British Library exhibits Children’s Illustrated Classics

Classic children’s books have given rise to some of the most evocative characters you or I are likely to have ever read about, dreamed about or imagined.

Original artwork from Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows, Oxford University Press. 2011 illustration by David Roberts

Source: David Roberts

Original artwork from Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows, Oxford University Press. 2011 illustration by David Roberts

With this in mind, The British Library has turned to writer and illustrator Matthew Eve to curate Picture This: The Children’s Illustrated Classics.

Autograph printer's copy of The Elephant's Child, Just So Stories. Illustration by Rudyard Kipling

Source: British Library Board

Autograph printer’s copy of The Elephant’s Child, Just So Stories. Illustration by Rudyard Kipling

Eve has set out to show how classic children’s books are often remembered fondly because of the artistic interpretation of the illustrator and their relationship with the story.

Original artwork from The Iron Man by Ted Hughes. Published by Faber and Faber, 1985. Illustration by Andrew Davidson

Source: Andrew Davidson

Original artwork from The Iron Man by Ted Hughes. Published by Faber and Faber, 1985. Illustration by Andrew Davidson

In some cases the exhibition looks at different artists’ interpretation of the same story, proving that our memory of characters is bound up in the interpretation of particular illustrators.

Cover for The Iron Man by Ted Hughes. Published by Faber and Faber 1968. Image by George Adamson.

Source: Courtesy of the Estate of George Adamson

Cover for The Iron Man by Ted Hughes. Published by Faber and Faber 1968. Image by George Adamson.

Eve says, ‘If we recall our favourite books from childhood, it’s likely the illustrations will come to mind as readily the story.

‘Those magical pictures leave an indelible mark and remain with us for life, helping to shape and develop our imagination. Whether our image of Willy Wonka or Augustus Gloop was drawn by Quentin Blake or Faith Jaques, each of us has “our” version which we continue to enjoy with subsequent generations of children.’

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Published by George Allen and Unwin. Illustrations by Michael Foreman, 1985

Source: Michael Foreman, 1985

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Published by George Allen and Unwin. Illustrations by Michael Foreman, 1985

The exhibition will feature illustrations from Just So Stories; The Iron Man; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; The Wind in the Willows; Paddington Bear; Peter Pan and Wendy; The Hobbit; The Borrowers; The Secret Garden; and The Railway Children.

Sketch of Michael Bond's Paddington Bear by Barry Wilkinson

Source: Barry Wilkinson, 1989

Sketch of Michael Bond’s Paddington Bear by Barry Wilkinson

The exhibition features filmed interviews with illustrators Lauren Child, Ian Beck, Michael Foreman, and David Roberts as well as Paddington Bear author Michael Bond. A series of associated events is running alongside the exhibition.

The Railway Children, first edition. Illustrations by C E Brack

Source: Illustrations by C E Brack

The Railway Children, first edition. Illustrations by C E Brack

Picture This: Children’s Illustrated Classics runs until 26 January 2014 at The British Library, 96 Euston Road, NW1.

Latest articles

Remembering Jon Daniel: 1966-2017

We look back on the life and work of the Design Week columnist, independent creative director and social activist “who helped put black participation on the political map”.