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Five of the Best Books for Children

Five of the Best Books for Children

Someone recently challenged Barbara Chalk, the proprietor of Rare & Antique Books, to choose five of the best books for children from the Rare and Antique booksite. This is what she had to say.

Where do I start as I love them all! However, in the spirit of the task I have endeavoured to narrow them down to the following five which are of particular interest to me at the moment.

Miniature Editions of Through the Looking Glass and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Illustrated by John Tenniel 1907 & 1908

Of course I am cheating here as this is actually two books but they make such a charming pair I couldn’t separate them! The reason for their appeal is their size – they look like they have been given some of Alice’s size reducing potion! The original Tenniel’s illustrations are intact and in their original black and white format. In 1907 Macmillan marked the expiry of the copyright of Alice’s Adventures by issuing several new editions, publicising them with a Punch cartoon captioned ‘Tenniel’s Alice Reigns Supreme’. “The Sixpenny Series” was the first of these in December of that year. In 1903 they issued the “Little Folks Edition” with new colour pictures of Tenniel and an abbreviated text. The “Illustrated Pocket Classic” followed in 1904. This miniature edition published in 1907 was a real success and remains a highly collectable edition. A charming pair of books.

A Gallery of Children A. A. Milne

A selection of the best children’s books must surely include an A. A. Milne book. The well known Winnie the Pooh books are very endearing and an easy choice. However, Milne produced a wide range of novels, plays and short stories which merit celebration. One of these is this charming collection of children’s fantasy stories written between A-Gallery-Of-Children-A.A.Milne-First-EditionhisA-Gallery-Of-Children-A.A.Milne-First-Edition poetry book of “When We Were Very Young” 1924 and “Winnie The Pooh” 1926. It was his first book of prose for children. This hardcover book was first published in 1925 by the Stanley Paul & Co. London and the David McKay Company in Philadelphia. The illustrator Saida, otherwise known as H. Willebbek Le Mair, was initially famous for her illustrations for toothpaste advertisements in magazines. Her delightful pictures complement Milne’s twelve stories making this edition a wonderful demonstration of the writing talents of A. A. Milne.

The Story of Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman 1901

The-Story-Of-Little-Black-Sambo-Fifth-Edition-Helen-Bannerman (2)Chosen for its perfect condition this little book is absolutely charming with delightful illustrations. Much of the appeal of the book lies in its size as the book measures only 5-5 3/4 inches in size making it appear like a toy book. Reading the book has an element of anticipation of what is to come as the writing and images are only one side of the pages. The book was initially published by Grant Richards as a series of small formatted books called The Dumpy Books for Children between 1897 and 1904.  The classic and well known story is of a little boy and of course the terminology within the test is now obsolete and outdated. Yet in it’s time the book was a children’s favourite for more than half a century and so serves as a reminder of historical social change.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis 1950-1956

Again I think I am cheating by including more than one book! Yet this set of seven fantasy stories have featured in thousands of children’s bookshelves – over 100 million copies published in 47 languages. It remains a classic children’s work of literature covering themes of religion, race and gender and has been a source of controversial literary debate. Pauline Baynes’s fine pen and ink original illustrations, especially the maps of Narnia, are still used in publications today. ThThe-Chronicles-of-Narnia-C.S.Lewis-first-editione Chronicles tells of several children who are magically transported to the world of Narnia to protect the lion, Asian, from Evil and restore him to his rightful place on the throne. The adventures cover the entire history of Narnia ending in The Last Battle. The first five books were originally published by Geoffrey Bles over a few years. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe published first in 1950 and , although complete, the next books Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Horse and His Boy, were issued one at a time from 1951 to 1954. The Silver Chair was written after The Horse and His Boy but published after it in 1953. The Bodley Head published the last two books, The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle in 1955 and 1956. Again the Magician’s Nephew was written after, but published before The Last Battle. There has been much discussion over the years as to the order of reading the books as some publishers have produced them in chronological rather than first published order. Whichever way they are read they still remain an enchanting read!

