One of the greatest gifts you can give a child is to teach them to read as early as they are able to learn. I regard my self as one of those fortunate people having been able to read long before I went to school, thanks to the help from my Mum, grandmothers and aunts.
I can remember sitting on my Mum’s knee and reading with her from such wonderful books as ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and Aklison Uttley’s ”Little Grey Rabbit’ series.It has been the pictures as much as the words that have stayed with me and many memories were evoked on my visit to ‘More than Words’, the exhibition at Emsworth Museum over the weekend.
Book illustration has a very distinct life of its own, recognisable apart from the words it accompanies. Think for instance of the work of John Tenniel, the first illustrator of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’, and A H Shepard who drew the evocative images of Winnie the Pooh, his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood and the pictures that accompany the poetry in ‘When We were Very Young’ and ‘Now We are Six’. Despite later characterizations from Disney, it is the Shepard images that many people will associate most with Winnie the Pooh.
Examples of both these artists was on view, but most spectacular were the examples of pop-up-books and stories, both contemporary and historic.
Revisiting my own memories again, I recall a pop-up-book of wild animals, accompanied by strange and mysterious humans that inhabited the same lands. I didn’t find that one, but I did see a wonderful tiger by Jan Pienkowski which could be quite scary and surprising for a child as it leaps from the pages.
Pop-up-books require engineering as well as artistic skills so that they fold away without damage and spring back to life when the page is re-opened. One remarkable example was an old sailing ship under full sail by Ron van der Meer which I think has to be my favourite.
I was surprised to learn that the origins of the art of the ‘movable book’ dates back as far as the 1300’s but it seems to have really started to grow in the 1700’s It steadily gained in popularity and creativity as books began to be written and created specifically for children,. There was a very productive period in the 1930’s with examples such as the Bookano series and is thriving today with artists like Pienkowski.
Pop-up artists featured in the exhibition included Lothar Meggendorfer, Louis Giraud and Robert Sabuda.
To find out more about this art form, The Movable Book Society website is an excellent place to start.