Monday, 5 August 2019

Image Flash-Back- The longevity of favourite childhood illustrations - Garry Parsons

In a recent guest blog post for The Picture Book Den, author Timothy Knapman included an image that he recalled from his childhood. The illustration is by writer and illustrator Tomi Ungerer, whose books for children included “Moon Man,” first published in 1966, and Tim’s favourite “Zeralda’s Ogre,” which was published a year later.

On the last page of "Zeralda's Ogre" we see a picture of the happy family; proud parents Zeralda and her ex-ogre are surrounded by their offspring and Zeralda has a baby in her arms. One of her older children leans over his new-born sibling, apparently adoringly.  But behind his back – visible to us but not to his parents – he holds a knife and fork.

Zeralda’s Ogre by Tomi Ungerer

Tim says, "I don’t know why that image has stayed with me.  I do remember thinking it was funny rather than scary.  I was a ghoulish child, I suppose.  But – more than that – it’s the subversiveness of the image, the feeling that “you’re not supposed to do that!" that was – and remains – truly thrilling." 

Intrigued by the impact this clearly had on the young Tim Knapman, I remembered an illustration from my childhood. Surfacing from my memory, like a ship hauling on deck an unexpected sea monster, was an image of a staggering wolf with his tummy in stitches. 
A quick search online not only brought back the image in all its gruesomeness but also all the feelings I had as a young boy looking at it, as if fresh out of the fridge! 

From The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids. LadyBird Easy-Reading Books 

For me, this image was pure cruelty. His agonising stance, his rough worn knees and pained expression, as he sweated and panted along the track alone, were shocking. All I wanted to do was to rush in there and help him. I remember the sense of his aimless, desperate wandering - after all, who, in this land, was going to help him? - and I was pretty sure there wasn’t a reputable hospital nearby.  And as for the goats who did this to him, I despised them and their self-righteous goodness, their spiteful alter egos, not to mention their bad sewing skills, which, I remember thinking as a boy, were no better than mine.

In the story, based on the Grimm fairy tale, the mother goat leaves her kids in the house while she goes out, but warns them about a prowling wolf and says not to open the door to him if he comes calling. But the wolf tricks his way into the house and swallows the kids whole, all except one who hides in the grandfather clock. On her return, the distraught mother finds the wolf sleeping off his feast under a tree nearby and cuts open his stomach to set the kids free. She then instructs her young ones to gather rocks to fill the wolf’s tummy and she sews him back up. (Having hooves clearly makes sewing tricky, hence the haphazard stitching). Waking from his slumber, the wolf, feeling not so great, staggers and stumbles under the weight of the rocks towards a well, where he falls in to his demise.

From The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids. LadyBird Easy-Reading Books

Looking through the rest of the book, each illustration is just as loaded for me as the next. The baker’s disbelief at the sight of the wolf in his kitchen, the wolf’s enormous and terrifying feet at the window and even the texture and thickness of the dough on the wolf’s foot as he rampages through the goats' house.  

From The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids. LadyBird Easy-Reading Books

I had questions, too, about why the baker is looking slightly to the side of the wolf drooling in his kitchen and not directly at him, and doubts about why the wolf wouldn’t wake up at the jabbing insertion of the goat’s scissors into his belly when she opens him up. In hindsight, some of my interpretations of Robert Ayton’s illustrations as a child were probably not what he had anticipated or intended, my feeling sorry for the wolf being one of them. But I don’t think that matters, they certainly gave me a lot to think about, and the feelings remembered are so clear to me I can’t help but wonder how much influence this subconscious illustration library has had on my work as an illustrator today. 

"The Wolf and the Seven Little Kids" (1969), which brought me delight and horror in equal measure, was part of a series of “Well-Loved Tales”,  a LadyBird Easy-Reading Book (though easy on the psyche maybe not!)  that included other gems which I also relished such as "The Little Red Hen and the Grains of Wheat," "The Magic Porridge Pot" and "The Elves and the Shoemaker," all re-told from the original Grimm stories by Vera Southgate and illustrated by Robert Lumley and Robert Ayton, among others.



The wolf’s tragic story wasn’t the only illustration embedded into my memory, of course there are others. 

Each Christmas I was given a Rupert annual as a gift. I never read the stories inside properly, I only looked at the pictures and from these I would form my own version of Rupert’s escapades. But the images that thrilled me the most were the end pages. These were full scenes, often of Rupert and his chums looking out over a vista, a snap shot in time from one of his adventures, which, for me, somehow always felt like the exciting possibility of the summer holiday I was about to have. I was transported. I was there in the scene with Rupert. I was one of his mates!

Rupert The Daily Express Annual 1974 end papers - signed Cubie
Rupert The Daily Express Annual 1976 end papers - signed Cubie
Rupert The Daily Express Annual 1973 end papers - signed Bestall

Inspired by William Roscoe’s 1807 poem of the same name, Alan Aldridge’s "The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast" (1973) also included landscapes and scenes. For me the background was important, the incidental details were the parts I liked most, and Alan Aldridge’s pictures are crammed full of the essential non-essentials and, as with the Rupert annuals, I never read the text.