The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant, with a preface by A. A. Milne 1934

Babar the elephant is one of the most delightful children’s illustrated books. This edition has the added value of an introduction by the author of Winnie the Pooh, A. A. Milne. In fact it was A. A. Milne who initially brought the little elephant to the attention of the British children’s book market. Milne first saw the French edition of the book at a friend’s house in 1932. He was so enthralled by the detailed illustrations and story that he persuaded his publishers, Methuen, to produce an English version. A. A. Milne wrote a charming introduction which helped to make the first edition an immediate success.
The-Story-Of-Babar-with-preface-by-a.a.Milne-Jean-De-Brunhoff-First-edition-MethuenThe-Story-Of-Babar-with-preface-by-a.a.Milne-Jean-De-Brunhoff-First-edition-Methuen“If you love elephants you will love Babar. If you have never loved elephants you will love them now. If you are a grown-up and have never been fascinated by a picture book before, then this is the one that will fascinate you. If you are a child do not take these enchanting people to your heart; if you do not spend delightful hours making sure that no detail of their adventures has escaped you; then you deserve to wear gloves and be kept off wet grass for the rest of your life. I can say no more. I salute M. De. Brunhoff. I am at his feet. A. Milne”. Enough said I think!

Five of the best books for children? Well, they are my choice form the Rare and Antique book store today. As I love them all if you ask me tomorrow the list may well be different.

See other Children’s books for more choices.

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Florence Upton-The Original Golliwogg Illustrator.

Rare and Antique Books feature many iconic illustrated children’s books and one of the most influential of the characters is the Golliwogg created by Florence Upton. Clearly the character is now culturally controversial, yet in it’s time the golliwog was initially created as an innocent and playful character which inspired the creation of a popular children’s toy throughout most of the 20th century. Who was the illustrator and creator of this children’s character?

The story of Florence Upton

Florence Upton was born in Flushing, New York on 22 February 1873 to British parents who had recently emigrated to America. She was the second of four children born into a creative and slightly eccentric household. In 1884, the family moved to central Manhattan near The National Acadamy of Design where free instruction was offered to anyone who could qualify. Her father enrolled Florence for evening class tuition in art where her artistic skills were nurtured. The premature death of her father in June 1889 resulted in a loss of a steady income and at the age of 16 Florence secured work as a professional illustrator of novels or books of short stories.

The Upton family finances finally stabilised and the family were able to visit Bertha’s relatives in Hampstead, London. Florence’s established reputation from her published work in New York, meant she was able to secure employment with London publishers and she remained in the England whilst her family returned to New York. Florence’s skill in illustrating developed as she enlisted in further art training and experimented with her ideas.

The fascination with children’s stories

Florence Upton started to consider working with children’s books and was inspired by her “penny wooden” dolls and an old childhood toy named “Golliwogg”, a toy she had played with as a small child in New York. The then-nameless “Negro minstrel doll” was treated roughly by the Upton children yet in her stories she developed his character into a friendly helpful toy.  She developed the illustrations and character and worked with her mother, Bertha who wrote the verses, to produce their first story, “The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg”.  This was in 1894 published by Longmans, Green & Co for the Christmas publication of 1895.

Florence’s Golliwogg proved to be highly popular in the time and Florence and her mother went onto to produce thirteen adventures until changing tastes made “Golliwogg in the African Jungle” the last in the series in 1909.

Influenced by Global travelling

Whilst in London, Florence Upton continued to provide illustrations for The Strand, the Idler and Punch magazine. After three years of work, she returned to New York to further her studies at the Art Students League and then in Paris and Holland. In 1906 Florence returned to London where she continued her career as an artist exhibiting in the Royal Academy, London. Unable to serve in the First World War due to ill health, Florence assisted the war effort by donating her dolls and original Golliwogg drawings for the Red Cross. The monies raised bought an ambulance named “Golliwogg” which went to the Front and served in France.

Florence continued working as an artist and illustrator, mainly of portraits, until her unfortunate death after abdominal surgery in 16 October 1922 at the age of 49. Her legacy of the Golliwogg toys inspired by her character are now displayed in the  Museum of Childhood at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

A twist on the Golliwogg name

Unfortunately Florence Upton did not trademark her character and its name, spelled “golliwog”, became the generic name for dolls and images of a similar type.  Recognising a large and profitable market, many toy companies took advantage of the popularity of the books and manufactured the doll. Other writers and illustrators took equal advantage, many changing the nature of the series. For example, the character was developed by Enid Blyton, often as a villain and sometimes as heroes, yet Upton’s Golliwogg was jovial, friendly and gallant.

The character exemplifies racial disharmony and is clearly socially inappropriate in modern times and so the character remains controversial today- little did Florence know when she created the image and character of the Golliwogg that it would play such an influential part in social history and children’s play through most of the 20th century.

Rare and Antique Books have several of the landmark Golliwogg books by Florence Upton which would add to any collection of socially significant children’s books.