Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Charles Keeping's illustrations for 'The God Beneath the Sea' and 'The Golden Shadow'

Earlier this month we were delighted to receive into the Seven Stories Collection a fine set of signed Charles Keeping prints. These prints reproduce a selection of wonderfully dark illustrations made by Keeping for Leon Garfield and Edward Blishen's books, The God Beneath the Sea and The Golden Shadow. The prints were donated to Seven Stories by former school teacher and long-time supporter of Seven Stories, Nick Brown. Here Nick talks about how he came across the prints and the impact the work of Charles Keeping has had on him:

When I was training as a teacher in the early 70s, I came across The God Beneath the Sea by Leon Garfield and Edward Blishen. This retelling of some of the Greek myths was radically different from the ones we usually used on teaching practice by authors such as Roger Lancelyn Green, Barbara Leone Picard or even Andre Lang. I found the stories compelling and used some of them in my teaching.

Detail of Hades Chariot from The God Beneath the Sea. Image © Charles Keeping estate

Whilst the book itself received a mixed critical reception, this was not the case with the illustrations which were almost universally praised and, I suspect, contributed to it being awarded the Carnegie Medal in 1970. In addition, Keeping received a Kate Greenaway Commendation- an award that is no longer given. Interestingly, though, the U.S. edition does not feature Keeping's illustrations and I wonder if they were thought too "strong" for American sensibilities.

Copies of the books

But it isn't  the stories that have stayed with me, it's Charles Keeping's amazing illustrations that have resonated over the years. I was stunned by Keeping's illustrations so much so that when a portfolio of his illustrations for both The God Beneath the Sea and The Golden Shadow became available, I snapped it up. And they have remained with me ever since. I would take them out every so often and admire their power and violent beauty. I've enjoyed these prints for so many years that it seemed fitting to donate them to Seven Stories to add to their archive, where they could be viewed alongside the original Leon Garfield manuscripts.

Pages from Leon Garfield's notebooks for The Golden Shadow here at Seven Stories

On my visit to the Seven Stories Collection I was able to look through Leon Garfield's notebook that contain partial drafts of both novels. At this stage of writing, not surprisingly, there is no indication about illustrating them. It would be really interesting to find out when/how Keeping became a part of the process and how much freedom he had in deciding what to illustrate. But that is for another time.

Detail of punishment of Prometheus from The God Beneath the Sea. Image © Charles Keeping estate

It has to be remembered that whilst both books were promoted as suitable for older children,  one wonders if the illustrations are! Today, we see resonances of Keeping's work in that of Dave McKean (Coraline), Chris Riddell (The Graveyard Book) and Jim Kay (A Monster Calls). Keeping is crucial to our understanding of the development of post war children's book illustration and the illustrations for God Beneath the Sea and The Golden Shadow are an important part of this process.

Leon Garfield's notebooks for The Golden Shadow here at Seven Stories

Both books are lavishly illustrated. As in  most of Keeping's illustrative work, the illustrations are in black and white. They appear as half page and full page but also across a double page in a powerfully dynamic way. The illustrations don't simply accompany the text they propel us through the story. This  can be seen in his illustration of Hades' chariot in The God Beneath the Sea. And for a gruesome rendition of the punishment of Prometheus, we need go no further. Keeping's illustration of the dead Nemean lion is rather ambiguous.  After staring at it for a while it becomes less lionlike and more human. Or do I need an optician's appointment?

Dead Nemean lion from The Golden Shadow. Image © Charles Keeping estate

By Nick Brown

The Charles Keeping prints and the Leon Garfield collection are available to view by appointment at the Seven Stories Collections Department. To find out more about the Seven Stories Collection click here. To make an appointment to visit the Collection or to find out more about the collections featured in this post or other collections that we hold then click here to contact us.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Harold Jones's 'Lavender's Blue' comes to Seven Stories

To celebrate the recent arrival of Harold Jones's original illustrations for the classic volume of nursery rhymes, Lavender's Blue (1954), here is a special blog post all about the life and work of Harold Jones.

A chest painted by Harold Jones in his South London home

Harold Jones

Harold Jones (1904-1992) was a painter, wood engraver and printmaker, widely known as one of the twentieth century’s most significant and original illustrators of books for children. He began his career in the 1930s as a freelance illustrator and cover illustrator adding his distinctive style to many children’s books, including M. E. Atkinson’s Lockett series. Jones’s first picture book was a collaboration with the renowned children’s poet, Walter de la Mare which resulted in This Year, Next Year (1937). From then, until his death, Jones’s output was prolific and his idiosyncratic style remains instantly recognisable. His most notable and critically acclaimed work was, and remains, Lavender’s Blue (1954).

