Monday, 30 June 2014

Looking at radical children's literature, no. 3: H. G. Wells 'Little Wars'

In the last of our guest blog posts by English Literature students at Newcastle University we look at H. G. Wells' Little Wars (1913). In this book Wells offered a set of rules for playing with toy soldiers whilst also providing philosophical commentary on the nature of war. Here Newcastle student, Catherine Parkinson, looks at Wells' intentions for offering a simulation of war:

"H. G. Wells’ Little Wars (1913) elaborates a miniature war game played between two opponents according to a complex set of rules. Britain was enraptured by military glory, and boyish enthusiasm in the form of a table top game, was not an inappropriate sentiment to bring to the contemplation of war. Wells, famous for his conception of the science fiction genre, created the handbook, which was aesthetically innovative in the world of war gaming and children’s literature. It took Kriegsspiel’s core concept of war simulation and stripped it of its sterile rule set, offering a “homeopathic remedy for the imaginative strategist”.

Wells shifted his focus from young boys and girls in Floor Games (1911) to “boys of every age from twelve to one hundred and fifty”. He used his celebrity to correspond with politicians and military figures, and recognised the danger facing young boys in 1913. He felt it necessary to educate them on the realities of war, “smashed […] sanguinary bodies, […] shattered fine buildings […] devastated country sides” before they were sent to the frontline. In the spirit of the age, Little Wars was offered a wide audience. Cheap metals, such as tin and inexpensive production, were readily available in continental Europe, making it possible for boys across the socioeconomic spectrum to equip themselves with the materials to play, “the game of kings- for players in an inferior social position.”

Within the rules, the notion of a fantasy world is suspended and the reality of war is accentuated by macabre vocabulary, “murder” “death” and “slaughtered”, transcending the child player into an adult reality. These rules, illustrated through a detailed retelling of a conflict orchestrated by Wells, “Blue then pounds Red's right with his gun to the right of the farm and kills three men” informs and instructs on the destructive power of twentieth century artillery. This notion of aggressive militarism, embodied by the bombastic General, is undermined because all toy soldiers in the game are equal, “We decided that every man should be as brave and skilful as every other man… they would inevitably kill each other.” Hence, no army is better than their leader.  

The marginal illustrations depict toy soldiers being decapitated and some being lassoed by their superiors, representing the gap between the innocent world, usually depicted by toys, and the truth. This truth is revealed in the chapter entitled “Ending With a Sort of Challenge”. It adopts a more didactic voice in its prophetic warnings and preaches Wells’ 1913 manifesto on war, “you only have to play at Little Wars three or four times to realise just what a blundering thing Great War must be.” Thus, Little Wars was not a practice for war, it was an interpretation of it, “saner by reason of its size”. 

The book worked as a catharsis, recreationally quenching the war lust entrenched into youth by contemporary jingoistic literature. It sharpened visions on warfare and militarisation, and created a shared play space, for adults and children, in a simultaneously nihilistic and joyous world."

To find out about Seven Stories extensive library of children's books and related literature, then 
email: or phone: 01914952707.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Dragons, Diaries and the Gruffalo, Seven Stories Touring in Summer 2014

Every year Seven Stories tour's our exhibitions all around the country. So far this year we have already shown exhibitions in Chatham Historic Dockyard in Kent and Leeds City Museum. In Summer 2014, Seven Stories is accessible to people all over the country by displaying exhibitions in Wolverhampton, Bradford and London.

Daydreams and Diaries, the Story of Jacqueline Wilson
V&A: Museum of Childhood from April 5th - 2nd November 2014

This very special exhibition, curated with the help of Jacqueline Wilson and Nick Sharratt themselves, showcases their well known books. Jacqueline is a trustee of the Museum of Childhood, so it was a particularly fantastic partnership to team up with the museum again. This is not the first time Seven Stories have sent exhibitions to the Museum of Childhood, both the 'Happy Birthday Miffy, a Celebration of the Work of Dick Bruna' and 'From the Tiger Who Came to Tea to Mog and Pink Rabbit, a Judith Kerr Exhibition' travelled here in previous years.

Visit the website here to find out more details.

