On My Bookshelf…Little Dracula’s Christmas

On My Bookshelf…Little Dracula’s Christmas

And now for something completely different…

I hope you have been enjoying my Tuesday dose of visual books that I love and am inspired by. I have so far mainly shared my Folio Society editions of classic children’s fiction.

Now I know it’s not Christmas, and it’s not Halloween. But, in my heart, it always is a little bit. And when I was browsing my bookshelf for this week’s edition I saw this thin little book, 16 years old, hiding at the end, and thought ‘Why not?!’

One of the nicest things I have discovered doing this weekly series is the opportunity to research the books, authors and illustrators, and learn new things about them.

The Little Dracula book series debuted in 1986. It was penned by Hans Christian Andersen Medal winner 2004 and two-time Smarties Prize winner writer Martin Waddell and illustrated by Joseph Wright. The paperback stories, recommended for ages 4-8, rely heavily on Wright’s gory yet humorous illustrations. They detail Little Dracula’s spooky lifestyle which includes bowling with skulls and drinking a glass of blood before sleeping in his miniature coffin. Other morbid scenes include Mrs. Dracula emptying the brain from a decapitated head into a frying pan for breakfast and children playing tennis with rackets strung with cat guts. Dubbed “too silly to be truly spooky,” the series received praise by Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal particularly for its meticulous illustrations which were also regarded as “not for the squeamish. {1}

Looking back through this beloved book I am reminded why I was so obsessed with it, and why it helped nurture by love of drawing and illustration. I’m also a little surprised with what the illustrations get away with for such a young target audience, compared to what I would imagine would be censored/dumbed down if it was published today. Good ol’ 80s.

What I love the most I think is how rich the illustrations are: not a single opportunity has been missed to get some kind of either humour or gore-reference in there. Like the witch-fairy on top of the tree with a skull in her hand, or even the skull weather vane. Every page is jam packed with visual funnies. If you think platters full of human hearts is funny.

You can still buy this book. Beats Peppa Pig anyday I say.

On My Bookshelf…The Arabian Nights

On My Bookshelf…The Arabian Nights

The Arabian Nights, with illustrations by Detmold. This Folio edition was first published in 1924.

“My father hurriedly mounted his horse, and spurred it toward that of the negro, who…dashed forward brandishing his scimitar”
“The Rukh, which fed its young on elephants”

Edward Julius Detmold was born in 1883 in London, with a twin, Charles Maurice. They were both prolific Victorian illustrators and precociously talented – their watercolours being exhibited in the Royal Academy at 13. Their familial interests in both natural history and Japanese woodprints nurtured their talents and both these and Art Nouveau elements can be seen influencing their work.

“The next day he sat me behind him on an elephant”

This is a more sparse book, illustratively speaking, and again a very different style to the art of my other Folio editions of classic children’s literature. They are soft and muted, almost representing the hazy heat of the Arabic fantasy world.

“Whilst they were yet devouring the meat he hastily filled his flagon”
“She was wrapped in a long veil of gold embroidered silk”

Certainly the love of depicting animals is clear, and these stand out even amongst the main characters – 8 out of the 12 plates has an animal as the focus.

“The wolf changed into a cock, which began picking up the grains”
“A magnificent steed, as black as night”

Thanks to Wikipedia and here

On My Bookshelf…Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales

On My Bookshelf…Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales

This week it’s another of my treasured Folio editions, the classic Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales, as illustrated by William Heath Robinson.

This is the 1918 version of the tales written between 1835 and 1872. It was this book that first introduced me to William Heath Robinson’s illustrative work and the main reason I like this book.

Robinson was born in 1872 to an artist family, including 2 brothers who were also illustrators. He’s actually most famous for his humourous cartoons, particularly of eccentric machines and gadgets.

Although there are several colour plates, for my tastes I am much fonder of the more numerous black and white illustrations. Much of the illustrative content of this book is populated by cherubic little plump children amid pastel pastoral scenes, but as a cartoonist there is also much humour in Robinson’s work. The animals are particularly charming.

