On this day in history….9th May 1935

On this day in history : 9th May 1935 – The birth of author and illustrator of children’s books, Roger Hargreaves – best remembered for his much loved Mr Men and Little Miss series of stories….

Charles Roger Hargreaves was born in Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire and attended Sowerby Bridge Grammar School…. He then spent a year working in the family laundry and dry cleaning business before going to work in advertising….

Roger wrote his first Mr Men story – ‘Mr Tickle’ – in 1971…. It came about when his 8-year-old son asked him what a tickle looked like…. In response he drew a figure with a round orange body and long bendy arms – and so the first Mr Men character was born….

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At the time Roger was the Creative Director of a London advertising company…. He had some difficulty in initially finding a publisher for his books but once he did success came quickly…. In three years more than one million copies had sold…. 1974 saw the BBC animated Mr Men series, narrated by Arthur Lowe – and by 1976 Roger had given up his advertising career to concentrate on his writing…. The Little Miss books were launched in 1981 and they too were made into a TV series in 1983 – this time narrated by husband and wife team John Alderton and Pauline Collins….

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In all there were 46 Mr Men and 33 Little Miss books…. With over 100 million books being sold Roger was to become Britain’s third best selling author of all time…. His other works included the 25 book series ‘Timbuctoo’, ‘The Roundy and Squary’ books, ‘John Mouse’, ‘Hippo Potto and Mouse’ and the ‘Veggie Fruits’ – but it is undoubtedly the Mr Men and Little Miss stories that won so many hearts….

Between 1975 and 1982 Roger and his wife Christine lived on Guernsey with their four children – Adam, Giles and twins Sophie and Amelia – upon whom ‘Little Miss Twins’ was based…. The family then moved to Cowden in Kent…. On the 11th of September 1988 Roger was to die suddenly following a stroke – he was aged just 53…. After his death his son, Adam, continued his work – and in April 2004 Christine sold the rights to the characters to the Chorion entertainment group….

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On this day in history….17th March 1846

On this day in history : 17th March 1846 – The birth of Kate Greenaway – the artist and writer known for her illustrations in children’s books….

Kate Greenaway – Public domain

Kate was born Catherine Greenaway in Horton, London, the second of four children…. Her father, John, was a woodblock printer and engraver and her mother, Elizabeth, a seamstress…. They were a working class family – John also supported his mother and sisters, so very often it could be hard financially….but both he and Elizabeth were determined to give their children a good childhood….

The family moved around quite a lot but Kate spent a substantial part of her childhood in a farmhouse in Rolleston, Nottinghamshire – for her this felt like her real home and where she would often return to as an adult…. She studied at various places and at the age of 12 began nightly art classes at Finsbury School…. She was to go on to study at the Royal Female School of Art, which was part of what is now the Royal College of Art in London….

She began to exhibit her drawings in 1868 and her first published work was in magazines for children, such as ‘Little Folks’…. She also worked at illustrating greetings cards to contribute towards the family’s income….

In 1879 her first successful book was published – ‘Under the Window; Pictures and Rhymes for Children’…. It was to become a best seller, over 100,000 copies were sold…. In 1880 it was followed with her illustrations in ‘The Birthday Book’, ‘Mother Goose’ in 1881 and ‘Little Ann’ in 1883…. She was to go on to illustrate over 150 books – only two were both written and illustrated by Kate, her first ‘Under the Window’ and later ‘Marigold Garden’ (or ‘The Language of Flowers’) in 1895….

Marigold Garden – Public domain

She brought many well-known stories to life, such as Robert Browning’s ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’…. Leading art critics around the world praised her work….

Her own favourite books as a child may have influenced her – Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and illustrated editions of Shakespeare…. In her own illustrations she always dressed her children in the Regency fashions of the late 18th Century….smock frocks and skeleton suits for the boys and high-waisted pinafores and dresses with mobcaps and straw bonnets for the girls…. A style which was to catch on….Liberty of London created children’s clothes by adapting her drawings….

Polly from ‘The Queen of the Pirate Isle’ – by Bret Harte – Public domain

In 1890 Kate was elected to the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours; she exhibited at the Fine Art Society in 1891, 1894, 1898 and was exhibited posthumously again in 1902…. From 1883-1897 she published Kate Greenaway’s Almanacs…. Kate died of breast cancer at the age of 55 on the 6th of November 1901…. She was buried in Hampstead Cemetery, London….

May Day – Public domain

The Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955 in her honour…. It is awarded annually by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in the UK to a chosen illustrator of children’s books….

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On this day in history….25th January 1905

On this day in history : 25th January 1905 – The birth of Margery Sharp – the English author who brought us many novels, including the children’s series ‘The Rescuers’….

Photo portrait by Bill Brandt, 1945 – Public domain

Sharp was born near to Salisbury in Wiltshire, although her family originally came from Yorkshire…. She then spent part of her childhood in Malta before returning to England in 1914 to study at Streatham High School and then Bedford College, part of the University of London…. She then spent a further year at Westminster Art College….