A Vikings Guide to Deadly Dragons
Wolverhampton Art Gallery from June 14th - August 30th 2014

This is another venue that has enjoyed a Seven Stories exhibition before, also hosting the Judith Kerr Exhibition over the Summer of 2012. A beautiful venue set right in the heart of Wolverhampton, there have been plenty of marauding new Vikings visiting the exhibition already!

Visit the website here to find out more details.

A Squash and a Squeeze, Sharing Stories with Julia Donaldson
Cartwright Hall, Bradford June 28th - November 2014

This venue is brand new to the Seven Stories touring programme. Set in the gorgeous Lister Park, north of Bradford and south of Saltaire, this gallery is a complete day out for all visitors with young families. Opening next Saturday and running until November, this is your last chance to see the Gruffalo and the Julia Donaldson Exhibition before the end of the tour.

Visit the website here to find out more details.

Keep an eye on the Seven Stories website here for more details on upcoming tours.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Yasmeen Ismail winner of Best Book Illustrator at the V&A Illustration Awards!

Congratulations to Yasmeen Ismail who, earlier this month, won the V&A Book Illustration Award for her debut picture book, Time for Bed, Fred! (2013). You can read all about the judges’ response to Yasmeen’s illustrations (and find out a bit more about her technique) here:

The annual V&A Illustration Awards celebrate the best illustration published over the last year. First established in 1972, the awards have rocketed in popularity in recent years: this year saw over 800 entrants over all four categories. Though not exclusively for children’s picture books, the Book Illustration award regularly showcases work by many highly regarded illustrators for children. This year’s list featured artwork by over 120 artists, including a number of noted children’s illustrators such as Levi Pinfold, Oliver Jeffers, Jackie Morris, Chris Riddell, Catherine Rayner, and Jane Ray.

Preliminary artwork for Time for Bed, Fred! in the Seven Stories Collection

At the end of last year, Yasmeen kindly donated artwork – including a selection of preliminary and finished work for Time for Bed, Fred! – to the Seven Stories Collection. The material gives a real insight into Yasmeen’s process and her original sketches and illustrations are simply a delight to look at. You can find out more about artwork that Yasmeen donated to the Seven Stories Collection here:

Yasmeen’s illustrations for Time for Bed, Fred!, along with artwork by the other four Illustration Award winners will be on display at the National Art Library Landing Gallery (part of the Victoria and Albert Museum) Kensington, West London until 2nd July.

To find out more about Seven Stories illustration collections or to arrange a research visit to the Seven Stories Collections Department, please email: or phone: 0191 495 2707.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Looking at radical children's literature, no. 2: 'The Magic of Coal'

Our second post on radical children’s literature looks at the Puffin picturebook, The Magic of Coal (1945). The first books ever produced under the Puffin imprint, the Puffin picture book series began at the beginning of the Second World War with War on Land (immediately followed by War at Sea and War in the Air). The series was devised by Noel Carrington – then editor of Country Life – who approached the founder of Penguin books, Allen Lane, with the idea in 1939.  An educational and mostly non-fiction series, the Puffin picture books were largely inspired by Soviet mass-produced educational books for children. This Soviet inspiration is clearly apparent in The Magic of Coal – the 49th book in the Puffin series. Here Newcastle University English students, Lucy Campbell Woodward and Clara Heathcock look at the Soviet inspiration behind The Magic of Coal and the book’s Socialist message.

Cover from The Magic of Coal (© Penguin Books)

The Magic of Coal as a ‘production book’ (Clara Heathcock):

"Following the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, soviet Russia identified the field of children’s literature as a highly charged political milieu in which the potential lay to educate the populace about communist ideology. The production book genre developed as an attempt to do just this.

Production books detailed the production process of economically essential resources such as coal or steel. Emphasis was placed on the difference between the capitalist and communist machinery used to create these resources; where capitalist machinery was shown to feed greed and overproduction, communist machinery provided a helping hand in creating a prosperous future everyone could enjoy. Thus production books clearly directed the child reader’s attention to a wider political narrative beyond the specificities of the text.

