Picture books

What were your favourite books before you could read?

That sounds like an odd question, but consider children’s books. They are usually large, and brightly illustrated, in order to draw pre-literate children to them. They come for the colours and the pictures and the shapes, and while enjoying these illustrations, those strange black shapes that your mum and dad point at, become normalised.

I’ve been trying to find my favourite books somewhere online, and I can’t for the life of me find them. Unsurprisingly, these books probably date from the late 1970s or very early 1980s. I remember them always being there, and I was born in 1979, so they have to be from a few years either side of then.

There were two books, from the same publisher, and on the same theme. They were illustrated collections of fairy tales, one from Hans Christian Andersen, the other from the Brothers Grimm. I loved to read these growing up (and another part of the puzzle falls into place for you), and before I could read I remember having my parents, usually my father, read them to me. But what I remember the most, the thing that stands out above everything else, was the illustrations. Full page, glossy, colour paintings. They might have been gouache, I don’t know.

But they were tripped out and freaky. I mean serious, good old-fashioned nightmare material. Frightening visions of hell, evil grotesques that stalked the wilderness of the imagination. They were exquisite. Two in particular stick in my mind. From the Grimm book there was the Four Musicians of Bremen, in the climactic scene, attacking a burglar. And from the Andersen book, The Tinderbox, and the dog with eyes as big as saucers. I would stare at these pictures for hours…

We had another set of books, again these were fairy tales, and again I can’t find them. It was a set of six or so, very small, hardback, and each had a different coloured cover. The inside covers was that sort of marbled effect. The stories were illustrated throughout, but in solid black shapes on white, as if you were watching a shadow puppet theatre. The effect was spell binding. I miss those books, there aren’t many books that captivate me in the same way now.

Perhaps my leather bound and gilt edged Poe collection.

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One thought on “Picture books”

  1. I loved the Pokey Little Puppy and the Pokey Little Puppies Christmas. They were both large hard cover books. Then there was the Saggy Baggy Elephant and the Tawny Scrawny Lion which were both published as Golden Books (and which are now in my son’s bookshelf but sadly not my copies which were dontated to younge cousins years ago) There was also the Little Reb Caboose and finally The Diggiest Dog that were published by the same dudes who did the Dr Seuss books and Bernstein Bears.

    The other books that were much loved in our household were May Gibbs Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and also the Adventures of Bre’er Rabbit though I could read by then.

    One lovely part of being a parent is rediscovering picutres books again. My favs as an adult now are Wilfred Gordon Macdonald Partride, Where is the Green Sheep and Oliver Jeffer’s books, How to Catch a Star and Lost and Found. I’m hopeful for the day when Dylan grows tired of the trite ‘PB Bear’ books and we can start reading real stories again with beautiful artwork rather than posed stuffed toys!

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