Hidden histories of illustration: Parallel session E

The 22nd annual IBBY/NCRCL MA Conference took place on 14 November 2015 at the University of Roehampton. This year’s theme was ‘Steering the Craft: Navigating the process of creating children’s books in the 21st century’. This week on the NCRCL blog, alumni and current NCRCL students will be reporting on various aspects of the conference, including the speakers, panellists and parallel sessions. 

Hidden histories of illustration: Parallel session E

By Lesley Smith

Two speakers talked about the illustration of children’s books, showing lots of examples.

First up was Sarah Lawrance, with her talk “Drawn from the Archive – hidden histories of illustration“.

Sarah works at Seven Stories which is the National Centre for Children’s Books in Newcastle. One important function of the centre is to collect and store book illustrations. They have 35,000 books dated from the 1930s onwards. The material ranges from wood engravings to digital art, sometimes showing the development of a work from original sketches, sometimes showing the life’s work of an artist.

Preserving this material enables researchers to:

  • explore the creative and design processes which have shaped a book
  • trace developments in printing
  • understand how artistic aims sometimes conflict with commercial ones.

Two hundred and fifty authors and illustrators are represented, including Ruth Gervis, Edward Ardizzone, Judith Kerr and Sarah Garland. See the Seven Stories website and blog for more information and plan a trip to Newcastle!

Parallel Session E

Victorian lunatic asylums really did stage tea parties, and Carroll visited one – inspiration for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, explained Franziska E. Kohlt.

Next up was Franziska E. Kohlt, from the University of Oxford, who spoke on “Illustrating Alice, Then and Now: Victorian Visual Culture and the Politics of Modern Children’s Book Illustration and Adaptation”.

Franziska said Alice has proved to be a successful franchise for 150 years. Her adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have been reprinted many times and adapted for stage, screen and video games.

Originally, Lewis Carroll illustrated the story himself, but he was no artist, so employed Tenniel to improve on his efforts. Tenniel worked as a cartoonist for “Punch” and his illustrations reflect his own social/political stance.

Their relationship was not smooth, but some collaboration occurred: Carroll scrapped a scene featuring wasps when Tenniel refused to draw them. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is less fantastical than we might think – lunatic asylums did stage tea parties and Carroll had visited one.

Franziska displayed many different examples of artwork but made the point that few illustrators have managed to completely break free from Tenniel’s influence, even though Alice has experienced sex, drugs and rock-and-roll in the 1960s and travelled as far as Japan!

In conclusion: Alice is a scary book – it makes abstract ideas visible and, as society changes, so does Alice.

Lesley Smith is a distance learning student on the MA Children’s Literature programme at Roehampton University.


About Sarah Pyke

NCRCL PhD student currently researching LGBTQ adults’ memories of childhood reading as part of the AHRC funded project, Memories of Fiction: An Oral History of Readers’ Life Stories.

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