Production books were aesthetically modernist, combining ideas from abstract painting with typography to create a visual language strikingly different from what had gone before. Pictures held a machine-like appearance, using straight lines and elementary forms. By championing newness, it was conveyed to the child reader that they had the potential to be aesthetically innovative. Rather than simply encouraging them to learn to copy what was already seen as beautiful, aesthetic modernism puts more at stake for the child; if whatever they create has the potential to be considered beautiful, there is more incentive for them to attempt to create. Similarly, if a transformed communist society is shown to be a plausible alternative to today’s society, there is a greater incentive for the child to become an activist to help bring this society about. 

The Magic of Coal was published in Great Britain in 1945 and contains all of the features of a production book here discussed. Reference is made to, ‘our gas works’ and ‘our community, implying collective ownership, and all images are aesthetically modernist. Thus it is an example of the attempts of a popular front of left-wing publishers to bring the production book genre and its associated radicalism to Britain in the interwar period."

Internal spread from The Magic of Coal (© Penguin Books)

The Magic of Coal and Socialist ideology (Lucy Campbell-Woodward):

"The Magic of Coal introduces readers to the admirably technical and industrious world of coal mining. Taking the child on a journey, it tells not only of the production of coal but also elevates the miner as an important and  respectable member of society. In doing so, the text and its illustrations point towards a political goal.

The text focusses on the production process rather than around any one character. Each role within the mine is shown through illustrations and accompanying text, implying that there is something for everybody. Every individual has a skill set to offer in the production of coal and is a valuable cog in the machinery of the mine. A sense of a community at work is created and when combined with impressionist illustrations of tiny black figures and miners whose faces are blurred or have their backs to the reader, this sense of community solidifies into the socialist theory of collectivism.

The text informs the reader that the miners can attend the ‘pitbaths’ before or after work, challenging class boundaries as it suggests that before he enters the mine, a working-class man looks like, and therefore is like, any other man going about any other business. The text also tells us of the miner’s life outside of work, mentioning societies, theatre visits and higher education, indicating that the miners are not only important members of coal-fueled, modern society, but also respectable citizens with good standards of living and a thirst for culture.

The Magic of Coal presents the world of the working-class man as being not only respectable but also desirable. It implies that coal mining is important to a progressive society, thus the miners are as important as the ‘treasure’ they dig up. For many middle-class children this would have been a radically different literary theme in itself, however its advocation of  left-wing ideology further bolsters The Magic of Coal’s radical message."

Internal spread from The Magic of Coal (© Penguin Books)

Seven Stories Collections Department has a large collection of original Puffin picturebooks (including The Magic of Coal) as well as other Puffin-related material such as the Kaye Webb archive. If you'd like to find out more about these collections or others that we hold you can
email: or phone: 01914952707.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

All about pop-up books! (1 of 2)

In the first of our series on pop-up books, our guest blogger Lena Kleine Bornhorst, browses through the Seven Stories book collection and looks at some of the milestones in the history of moveable books:

On the bookshelves in the Seven Stories Collection Department you can find lots of copies of a very special kind of book: pop-up books. These books – full of surprises and wonderful 3D elements – are worth having a closer look at. Pop-up books have a very long tradition and had their beginning in the area of ‘toy books’ – also called ‘movable books’. All of them have special interactive functions or attributes, which make them different to a traditional book. The first known toy books date from the thirteen century. Rotating discs were included for example in mathematics books, where they were used for changing a maths formula when the disc was turned.

The years 1880 – 1910 were seen as the first enormous height of toy books. One of the big names in the field at this time was the British publisher and printer, Ernest Nister, who used different interactive elements in his books. The Seven Stories Collection holds reproductions of some of his titles. For example, his book Revolving Pictures, which was originally published in 1892. When you revolve the tabs around the illustration in this book, you can see a hidden picture appear.

Detail from Ernest Nister's Revolving Pictures (1892)

A significant person at this time, and an important figure in the development of paper-engineering books, was the German illustrator Lothar Meggendorfer. He used many different techniques in clever ways and published numerous books – for example Internationaler Circus (International Circus) in 1887. Meggendorfer's books were translated into many languages. His German Publisher house J.F. Schreiber Verlag exists today under the name Esslinger Verlag ( and many of his great books have been reprinted. The Seven Stories Collection includes a copy of his title Das Puppenhaus (The doll’s house). Meggendorfer’s wide and lasting influence on the pop-up industry is demonstrated by the fact that the American Movable Book Society ( named their prize for outstanding paper engineering after him.