Artwork for This Year Next Year (1937), illustrated by Harold Jones, written by Walter De La Mare (Seven Stories Collection)

Ever since his early career Jones has won acclaim for his unique, seemingly simplistic, though haunting illustrations. His lithographs for This Year, Next Year marked him out as a fresh talent; the book itself received wide critical acclaim and was included in the First Editions Club’s annual exhibition of “the fifty books of the year”. Children’s book critic for The Times, Brian Alderson describes Jones as “the most original illustrator of the period” adding of Jones’s style:

‘On the surface… there seems to be only a rather stylised, rather wooden, rather traditional pictorialism. But within the hatched, pastel-shaded frames of his pictures there lurks a silent, eerie world – glimpsed or hinted at under the dark arches of the Serpentine bridge, in the eyes of a pensive dog, or behind a half opened door.’  (1)

Harold Jones had a broad range of artistic training before embarking on a career as an illustrator. He began with evening classes at Goldsmith’s College before moving on to Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts, where he studied under Albert Rutherston. He later studied at Royal College under Rutherston’s brother, William Rothenstein, and Arthur Rackham’s teacher, Edward Sullivan. Following his training Jones went on to teach. In 1930 he took a job as an art master at Bermondsey Central School for Boys. However, he quit the job in 1934 as it provided little outlet for his creativity. After leaving Bermondsey, Jones pursued work as a freelance illustrator whilst continuing to work as an art teacher. Between 1937 and 1940 he worked as a visiting lecturer at both the Ruskin School of Drawing in Oxford and the Chelsea School of Art. He also enjoyed a steady income from his work as a freelance illustrator; among other commissions, he illustrated the last three books written by H. G. Wells.

Some of the books illustrated by Harold Jones

During the Second World War, Jones worked for the Royal Engineers as a lithographic draughtsman. He ‘spent his days in a disused Pimlico garage drawing maps for the Supreme headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force. He used to recall how he had “the great fortune to draw the D-Day maps. We knew about everything months before the generals.”’ (2)

In 1945 Jones resumed teaching, taking up a post at Sunningdale School of Ballet, and continued to take commissions as an illustrator. The publication of Lavender’s Blue in 1954, and its wide and substantial critical acclaim, cemented his place as one of the foremost illustrators in Britain. In the proceeding decades he illustrated numerous picture books by various authors – generally favouring traditional, biblical and folkloric tales over more modern stories. In 1961 Jones gained further recognition when he was hired to illustrate the first children’s book published by the major British publishing house, Gollanzc: a new edition of Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies. Throughout his career he also wrote and illustrated a number of his own stories including The Visit to the Farm (1939) and Enchanted Night (1947).

Harold Jones's studio at his South London home

Though foremost an illustrator, throughout his life Jones also continued to pursue an interest in fine art, producing a number of paintings. Both his art and his illustration have had significant appeal far beyond the world of children’s books, and the decorative and artistic merits of Jones’s work have been widely acclaimed:

His drawings function at a high level both spatially and decoratively, and at their best possess a quality of stillness and timelessness reminiscent of Italian quattrocento painting.’ (3)

While still a student, he sold his first picture in a Royal College of Art student exhibition to the influential art patron, Lady Ottoline Morrell. His work has been exhibited at venues including the Tate Gallery and the Royal Academy. Tate owns Jones’s early work ‘The black door’ which it purchased in 1940 and work by Jones featured in The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture (Chamot, Farr and Butlin, 1964).

About Lavender's Blue

Copy of Lavender's Blue (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954) compiled by Kathleen Lines and illustrated by Harold Jones

Upon its release, Lavender’s Blue won substantial critical acclaim and its publication can be seen as something of a landmark in the history of children’s illustration. It received an honourable mention by the Hans Christian Andersen Award (this award remains the highest international recognition given to an author or illustrator of children’s books) and Jones was given a ‘special commendation’ by the British Library Association at the awarding of that year’s prestigious Carnegie Award. Though members of the Carnegie selection committee had for some time planned to introduce a separate illustration award, at this time there was still no major award honouring illustrators. However, it was decided that, due to the quality and originality of Jones’s illustrations, Lavender’s Blue deserved a high commendation and it is generally regarded that, had events ‘moved more quickly, [Jones] would have been the first recipient of the Kate Greenaway Medal’ – the illustration companion to the Carnegie award, introduced in 1956 (4). Since its establishment, the Kate Greenaway Medal (the first winner of which was Edward Ardizzone in 1956) has remained by far the most coveted award for illustration in Britain. On its release in the United States Lavender’s Blue was also met with strong critical praise. It received the American Library Association Award, and was included on the list of winners of the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award (5).

