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Fairy Tales and Children’s Stories
by Lucinda Gosling December 19, 2023

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin. Once upon a time, there was a little girl called Mary who loved books, and especially books with pictures. Lots of pictures. When she grew up she kept all the lovely books and they now live happily ever after on the shelves in the library named after her. The End.

It’s true. We have a wonderful children’s book collection, including all the classics, with many of the titles originating from Mary’s own childhood collection. Forming the bedrock are the exquisite volumes representing what is hailed as the golden age of children’s book illustration, the period from the late nineteenth century to the First World War, when lavish, high quality gift books with gilded covers and tipped in colour plates were hugely popular. Illustrated by some of the greatest names in illustration we have books where stories are brought to life by Charles and William Heath Robinson, Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott, Kate Greenaway and of course, the great Arthur Rackham.

Cover design for Cinderella by Arthur Rackham 1919; Babes in the Wood by Randolph Caldecott, 19th century; Sir Lancelot saves King Arthur by Walter Crane, 1911.

Outside our own archive, contributors Peter & Dawn Cope have spent a lifetime acquiring nursery books and postcards, and their collection is a cornucopia of delightful designs by a wide range of artists including Florence Mary Anderson, Charles Folkard, Flora White, Jennie Harbour and Susan Beatrice Pearse. A selection of cut-out and dress-up doll postcards by Ada Leonora Bowley and Louis Wain, based on various fairy tale or nursery rhyme characters, are particularly fun.

A Sail in the Moon Boat by Florence Mary Anderson, c.1920; Little Boy Blue dressing doll by Ada Leonora Bowley, 1921; Red Riding Hood by Jennie Harbour, c.1925.

Bringing us a more contemporary flavour is the work of Irish artist Jonathan Barry, who is inspired by classic illustrators of the past, notably Pauline Baynes. Our selection of Jonathan’s finely detailed illustrations include scenes from Jack and the Beanstalk, Beauty and the Beast, The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis and Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

The Medici Society has a long history of book publishing with their main speciality being whimsical children’s stories featuring a cast of anthropomorphic cuddly creatures. We have scans from the original watercolours, pencil, or pen & ink sketches including works by the likes of Molly Brett, Margaret Tarrant, Peggy Burton, Margaret Tempest and Racey Helps with nostalgic titles such as, ‘Teddy Flies Away’, ‘The Jumble Bears’ or ‘The Untidy Little Hedgehog’. Most of these are available to license as entire re-issued books for a new generation.

Three red squirrels by Margaret Tempest, 1937; Teddy Flies Away by Molly Brett, 1972.

Circling back to our own collection, housed here at the library, whether you’re searching for Tenniel’s original Alice in Wonderland drawings, covers from Angela Brazil’s school adventures, Edwardian nursery books by Cecil Aldin and John Hassall or 1920s annuals, then we can help. Finally, should you ever need a picture of Anna Sewell’s equine classic, Black Beauty, you’ve come to the right place. Mary amassed what we believe is the largest collection in the world of Black Beauty books, which was the subject of our first blog post in 2016.

Illustration by Cecil Aldin to Black Beauty, c.1930; cover of 5th edition, 1878; illustration by Lucy Kemp-Welch to Black Beauty, 1915.