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

Muriel Spark, The Very Fine Clock (London, 1969)

Only four months away from the centenary of Muriel Spark’s birth, SELCIE celebrates her little-known children’s novel.

Gerard Carruthers guides us through its thoughtful quirkiness, complete with illustrations by Edward Gorey…
Illustration from A Very Fine Clock

Less well-known than Muriel Spark, the writer of novels or the short-story writer, is Spark the poet, Spark the writer of drama. Least well-known of all is Spark the children’s writer: she produced only one short book for children in the late 1960s, The Very Fine Clock. The text has the feel of the 1960s film industry’s take on the Victorian or Edwardian period. Think, for instance, George Pal’s The Time Machine (1960) or Lionel Jeffries’s The Railway Children (1970) for the general vibe. It is a genteel, moral tale written for the clever eight year-old who can get his or her reading-head (and tongue) round names like ‘Professor Sturge Baldwin Parker’ or ‘Professor Maximilian Rosmini’. These are two of four professors who visit the home of the central protagonist, Ticky, every week to confer with the Swiss clock’s owner Professor John on a range of profound matters. Out of goodness and in appreciation of his precise time-keeping, the professors come up with a proposal for elevating Ticky’s status and out of goodness Ticky refuses. Indubitably, he is a very fine clock.

Illustration from A Very Fine Clock

With rather gorgeous black and white illustrations by Edward Gorey (1925-2000), which are sometimes intriguingly arch, The Very Fine Clock is to be savoured by thoughtful kids. The only real places the text is dated is in the stereotypical depiction of the kitchen clock who ‘always lets her tongue run away with her’ and of academic life where ‘Professor John goes off in the morning to sit all day in his professor’s chair at the university.’

Illustration from A Very Fine Clock

This post written by Gerard Carruthers, University of Glasgow

Gerard Carruthers FRSE is Francis Hutcheson Professor of Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow. He is one of the organisers of the Muriel Spark Centenary Symposium,  1st & 2nd February 2018, a joint venture between the National Library of Scotland and the University of Glasgow. 

 

Gerard Carruthers

Dùsgadh agus Mosgladh: Catrìona NicGhille-Bhàin Ghrannd, Dùsgadh na Féinne (1908) & Calum Mac Phàrlain, Am Mosgladh Mòr (1914-15)

This post written by Dr Sìm Innes, Oilthigh Ghlaschu

[English translation follows below]

Is iomadh uair ri linn an Athbheothachaidh Cheiltich a chualas gun robh na Gàidheil, neo na h-Albannaich gu lèir, air dùsgadh, no an impis dùsgadh, air neo gun robh an t-àm aca dùsgadh. Thug Lachlann MacBheathain (1853-1931) òraid do Chomunn Gàidhlig Inbhir Nis ann an 1896 air an robh ‘The Mission of the Celt’. Bha MacBheathain, a thogadh ann an Cill Taraglain, na fhear-deasachaidh air a’ phàipear The Fifeshire Advertister. Bha e ri eadar-theangachadh agus sgrìobhadh na Gàidhlig cuideachd.[1] Na òraid, thòisich e le bhith a’ toirt sùil air eachdraidh an Athbheothachaidh is thuirt e:

The Gael suddenly awoke to the alarming fact that his native tongue, which more than anything else was the distinguishing mark of his tribe, was dying out before the tongue of the Southron. The thought touched his sensitive and melancholy nature as nothing else could…. Having now glanced over this heaving tide of new Celtic life which has overflowed the fields of literature, music, customs, and social progress, it remains for us to ask, What of the future? The Gael are awakening to consciousness, and as a man when he becomes conscious, first asks, What am I? Whence am I? What am I here for? So the Gael must ask, What are we? What are our capabilities? What is our destiny? … Well, now, we have looked at these three curents of our times – the rising tide of Celtic revival among ourselves, the flow of Celtic sentiment and ideas in English life and literature, and the stream of Celtic blood into city life – and we should now be in a position to guess what is the mission and destiny of the Celt. It is surely by infusion of ideas and transfusion of blood to leaven modern civilization with its own awakening spirit.[2]

Continue reading

From the Library of Mr. D.A.W.