When she was 21 the satirical magazine ‘Punch’ began to publish her short stories…. She went on to write for several other magazines including ‘Good Housekeeping’, ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ and ‘ The Ladies’ Home Journal’…. Her first novel, ‘Rhododendron Pie’, was published in 1930 – after only taking her a month to write….

In 1938 she married Major Geoffrey Castle, an aeronautical engineer – and during WW2 she worked as an Army Education Lecturer…. All the while she continued with her writing – producing in her writing career 25 novels for adults, 14 for children, numerous short stories and 4 plays….

However the work we undoubtedly know her for best is her series of children’s books telling the stories of a socialite mouse by the name of Miss Bianca – who helped people and animals who found themselves in danger…. The first edition of ‘The Rescuers’ was published in 1959…. The books were illustrated by Gareth Williams, who also illustrated other children’s classics such as ‘Stuart Little’ and ‘Charlotte’s Web’….

1st edition – Fair use

In 1977 Walt Disney released the animated film ‘The Rescuers’, based mainly on the second novel of Sharp’s series – it was an outstanding success…. A sequel ‘The Rescuers Down Under’, set in the Australian Outback, was released in 1990….

Original theatrical release poster – Fair use

On this day in history….14th January 1886

On this day in history : 14th January 1886 – The birth, in Maidenhead, Berkshire, of Hugh Lofting – the English author and poet who created Dr. Dolittle….

Hugh Lofting – Fair use

Most of us grew up reading the Dr. Dolittle books – the tales of Dr. John Dolittle, the Victorian doctor who could converse with animals…. Polynesia the parrot, Chee-Chee the monkey, Gub-Gub the pig, Dab-Dab the duck, Too-Too the owl, Jip the dog and Whitey the mouse…. Then there is the Pushmi-Pullyu – a cross between a gazelle and a unicorn, with a head at each end, so it could talk and eat at the same time without seeming rude….img_5593

Hugh Lofting never set out to be a writer…. He studied civil engineering overseas, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before returning home to enlist in the Irish Guards to serve in World War 1….

From the trenches Lofting wrote letters home to his children…. Not wanting to write about the horrors of war he created characters and stories – which were later to become the foundation of his Dr. Dolittle tales….img_5594

In 1919 Lofting was seriously wounded – it was after this that he moved his family to Connecticut in the United States…. In 1920 his first book was published – ‘The Story of Doctor Dolittle : Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed’…. The sequel – ‘The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle’ followed in 1922; there are 10 books in all in the series….img_5596

Other works by Lofting written for children include the ‘Mrs Tubbs’ series of picture books for younger children – ‘Porridge Poetry’ and ‘Noisy Nora’, a story about a little girl who is a very noisy eater…. He also wrote ‘The Twilight of Magic’ for older readers….

‘Victory for the Slain’ was published in 1942 and was Lofting’s only work for an adult audience…. It is a lengthy poem in seven parts, lamenting war and the futility of it…. Victory for the Slain was only ever published in the United Kingdom….img_5595

On this day in history….8th October 1908

On this day in history : 8th October 1908 – Kenneth Grahame’s classic children’s book ‘The Wind in the Willows’ is published – and has never been out of print since….

Image credit : Paul K via Flickr

Kenneth started work at the Bank of England in 1879 – from a junior position he worked his way up through the ranks, eventually to become Secretary of the Bank….

Kenneth Grahame in 1910 – Public domain

In 1899 he married Elspeth Thomson and they had one son, Alistair – a sickly child, born premature, blind in one eye and suffering ill-health all his life…. His parents gave him the affectionate nickname of ‘Mouse’….

When the boy was around 4-years-old his father began to tell him bedtime stories, about four animal friends – Toad, Badger, Ratty and Mole…. When Kenneth was away from home, (often on the boating holidays he enjoyed so much), he would write home to Alistair – his letters full of more tales of the four friends…. The child was quite a headstrong and wayward boy – and Kenneth based the character of Toad on him…. Ratty was based on a good friend of his – fellow writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch….

Image credit : Julie Sweeney via Flickr

In 1908 Kenneth retired early from the Bank due to ill-health…. The family moved to Crookham in Berkshire – the area where Kenneth had spent much of his childhood…. In his retirement he spent much of his time by the banks of the River Thames…. Having decided to develop his tales of Toad, Badger, Ratty and Mole he no doubt drew much of his inspiration from the river….and giving us the children’s book ‘The Wind in the Willows’ that we all grew up with and loved so much….

Ratty and Mole – Image credit : Amber Case via Flickr

Sadly Alistair, who was an under-graduate at Oxford University at the time, committed suicide on a railway track five days before his 20th birthday….

Image credit : Paul K via Flickr