Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Good Triggers: Books for Kids

 Yeah, it's a cliche, but it's true nonetheless; books are good for kids. They were great for me. 
The above illustration is by Richard Doyle, from The King of the Golden River.
It scared me, blew me away (no pun intended), and planted the seed that was to grow into my life's work. I'd have never known about Doyle, but for the fact that a set of ten volumes of children's classics came with the encyclopedias my parents bought for my brother and me back in the 60s.

 Still have the complete set. They were a centerpiece of my life as a kid, no kidding! I'd warily approach them on the bookshelf, because, like everything that was alluring to me then, I was also very afraid of them. Many of the poems and stories terrified me.
(Check out Robert Southey's Poem, God's Judgement on a Wicked Bishop for a healthy dose of Victorian violence  Yep, it was included in this set, and it was one I couldn't help re-reading over and over, even though it made nighttime hell). 

The illustrations were the best part though (Tenniel's Jabberwock among 'em)! They confused my terrifically overstimulate-able brain and haunted me, but I couldn't leave them be either.

My favorite volumes.
The ones I hauled back and forth to school; the ones opened and examined so often they ended up a bit tattered. They are full of the illustrations I copied as a kid, and the ones of the set I still look at most.

 Marley's Ghost by John Leech (Still my all time favorite rendition.)
I suppose because they were aimed at children, the black and white drawings (by the original illustrators) were overlayed with color.

Illustration by John Dickson Batten
 And sometimes, kind of unfortunately, the editors made the decision to replace the black line with color. Still, the illustrators were credited, which allowed me to research them as I got older. This set of books led me to many of the greats who still influence my art now; among them, John D. Batten, W. Heath Robinson, Arthur Rackham, and L. Leslie Brooke.

He wrote, but who knew Gilbert drew little guys too?
 Those books also allowed me to fall in love with poetry--especially nonsense poetry--and reading in general.

Even the endpapers were cool, although this illustrator was uncredited.

I know lots of parents cringe at the thought of their children wanting to be artists. Luckily, mine didn't. And also fortunately, they knew the value of books--even if they didn't guess that the little, poorly reproduced drawings in this set would become one of the most exciting parts of my childhood.

First copyrighted in 1938, The Junior Classics can still be found at thrift stores.
Thanks for the visit!


  1. Wonderful! I was visiting my parents and at their local bookstore in North Carolina, they had volumes of the Junior Classics. A Proustian moment seeing those endpapers again. Wow. Cheers~!

    1. Cheers back, Erik! I'm always stunned by the way books (and images from them) provoke such a deep (subconscious?) nostalgia. Nothing else stirs quite to that level for me--not even music. Anyway, thanks for the visit and comment

  2. It is amazing. Thanks for posting, and illustrating. Salud ~!


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