At times it is clear in our archives that a group of books was donated by the same person or institution, and often they have a paper trail of some sort – a letter included in the book or a note made by the librarian who received them as a donation. Many children sign their name or even their addresses at times, and these inscriptions give us a sense of the memories of their childhood preserved within the book. One book ‘collector’ in particular has come to our attention in bits and pieces throughout the two years that we have been uncovering and cataloguing the books in the archives, a mysterious man by the name of David, who signs his books with his initials: D.A.W.

The first book of D.A.W. that caught my attention is a beautiful copy of Hans Andersen’s fairy tales, and though the cover is elegant, the treasure of this item is truly found within. Inside of the front cover there are various newspaper clippings about Hans Andersen’s fairy tales and their reception in England, and glued carefully onto the first few blank pages are postcards from Copenhagen with scribbles of dates and thoughts about them in the hand of D.A.W. Carefully tucked under the front cover is our first clue as to who the owner of this book might have been, a small note written from a loving aunt to her ‘darling David’:

‘June 2: 36
Darling David
Many happy (underlined 7 times!) returns of your birthday.  It is lovely to be five.  Presently you will get a lovely Fairy Book called Hans Anderson.  It is from me. And I do hope you will like it especially the pictures which are drawn by a friend of mine.  I hope Mummy will bring you to stay here. We must arrange it.  Many x x x from Auntie Gwen.’

Hans Andersen Newspaper & Letter

I immediately fell in love with this book, and imagined the story of the 5-year-old boy David as his eyes were opened to the magic of fairy stories, and later, the 18-year-old David who ventured to Copenhagen, saw the statue of den lille Havfrue (The Little Mermaid) of whom he had read about from a young age, and bought a postcard which he then pasted into this book. Even now, I like to imagine the way in which this book would have shaped the life of David, and how he may have even read it to his own children or grandchildren.

Hans Anderson Mermaid Postcard

Recently, David’s scrawled ‘D.A.W. 1937’ popped up again in one of the many copies of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame that we have in the collection, which, if we follow the pattern laid out by the first book, may have been a gift for his sixth birthday.

DAW Inscription

While it was thrilling to find another book from D.A.W.’s library, a final book fell into our hands, from the same box as The Wind in the Willows, which provided us with a further glimpse into the life of David: Grahame’s The Golden Age. This book did not have ‘D.A.W.’ written in it, but rather, on facing blank pages were written two inscriptions. On the left page is written: ‘From Auntie Gwen and Uncle Jim, for Edna’, and on the right page: ‘To David, With love from Mummy, June 3rd, 1944’. As this date (presumably David’s birthday) is the day after the letter found in the Hans Andersen book, I am sure this book would have belonged to D.A.W. Auntie Gwen must have gifted this book to David’s mother, Edna, who then, for David’s 13th birthday, gifted it to him, adding to his growing collection of beloved books.

The two inscriptions

The discovery of these three books provides a special lens through which we can glimpse the life of one man and the profound impact that these two women, his Auntie Gwen and his mother Edna, would have had on his childhood and his education. How many of us have books like these, books that were gifted and then influenced the trajectory of our lives through their stories, their illustrations, and their messages of magic, love, and friendship? Though David’s books were long forgotten in storage, his childhood is preserved in their pages, and as my finger traces his initials and unfolds the carefully pasted newspaper clippings, I will remember him and cherish his life and the gift he has given to SELCIE: an appreciation for nostalgia and the importance of growing up with books.

‘All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.’ – The Wind in the Willows

Wind in the Willows

The ‘Wind in the Willows’ book owned by David

This post written by Morgan

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.

*

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.

Time for a close up

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

Favourite books

These are a few of our favourite things!

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

In the CRC

Lyn Wall, Museum of Childhood curator, in the CRC

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

Lights, camera, action!

Lights, camera, action!

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

Morgan and A Day in Fairyland photoshoot

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

 

This post written by Danielle

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

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

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

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

Help Heavenward titlepage Help Heavenward cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                   This post written by Lyn and Susan Gardner