Monday, 23 July 2012

The Sad Tale of the Vanishing Pictures

We have a cupboard upstairs in the girls' room that was supposed to be for toys and musical instruments and arty stuff, but which is instead full to bursting with story books. They seem to be breeding.
book shelves, pictures books, illustration, classic picture books, illustrated books
As well as books that have been bought for them, they have also inherited most of the books I read and loved as a child, with their wonderfully tattered pages, faded ink, and scribbles of 'this book belongs to Camilla' across the first page.

Roald Dahl, The Twits, book
My old copy of 'The Twits' 

I try really hard not to be precious about these books because they're supposed to be read, relished and remembered, not just stored away in a collection where no one can discover their magic. (And here I would like to point out that when Pia ripped a page of my old 'Mog the Cat' book in two, I bravely sellotaped it back together and tried ever so hard not to show her that a little piece of me also had to be sellotaped back together that day.) 

Judith Kerr, Mog, Illustration, children's books, illustrated, broken, ripped

Mog the Sellotaped Cat

Our nearly-teen has handed down his old picture books to the girls too, as he's moved on to 'proper books' with chapters, paragraphs full of complicated words, encyclopedias and manuals about Lancaster Bombers. He's even reading Dickens, which I know I ought to approve of but I can't quite get my head around. He's a fully fledged bookworm (can worms be fully fledged, I think probably not).

Seeing how quickly he's been encouraged at school to read 'grown-up' books, I'm a bit worried about what I'll do when they've all moved on from picture books. Who will I read them out loud to then? The rabbits never seem that interested, the cats have generally got better things to do, and my husband's got his iPhone.
rhino, cat, cat reading a book, rhinoceros
Even a marvellous pop-up rhinoceros barely gets a reaction from the cat

More importantly, do they really have to move on from illustrations? I remember being desperately sad when the pictures disappeared from my books. Where did they go? The Sad Tale of the Vanishing Pictures. When I was a teenager, I wished so very hard that they would come back and fill my imagination again with mysterious worlds, marvels, colours and creatures.

I love all sorts of books – long, short, chapter, history, fiction, non-fiction, picture. I even love dictionaries, and most especially a good thesaurus. But there's something almost magical about an illustrated book that stays with you forever. When Maurice Sendak died earlier this year, my friend Kay who runs Ketchup on Everything wrote on her Facebook page, "Oh please don't go – we'll eat you up – we love you so," and I spent a week intermittently bursting into terrible tears about a man I had never met, but a man who had given me the Wild Things.

Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are, Wild Things
 Oh please don't go – we'll eat you up – we love you so!

And when I visited my grandmother (my Farmor) in Denmark a few hours before she died, my dad took out his old copy of Winnie-the-Pooh illustrated by E.H. Shepard and read it aloud to her. It had been the book she loved reading most to my dad, his brother and sister when they were young, and it was still her favourite book when she was a hundred years old.

So I suppose even if the grown-up world does manage to capture my children, there will always be shelves in our house overflowing with adventures and illustrated worlds ready for them to fall back into. And I'll always be there waiting to read to them whenever they ask. Unless the cat changes its mind and asks me first.


  1. lovely blog post, I have a few shelves live that in my bedroom too, full of old smelly books!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Karen. I suspect I'm feeling a bit soppy this week because the children are away. I'm not sure I like it when they're not here. It's strangely quiet. I keep telling myself to enjoy the peace and work hard before the mayhem returns! x

  3. Lovely blog post - lots of nodding in recognition and welling-up intermittently throughout xx

    1. Thanks, Flora. That's what you've done, you know – you're one of the people who have given the world a new pictorial language. You're fabulous.

  4. Lovely post Camilla. I have just bought a wonderful book
    I will have to lend it to you
    see you soon, love Beth x

  5. Ooh, that books looks brilliant! Unsurprisingly I love books about books too. It's gone straight into my Amazon basket. Thank you, Beth x

  6. And I am again reading Alice in Wonderland because it caught my eye on our equivalent shelf and couldn't resist! Your little friend Oscar has recently entered the world of pooh bear and I am teary now over thoughts of your father & farmor