objects and animals (fig. 3), possibly used as educational aids. All of this most wonderfully shows the owner’s use of the school book and suggests her interactive approach to learning.

Figure 2

Figure 3

Euphemia’s ownership, however, is not the only interesting story hidden within The Sixth English Reading Book. The book’s author, Simon S. Laurie, A.M., F.R.S.E., Professor of Theory, History, and Art of Education in the University of Edinburgh (fig. 4), may seem like one of many similar educational writers of the time, currently all but forgotten, if not entirely forgotten, but in his day he was an vigorous campaigner for various educational reforms.

Figure 4: Simon Somerville Laurie (1829–1909), by George Fiddes Watt, 1904
© reserved / courtesy of the University of Edinburgh’s Collections. See https://goo.gl/7tNH6B.

Edinburgh born and raised, Laurie eventually became secretary of the Church of Scotland’s education committee in 1855, and a year later a visitor and inspector in rural parish schools in the counties of Banff, Moray and Aberdeen. At the same time he began his writing career, which, along with his work as an inspector, made him Scotland’s leading expert on education by 1870, and in 1876 he was appointed to the university chair of education in Edinburgh.

Figure 5: 22 George Square – the house that used to belong to Simon S. Laurie. Currently University of Edinburgh School of Social and Political Science.

Perhaps through his work as an inspector, Laurie came to believe that teachers should be able to receive a university education, equal to other professions, such as doctors or lawyers, and he campaigned for it as the president of the Teachers’ Guild of Great Britain and Ireland (since 1891). As a secretary of the royal commission on Scottish endowed schools he worked towards the creation of a chain of secondary schools, and his project partially succeeded in 1878, with the newly-passed legislation. He also proposed a reform of educational ‘hospitals’, where a limited number of children could be enrolled on a charitable basis, which later influenced the foundation of large day schools. Last, but not least, in the 1860s, Laurie advocated the creation of higher education courses for Edinburgh women.

All of the above presents a portrait of a man thoroughly engaged in the betterment of both Scottish and national education system, who understood the importance of providing teachers with the best possible education, and the importance of higher education for all, including women. It seems fitting that one of Simon S. Laurie’s books used to belong to a young woman, whose education might have benefited through the reforms he proposed, and the changes his campaigning influenced.

Simon S. Laurie’s grave at the Grange Cemetery, Edinburgh.

Bibliography 

Anderson, R. (2004-09-23). Laurie, Simon Somerville (1829–1909), educationist. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved Jan. 2018, from https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/34422.

You can see this copy of The Sixth English Reading Book in our Growing Up With Books exhibition, opening June 1st, 2018!

This post written by Joanna Witkowska

Happy New Year 2018

Happy New Year to all of our followers! 2018 is the Year of Young People in Scotland and our team is excited to celebrate. First up will be our exhibition, Growing Up With Books, which will open on Children’s Day (June 1st) 2018 at Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood.

We have been busy planning this exhibition for the last few months, with each team member taking responsibility for one case. We have shortlisted the books we want to be in the exhibition, and have been trying to decide how to best display them.

Exhibition Planning

Books laid out to plan display shelves

As part of the exhibition, we will also be publishing a catalogue that will be available at the Museum of Childhood. A few months ago we took some of our favourite books on an excursion to Edinburgh University Library to have some photographs taken. Soon we will be finalising the text that will accompany these beautiful photographs and we are very excited to get the catalogue printed.

The team is also delighted to announce that we will be organising a series of events alongside Growing Up With Books. There will be something for everyone, from storytelling to crafts to a conference. The conference, which will take place in November 2018, will feature representatives from the museum sector and academia to bring together these two areas in innovative ways.

All in all, it is set to be a fantastic year, and we hope you will join us and become involved in the Year of Young People and Growing Up With Books! All the best and – again – Happy New Year from the SELCIE team!

This post written by Danielle

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