Whilst many things change in modern times, the popularity of children’s picture books have survived the generations, admired by young and old alike. Now, we may know the characters, but do we know their creators? We take a look at some of the most iconic children’s books and the British illustrators who brought them to life.
Helen Beatrix Potter was born in London, 1866. Beatrix and her younger brother Bertram grew to be fascinated with the nature and wildlife they encountered on holidays to Scotland and the Lake District, which inspired her early sketches. In the early days, Beatrix developed her talents with a series of greeting card designs. These developed into a letter she wrote and illustrated for the children of her former governess called The Tale of Peter Rabbit which she later transformed into one of the world’s best selling children’s books. She wrote a total of 30 books, 23 of which were children’s tales. These include the likes of The Tale of Benjamin Bunny and The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, from which adaptations also came – most notably a BBC television series and a Royal Ballet Film. Her illustrations are admired for capturing the warmth and charm of her characters, without sacrificing anatomical accuracy.
Ernest Howard Shepard was born in London, 1879. With a passion for drawing, his father encouraged his enrolment at Heatherley’s School of Fine Art in Chelsea, later winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy Schools. At the outbreak of World War I, Shepard served as an officer for the Royal Artillery where he sketched scenes of combat. Throughout and after the war, Shepard worked for the satirical magazine Punch, where he was a political cartoonist for more than 50 years. It was a co-worker which recommended Shepard to A. A. Milne, creator of Winnie-the-Pooh. Shepard used his son’s teddy bear named Growler to form the appearance of Winnie and famously used many of Christopher Robin’s stuffed toys to create the rest of the gang. The Winnie-the-Pooh books became an international success and were eventually acquired by Disney. Shepard also notably illustrated the 1933 edition of The Wind in the Willows as a result of his success. When talking of Shepard’s ability to capture the essence of Winnie-the-Pooh bear, Christopher Robin once said: ‘It is the position of his eye. The eye that starts as quite an elaborate affair level with the top of Pooh’s nose and ends up at as a dot level with his mouth. And in that dot the whole of Pooh’s character can be read.’
Peggy Fortnum was born in Middlesex, 1919. She later enrolled at the Central School of Art and Design in London, then worked as a painter, teacher and a textile designer before making the full-time transition to an illustrator. In total, she has illustrated nearly 80 books but she is best known for her drawings of the original Paddington Bear for the first in the series – A Bear Called Paddington. These started as simple pen and ink sketches, which formed the basis for his look and character with the addition of colour and clothing added by various illustrators over the years. Through the decades, Paddington Bear has become an international success with consecutive publications, merchandise and TV and film adaptations. The current Paddington Bear is illustrated by R. W. Alley and, as always, his curious charm is ever present.
Pauline Baynes was born in Sussex, 1922. Her very early childhood was spent in India as her father was a commissioner in Agra, however, she returned to England with her elder sister for her schooling. At 15, she studied two terms of design at the Farnham School of Art before following her sister to the Slade School of Fine Art. One of her professions was as a professional map-maker; a skill put to use in some of her later drawings. Baynes had a flourishing career as an illustrator with over 100 books to her name, most notably that of C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and J. R. R Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, amongst other titles. Her illustrations are praised for their imaginative approach – the dynamic use of colours, space and forms that match the unworldly settings of the stories drawn for.
Judith Kerr was born in Berlin, in 1923 before fleeing Hitler’s Germany and settling in Britain at the age of 12 – after three years of migration through Europe. She later gained a scholarship to the Central School of Arts and Crafts and became an artist. Although she longed to be a writer, it wasn’t until the arrival of her two children which prompted Kerr to begin writing and drawing children’s literature. Her most notable picture books include The Tiger Who Came To Tea and the popular Mog series, but it doesn’t stop there; her repertoire even extends to children’s novels including When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. Her illustrations are admired for their expressive, enchanting nature, perfectly complementing the imaginative narratives of her stories.
Eric Hill was born in London, 1927. He worked as an errand boy at the age of 14 for an illustrator’s studio where he was encouraged to draw cartoons and comic strips. He later worked as a freelance designer and illustrator within the advertising industry. In 1976, he wrote a book titled Spot the Playful Puppy for his son Christopher. An impressed friend introduced him to a publishing agent, and the book titled Where’s Spot? was released in 1980. From this, a series of popular books were created with over 60 million copies sold, translated into 60 languages and even an animated adaption by the BBC. His drawings are known for their simplistic and colourful cartoon-like qualities.
Sir Quentin Blake was born in Kent, 1932. He drew from an early age and after sending samples to the satirical magazine Punch, his cartoons were published at just the age of 16. Between 1951-53, he attended national service and soon after, enrolled in English Literature studies at Cambridge University. This was followed by various part-time illustrative studies at Chelsea and Camberwell College before teaching illustration at the Royal College of Art for over 20 years. In his life, Blake drew for over 300 children’s books, for which 35 were both written and drawn himself. He is best known for illustrating the incredibly popular Roald Dahl books and more recently, for that of David Walliams. Blake has received many accolades throughout his career, most notably a knighthood, the Hans Christian Andersen Award for illustration and the Legion d’Honneur. Because of the tremendous success of his partnership with Roald Dahl, his works have been admired through generations, adored for bringing life to Dahl’s characters, in all of their exuberance and delightfully chaotic nature.
Raymond Briggs was born in London, 1934. He developed an interest in cartooning from an early age which lead him to study painting at the Wimbledon School of Art, typography at The Central School of Art and Design, and painting once more at the Slade School of Fine Art. He became a writer and illustrator for children’s literature and also taught illustration part time at the Brighton School of Art. In 1973, Briggs created the wordless picture book The Snowman. This was met with critical acclaim and was adapted into an animated television special by Britain’s Channel 4, which received an oscar nomination for the best animated short. To mark the 30th anniversary, Briggs created a follow up titled The Snowman and The Snowdog. Briggs has created over 20 picture books, remarked for their traditional pencil style and heartwarming nature.
Charles Roger Hargreaves was born in Yorkshire, 1935. His original ambition was to be a cartoonist, however, he found himself as a creative director at a London firm. In 1971, he wrote the book Mr. Tickle. Initially he struggled to find a publisher, but once a deal was secured, his work was hugely popular and followed with many more Mr. Men books, which were adapted into a BBC television series. In 1976, Hargreaves quit his job and began working on the Little Miss series, which launched in 1981 and was also adapted by the BBC. In total, he wrote and illustrated 46 Mr. Men books and 33 Little Miss books. His instantly recognisable, bold and bright comical drawings have been a popular hit with children in the decades that have followed.
Nick Sharratt was born in London, 1962. It was the pop and graphic art scene of the 1960s which he experienced in childhood that influenced the bold and colourful style of his work. He studied graphic design at St. Martin’s School of Art and following this, embarked as a children’s book illustrator. He has illustrated for over 200 children’s books, which include some of his own writings. However, he is largely famed for his partnership with acclaimed children’s author Dame Jacqueline Wilson, and her ever popular Tracy Beaker series.
By Christopher M Little