Artwork by Harold Jones for Lavender's Blue (1954)

First published by Oxford University Press in 1954, Lavender’s Blue is by far the most noted and celebrated of Harold Jones works. The book’s illustrations epitomise the seemingly bright and innocent, though slightly eerie style that sets Jones work apart. Each picture offers a world to explore full of rich depth and detail. As The Times Literary Supplement said of Jones at the time:

Among artists who specialise in books for children, Harold Jones is pre-eminent. Since Jean de Brunhoff’s incomparable Babar series, no artist has understood more successfully than he that a picture has little meaning for a child if he cannot step inside it.(6)

Lavender’s Blue was compiled by the noted librarian, critic and editor, Kathleen Lines who brought to the project her considerable knowledge and expertise on children’s literature. Lines had previously won acclaim for her critical survey of children's books, Four to Fifteen (1950) (also illustrated by Jones). Through her series of Fairytale Picture Books produced throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Lines would later go on to work with some of the leading children’s illustrators including Edward Ardizzone. The Times Literary Supplement noted of Kathleen Lines’s compilation of Lavender’s Blue that: ‘…as could be expected of someone so knowledgeable in the field of children’s books, [Kathleen Lines] has done her part with great thoroughness. No traditional favourite seems to be missing and sticklers can be sure, too, of finding the traditional verses.’ (7)

The Kathleen Lines book collection here at Seven Stories includes many of the books Lines used to research rhymes for Lavender's Blue

Throughout its 60 years, Lavender’s Blue has remained with Oxford University Press and enjoys the distinction of never once having been out of print. Rather uniquely, although the printing quality has varied, Jones’s original design of the book has never been substantially altered. In 2004, a special 50th anniversary edition was published which saw the book and its illustrations restored to their original quality.

Lavender’s Blue is still regarded as a classic by many children’s authors and illustrators working today. Former Children’s Laureate and author, Jacqueline Wilson, lists the book in her top ten all time children’s books. Of the illustrations, she has said: “[Harold Jones] uses a wonderful delicate colour palette of blue, sage green, lilac and apricot to create his own quirkily detailed dream-like world. You could pore over the pages every day for a year and still find fresh delights.” (8) The well renowned illustrator and author, Ian Beck, regularly cites Harold Jones as one of his foremost influences. He describes Jones illustrations as: “…never fail[ing] to delight. Even when tackling a simple line drawing of a water pump something delectable emerges. He would be my choice of desert island illustrator, even above Ardizzone.” (9)

The fantastic collection of artwork for Lavender's Blue came to Seven Stories in August to join our already significant collection of Jones's original illustrations. The purchase was made possible thanks to grants from ArtFund ( and the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund (
Harold Jones's Lavender's Blue illustrations will soon be available to view by appointment at the Seven Stories Collections Department. The work will also be featuring in future exhibitions at the Seven Stories Visitor Centre. If you'd like to know more about the Harold Jones Archive or work by other illustrators in the Seven Stories Collection then contact us.

Notes and references from the text:

1) Alderson, B., ‘Some notes on children’s book illustration 1915-1985’, in Horne, A. (ed), The Dictionary of 20th Century British Book Illustrators (Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club, 1994)

2) Harold Jones’s obituary, The Daily Telegraph (London, England), 13th June 1992

3) Peppin, B. (ed) and Micklethwaite, L. (ed), Dictionary of British Book Illustrators: twentieth century, (London: John Murray Publishers, Ltd., 1984)

4) Barker, Keith, In the Realms of Gold: the story of the Carnegie Medal, (London: Julia MacRae Books, 1986)

5) The Lewis Carroll Shelf Award (1958-1979) was an annual American literary award granted by the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Education to books deemed to "belong on the same shelf" as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass

6) Serraillier, Ian, ‘Pen, Brush and Pencil’, Times Literary Supplement, (London, England), 19th November, 1954

7) Dowding, K. M., ‘Rhymes and jingles’, Times Literary Supplement, (London, England), 19th November, 1954

8) Wilson, Jacqueline, ‘The great books giveaway’, The Guardian, (London: England), 4th March, 2011

9) ‘Harold Jones’ on Ian Beck’s blog – (accessed 4th June 2014)

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Two Exhibitions Come to an End

In the last two weeks, two of our most popular exhibitions have finished their runs at their final venues. It is quite sad for the team at Seven Stories to say goodbye to these exhibitions, as we have been working on them both since early 2011 - nearly 4 years!