Cover of Lothar Meggendorfer's Das Puppenhaus (1889)

Internal spread from Lothar Meggendorfer's Das Puppenhaus (1889)

The first book with the definition ‘pop-up’ on the cover was already published in 1912. Very often, though, the beginnings of the term ‘pop-up’ is associated with Jack the Giant Killer, which was published by the New York publishing house Blue Ribbon in 1932. It became a big success and Blue Ribbon published other pop-up fairy tales which developed as a big seller.

The Blue Ribbon pop-up books were based on a British example. In 1929 publisher, S. Louis Giraud in his publisher house Strand Publications in London, produced the first book of his successful series Bookano Stories. The books contained five coloured double pages with 3D-elements, which Giraud called “pictures that spring up in model form”. The books were printed in a large run and became a big success. At the Seven Stories Collection you can find a copy of a later volume of the Bookano Stories from 1947.

Front cover of S. Louis Giraud's Bookano Stories no. 16 (1947)

Paper engineered Tower Bridge from S. Louis Giraud's Bookano Stories no. 16 (1947)

Blue Ribbon worked closely with Walt Disney to create pop-up books of Disney characters beginning in 1933 with four Micky Mouse pop-up books. A lot of Walt Disney-Pop-ups followed and the licenses were sold all over the world. There have been numerous Disney themed pop-up-books over the years.  At Seven Stories you can find for example a copy of Pocahontas – Meeko’s Busy Day from 1996 or The Aristocats from 1971 – made by (but not credited to) the internationally regarded pop-up artist Vojtěch Kubašta.

Internal spread from The Aristocats (1971)

Kubašta’s characteristic style is obvious throughout this book: the spine of the book is at the top rather than the left, the paper engineering-elements emerge at the left and right side of the book when you open the pages, and the pull-tabs are cleverly integrated. These characteristics can all be seen in The Aristocats as well as in his many other books. Kubašta produced over 70 titles and his particular style makes him another important person in the history of paper engineering.

In the middle of the 60s began the so-called second golden age of pop-up books.  In 1974 the American Waldo Hunt, set up the pop-up production company Intervisual Communications. Hunt produced also the pop-up book Haunted House by the British author and illustrator Jan Pieńkowski (paper engineering for this book was created by Tor Lokvig). In 1979 this became the first pop-up-book to win the Kate Greenaway Award – a very remarkable honour for a pop-up-book. A signed copy of this special book is available at the Seven Stories Collection Department.

The cover of Jan Pienkowski's Haunted House (1979)

Internal spread from Jan Pienkowski's Haunted House (1979)

Waldo Hunt also worked with some other great known paper engineers, like David Pelham, David A. Carter, and Robert Sabuda. Many of their books can be found in the Seven Stories Collection.

Beyond the well-known paper-engineers, many successful illustrators and authors, such as Anthony Browne and Maurice Sendak, have worked with paper engineers to make wonderful pop-up books. Animal Fair (2002) by Anthony Browne is available at the Seven Stories Collection Department and here you can see a short film about a conversation about Maurice Sendaks Mommy?, published 2006.

There have been a lot more exciting and creative pop-up-books over the last years and some very innovative paper engineers like Robert Crowther, Ron van der Meer (who specialises in pop-ups for adults), and the paper engineer Matthew Reinhardt.  But why not come along and explore all the wonderful books here yourself?

If you'd like to find out more about the Seven Stories Collection, the pop-up books we hold, or our extensive library of children's books and related literature, then 
email: or phone: 01914952707.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Looking at radical children's literature, no. 1: Olive Dehn's 'Come In'

Earlier this year a group of undergraduate students studying at Newcastle University's English department visited Seven Stories to find inspiration for a project looking at radical children's literature. The students looked at a range of material from the collection including: material from the archive of the anarchist poet and children's writer, Olive Dehn; items from the collection of the prolific left-wing children's writer, Geoffrey Trease; and some of the very earliest Puffin picturebooks, inspired by Soviet educational books for children. We'll be posting extracts from some of the studies over the next two weeks.

