For you, the moment of recognition might be the Tiger who came to tea and peacefully took a seat at your mum’s kitchen table; or Aslan, the giant benign lion, jumping out of the pages of the Chronicles of Narnia; or the fierce tiger of the Jungle book literally charging at you out of a pop-up version crafted by Matthew Reinhart.
For me, the thrill of childhood memories came with the Big Bad Wolf and Red Riding Hood in an old collection of Grimms’ fairy tales, in the original German and in Gothic font, since such a one was passed down to me by my mother.
The exhibition Animal tales at the British Library will enchant every visitor. It is on until the end of October, presented in the foyer, which is freely accessible to the public.
First of all, there are showcases with plenty of beautifully illustrated books from almost five centuries of printed literature, on the common theme of animals. If you are not specifically interested in fauna, I promise you that the variety of the titles and the design of the objects will gain your favour.
There are stories by Aesop and Ovid, poems by Ted Hughes and T. S. Eliot, novels by Franz Kafka and Herman Melville – Moby Dick with Rockwell Kent’s striking wood-cut-like drawings of the whale. You can see Where the wild things are with a furry cover and Anansi with detachable shadow puppets by Ronald King.
Then, there are some prints: one wall is adorned with an illustrated animal poem by Hughes, from a limited edition which Michael Morpurgo sold in order to raise funds for city farms. Each artistic specimen is accompanied by a short explanation of the animal motif.
Moreover, there are recordings of poetry readings, some by the authors themselves, and a magical soundscape surrounding the visual display. The birds crying and whales calling offer a spot of tranquillity in the midst of the very busy British Library and the very busy big city. For children, there are activity sheets with a focus on creativity and piles of picture books to browse.
If you are keen on the history of education, you will find an onomatopoetic alphabet by John Amos Comenius: “The Duck quacketh: k – k – k … The Serpent hisseth: s – s – s”, with the animals shown next to the letters. Also represented is the prolific 18th woman author Mrs Trimmer, who drew from the experience of teaching her own twelve children.
You might have expected the Newsam Library & Archives to hold copies of classical children’s books in our Curriculum Resources collection, and indeed, you can click through here from the titles to lists of records; but did you know that we have old editions of Trimmer, going back to 1780, and of Comenius, going back to 1640, in our Special Collections? Moreover, we deal with the techniques and history of illustrations for children’s books… but more of this later!