The Jacqueline Wilson exhibition - Daydreams and Diaries, the Story of Jacqueline Wilson, has been on display at Seven Stories in Newcastle for a full year, then travelled to Hove Museum and Gallery, Ferens Gallery in Hull, The Dick Institute in Kilmarnock, and finally the Museum of Childhood in London.

A Squash and a Squeeze, Sharing Stories with Julia Donaldson, first was on display in Newcastle at Seven Stories, and then did a very busy tour first to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, then to Chatham Historic Dockyard, and finally to Bradford's Cartwright Hall, where it closed on Sunday 9th November 2014.

Touring our exhibitions enables them to be seen around the country by hundreds of thousands more people than possible in our own venue. We are continually working on new exhibitions (with new and repeat venues!), and it is very exciting to see how the exhibitions work in new spaces, and link to their collections and visitors.

Daydreams and Diaries at the Museum of Childhood, London
Daydreams and Diaries at the Museum of Childhood, London
Lindsey, our paper conservator checking Nick Sharratt's artwork as it leaves its final venue in London. 
Artwork crates all packed and ready to return to Seven Stories

Cartwright Hall in Bradford, on a beautifully sunny day when I visited to talk about the exhibition with the curators and learning team.
Entrance to the main gallery, although there was also a few breakout spaces in the rest of the museum, including Julia's Jukebox in the atrium area!

Packing up to send everything back up to Seven Stories, this is the cow from the Squash and the Squeeze house - he deserves a rest don't you think! You can see some of the fantastic artwork by Emily Gravett and David Roberts in the background too.

To find out more about our upcoming touring programme, to see if there is anything coming to a venue near you, please click here, and you can find out where we have been in the past by clicking here. Our next exhibition will be the first venue for the Enid Blyton exhibition tour - Beaney Art Museum and Library in Canterbury, opening in late January 2015.

If you are interested in booking an exhibition for your venue, please email

Friday, 7 November 2014

Edward Ardizzone artwork donation at the CILIP Youth Libraries Group conference

On 17th and 18th October I was delighted to attend the CILIP Youth Libraries Group, National Conference in Durham.  It was wonderful to meet so many enthusiastic Local Authority and School Librarians, who despite current financial challenges, are excited about children’s books and eager to enthuse their users about books and reading.  Over the two days, we were treated to a great line-up of speakers from the children's literature world including: authors such as Elizabeth Laird, Jackie Morris, and David Almond (all of whom are represented in Seven Stories’ archive collection); Prue Goodwin (lecturer and author of books about children’s literature); and Wendy Cooling (former head of the Children’s Book Foundation now known as ‘Book Trust’).

The magnificent Conference Gala Dinner was attended by a whole host of librarians, local dignitaries, publisher representatives, authors and illustrators.  Impassioned speeches about the importance of libraries were given by both Carnegie Medal 2014 winner author Kevin Brooks, and author Mal Peet (a former Carnegie medal winner).  During the proceedings I was presented, on behalf of Seven Stories, with a delightful piece of signed original artwork by Edward Ardizzone.  Apparently, in 1957, it was decided to have a special bookplate designed for items in the Library Association Youth Libraries Section (now known as CILIP Youth Libraries Group) collection.  Edward Ardizzone agreed to design the bookplate, and a fee of 10 guineas was accepted.

This is a lovely addition to our existing Ardizzone holdings which include artwork for two of his titles 'Tim in Danger', ’Tim and Charlotte' and his artwork for Graham Greene's, 'The Little Train'.

Tea and lunch breaks throughout the conference were sponsored by different Publishers during which delegates were treated to an amazing array of ‘book themed’ cupcakes!  One batch that particularly took my eye, were those provided by Macmillan Children's Books in celebration of eight titles in a new Classics edition, which include two titles by Ursula Moray Williams which are represented in our archive collection - Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat and Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse.

One of the conference Workshop sessions was led by Seven Stories, and centred on our recently announced book list, ‘Diverse Voices – 50 of the Best Children’s Books celebrating cultural diversity in the UK’.   Here are Debbie Beeks (Learning & Participation Manager) and Jake Hope (Freelance Children's Book Consultant) leading the workshop.

To find out more about ‘Diverse Voices’ and to see the list of 50 titles follow this link:

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the conference and even came back to work with 48 Proof copies of books (due to be published in 2015) for our Staff Library as well!

By Paula Wride - Seven Stories Collections Officer

To find out more about the Seven Stories Collection click here. To contact us click here.