The first of our posts looks at Come In (1946) written by Olive Dehn and illustrated by Kathleen Gell. Very obviously based on Dehn's own experiences (the name of the family in the book is even Markham - Dehn's own married name), Come In is the story of a day in the life of a suburban housewife. In its depiction of the dull and monotonous routine of the housewife (in contrast to her husband's exciting work as an actor), the book shares an explicitly feminist message and pokes fun at traditional family 'roles'. Here Newcastle students Isabel Ashton and Olivia Bland look at how the book challenges the traditional role of the housewife and the idea of the nuclear family.

Come In and the idea of the nuclear family (Isabel Ashton):

"Come In exposes the serious hard work that life as a housewife entails.  Dehn is urging her child readers to appreciate the difficulties that their own mothers face in daily life.  Come In lends a voice to women in society who were expected to fulfil their duties of domesticity and motherhood gladly and without complaint. Written and illustrated by two women, the book focuses on the home as a principally female domain, and Mr Markham is notably absent for most of the story.  His job as an actor is depicted as self-indulgent and frivolous in comparison to the stress of Mrs Markham’s day. Her endless list of menial tasks and the illustrations of her black and white outfit, complete with apron, infer that there is little differentiation between being a housewife and being a maid.  Dehn is creating an authentic representation of family roles by rebelling against the idealisation of the mother figure.

Come In criticises the “nuclear family” as an imposed ideal on society. Following the devastating effect of World War 2 on so many households, the institution of the family was promoted as more significant than ever. However, the Markhams undermine this romanticized image of the “nuclear family”, and Mrs Markham’s fallibility relieves the pressure that women were under to create a perfect home life.  Dehn’s radicalism is evident as she is unafraid to articulate ideas that other, more conventional writers would not. Come In reveals what really goes on behind closed doors in the apparently conformist family home."

Internal spread from Come In (illustrations © Kathleen Gell estate)

'The housewife speaks out’ (Olivia Bland):

"At the start of the book, after complaining about how dull her life is, Mrs Markham (the mother) is asked by her husband to write an account of her day, so that he ‘could read exactly how dull it was’; this she undertakes without objection. Throughout the day the reader bears witness to the unending list of chores and challenges that Mrs Markham undertakes. She is the cook, cleaner and nanny, and appropriately is illustrated to be wearing an apron, and the black and white of a maid’s outfit. The whole text is punctuated by illustrations of, and references to, clocks, drawn by an artist who is requested to portray the day’s events. These show how regulated Mrs Markham’s day is, implying a machine-like routine, though without the expected order of a mechanised environment. Kathleen Gell’s modernist images serve to complement Dehn’s words and add to the radical theme running through the book.

Final page from Come In (illustration © Kathleen Gell estate)

Whilst implying to the child reader that a deeper appreciation for their mother’s work is necessary, there is also a slightly satirical tone, which perhaps only the adult reader would detect. References such as: ‘it’s time somebody began to think about getting dinner ready’, seem to be a wink to the mother reader, as if to say, ‘I wonder who that might be?’ Being that this text was written and illustrated by two women, Dehn and Gell, this outlook is to be expected, thus making it all the more radical.

Dehn challenges the expectation that being a 1940s housewife was a happy and rewarding role, and encourages her readers, whether children or adults, to see that this job alone does not allow for a life of sufficient fulfilment. Although people were conscious that life in the typical suburban home was not necessarily as perfect as it seemed, Dehn’s perspective would have been considered controversial, as, unlike other writers for children, she expresses its realities, thus making this a particularly radical text."

Inscription by Olive Dehn in the cover of the copy of Come In at Seven Stories Collections Department

Olive Dehn's original manuscript of Come In at the Seven Stories archive

The Olive Dehn collection is available to consult by appointment at Seven Stories Collections Department. If you'd like to find out more about this collection or others that we hold you can
email: or phone: 01914952707.