In my childhood bedroom, I had a little white shelf crammed full of books. A strange mix of books, but every one of them beloved. The echoes of those books informed my budding creative tastes, so when @jehlei on instagram asked what books from my childhood inspired me, I unearthed some very old memories to answer her.
Here a few of my oldest illustrative loves.
I had a beautifully illustrated version of Hans Christian Anderson fairytales. It was old – where it came from, I do not know. The bindings were ragged and ripped loose, the cover was no longer attached. I stared at those illustrations for hours. I loved them, for all they made my head spin.
Even now, my favourite Anderson fairytales are The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen.
Shepard’s illustrations in Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh were the sort of illustrations I just fell into. Cosy, detailed and homely, they have such simple, elegant charm. I still look them up from time to time, just to enjoy them. Best enjoyed with a cup of tea.
I didn’t have access to many Beatrix Potter stories as a child, but I remember an illustration of a garden on the front cover of one of the few collections I had. Her illustrated world is so rich with accurate detail and blissful fantasy, and her life was no less detailed and interesting. The more I learn about her, the more I admire her.
Cicely Mary Barker
Perhaps one of the most influential of my childhood books was a little accordion book called A Flower Fairy Alphabet. Barker’s whimsy and magical view of botany and natural science just captured my heart from an early age. I still get giddy when I see those beloved illustrations.
This list would not be complete without Arthur Rackham. I discovered Arthur Rackham through an Alice in Wonderland postcard. Later, a little after my first foray into watercolour, I studied his work and found my attempts at the medium entirely disappointing. I shelved my watercolour and Rackham until my early twenties, when I found myself falling in love with his art all over again, and became brave enough to try watercolour once more. He was incredibly prolific – there is a huge body of work to explore, if it takes your fancy. Start, perhaps, with Alice in Wonderland, and end up in the beautiful world of Norse mythology.
Sadly, I don’t have any of those early childhood books with me any longer. I am always on the look for vintage copies of work from these artists – I hope to amass a vast collection one day.
What was your favourite childhood book?