The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast, William Plomer &Alan Aldridge (illustrator)


The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast, William Plomer &Alan Aldridge (illustrator)

These were, and still are, thrilling and engrossing images and, like the wolf’s story, brought up exciting questions and a lot of wondering. The illustration of Dandy Rat and the Footpads includes a visual game and invites you to find the Stoat’s name hidden in the picture, exciting in itself, but what really interested me as a child was the size of the horse compared to the other characters. Was the horse a special tiny horse or, more exhilarating, were Dandy and his mates the size of an adult human? I loved the badness of this image. These were subversive characters up to no good. 

The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast, William Plomer &Alan Aldridge (illustrator)

I like that a child’s interpretation of an illustration can be utterly different from its intention and that stories made up in the mind can be equally thrilling for the individual. What freedom and flights of fancy the imagination can take from a captivating image. Does it really matter where it takes the reader? I think probably not.

I was curious to know what images other authors and illustrators might have fixed firmly in the subconscious or lying latent in the mind, so I asked the members of the Picture Book Den team to reveal them…

Pippa Goodhart
I’m afraid that mine is a horror one as well. I’ve just popped around to my mum’s to photograph this from the book of Edgar Allan Poe stories illustrated by Arthur Rackham. This is from "The Pit And The Pendulum." My big brother showed it to me when I was quite young. He explained that the swinging axe pendulum was coming lower and lower. The picture fascinated and terrified me. I have still never read the story, but I was deeply aware of that book on that bookcase, and, just sometimes, I would take a deep breath and open it. It still makes me feel sick. 

I can remember lots of nice pictures from other books, but this is the one that churns me, taking me right back to childhood.

Arthur Rackham

Jane Clarke
Mine, too, is from a Ladybird Book, "Down Duckling," illustrated by A.J. McGregor, 1942 (!)

It's of Downy Duckling falling through the ice and dragging his friend Monty in with him. (We lived near Wicksteed Park lake which often iced over in the winter, and my parents instilled in me the dangers of falling through thin ice). The image brings back the remembrance of the feelings it invoked - fear and distress - quickly followed by the huge relief of the happy ending. But it's not the happy ending image that I held in my mind's eye, it's this one.


Lucy Rowland
I also found the images from the old Ladybird fairy tale books really striking and memorable and looking at them now really takes me right back! My sister and I had so many of the books, so it was hard to think of a single image, but I remember the end papers being a big tree with all the characters on and I must have looked at that so many times! 

LadyBird Fairy Tales - end papers

Paeony Lewis

For me it’s usually the theme behind an entire book that I recall, particularly when it resonated with me on an emotional level. However, I’ve always been intrigued by secrets and hidden worlds, so I adored Andy Pandy’s idyllic picnic behind the magical fronds of the willow tree. Later in life I lent the book to someone so they could pick out a weeping willow tree for me at the garden centre – I wanted to emulate Andy Pandy, Looby Loo and Teddy (now I’ve written this, I sound rather pathetic!).

Andy Pandy and the Willow Tree, illustrated by Matvyn Wright, early 1960s

Also, I liked to explore the woods at the bottom of the garden and make up stories (this was when very young children went out to play on their own). The thought of a faerie world lurking beneath the ground enthralled me, so I adored this image from the British fairy tale, ‘Kate Crackernuts’.

British Fairy Tales, illustrated by Pauline Diana Baynes, 1965

Mini Grey
I just got thrown into Ladybird Book Central and ended up buying the Ladybird Book of Understanding Numbers because of my fierce memory of those currant buns. 

In this image (from The Princess and the Pea, also a LadyBird EasyReader ) the princess is SO extremely wet and shiny and the green dress is unusual – is it a pea premonition? What is she up to running around in her green dress in the rain anyway? But as a child I thought it was just a really exciting picture of a really wet princess.

The Princess and the Pea LadyBird Easy Reader Robert Ayton (illustrator)

And this picture was very important – it was like the book reaching out to you and saying – yup, it’s all real, come and find me.

But the whole Princess & Pea message is such a stinker – that only royalty are able to be hypersensitive.

The Princess and the Pea LadyBird Easy Reader Robert Ayton (illustrator)

What appears notable about all these illustrations is not that they are the most loved favourites from our collective childhoods but more that they have un-apologetically imposed themselves onto our memories. Deep treasures that hold complex thoughts and feelings whether you like them or not. I can't help but wonder if the books we make today are having the same impact on children as these images have - we'll just have to wait and see.

Thank you to Pippa, Lucy, Jane, Paeony, Mini and the young Tim Knapman for contributing to this post. If you have an illustration implanted in your memory that you would like to share, please do so in the comments section.

To read Timothy Knapman's post mentioned earlier in this blog:

Garry Parsons is an illustrator of many picture books for children but as yet, none with wolves in. 

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