It altogether lacks the darkness of Rackham’s Brother’s Grimm, but then that’s down to Andersen I suppose. Still there’s a modernity I like, and an inventive interpretation in many characters which is adorable.

Thanks to Wikipedia

On My Bookshelf…The Lion’s Cavalcade

On My Bookshelf…The Lion’s Cavalcade

Hurrah it arrived!

Lord of the Jungle

Every bit as lovely as the other two.

The story is not quite along the same formula as the previous editions (bugs have a rave up, birds get jealous, have their own rave up) though I won’t split hairs. This time we have a grumpy lion but one who won’t lower himself to imitate such riff raff.

Leonis, King of the Jungle, was feeling low and jaded.

All the radiant colours of his inner rainbow faded.

Calculus, Lord Chamberlain

Instead he decrees there shall be a Cavalcade. I’m not sure why that’s different. But it makes pretty pictures.


The Lion’s Cavalcade was of course illustrated by Alan Aldridge, in collaboration with Harry Willock alongside verses by Ted Walker. First published in 1980, it is based on the 1808 poem The Lion’s Masquerade and Elephant’s Champêtre credited to ‘A Lady’. How charming.

The Fakir

I’m almost tempted to say the detail and humour in these illustrations surpass the two prequels.

Still a lovely combination of light and shade, there are not only beasts but also little demons and gargoyles in many plates. When the Cavalcade finally begins:

All huge events of HISTORY

Went past, as though they’d never cease:

Creation’s every mystery

Of Love and Beauty, Harmony, Peace – 

Till Demons of Black Havoc and Satan’s Law

Dragged Rhino in as Mars, the God of WAR.

The Epic Procession
The Jaguar Lady
The Tiger

Transmogrified, the Tiger Lily prowls

Through thickets where the watchful Dog Rose growls

At Puss Moth poised to spring on dainty paws

From ripe Crab Apples armed with pincering claws

Flora Zoologica

Finally, after the sour faced Lion remains unimpressed, it is piggy who saves the day. Dressed up as a porcine King of the Fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, no less.

The Company of Porke

On My Bookshelf…East of The Sun and West of The Moon

On My Bookshelf…East of The Sun and West of The Moon

First off, let me start by saying it’s hard for me to put into words how much I love this book, and Kay Nielsen’s work. I have aways had a big fascination for all the great polytheistic mythological traditions, but Norse mythology has, for me, a particular strange and other-worldliness. The fact that this particular volume of Old Tales from the North is illustrated by Nielsen makes it especially precious to me. To that end, even though I have taken photographs of my favorite 8 plates from the book, I have found much better images of some of them online, so I use them here, with links to their sources. Just because, if you don’t know his work, I don’t want your first introduction to be through my crappy camera-phone snaps. They’re way too brilliant for that.

Detail of frontispiece

Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe’s Norske Folkeeventyr (Norwegian Folk Tales) first appeared during the 1840s. the majority were translated  into English by Sir George Dasent and his Popular Tales From the North was published in 1859. 15 of them appear in this 1914 edition illustrated by Nielsen. It is a fabulous book, full of trolls and giants and bewitched talking polar bears.

“‘Well! Mind and hold tight by my shaggy coat, and then there’s nothing to fear,’ said the Bear. So she rode a long long way”

Kay Nielsen was a Danish illustrator, born in Copenhagen in 1886. Born to a theatrical family he had his artistic training in Paris before moving to England in 1911. He illustrated many volumes of children’s fairy tales including the Brothers Grimm, Hans Anderson, and Charles Perrault. In 1939 he went to Hollywood and worked for Disney for 4 years, completing works for Fantasia and concept art for The Little Mermaid that would not be used until 1989.

“He too saw the image in the water; but he looked up at once, and became aware of the lovely Lassie who sat there up in the tree”

There is a sad end to Nielsen’s life. He returned to Denmark in 1941 after being let go from Disney, but found there was no longer a demand for his work. His final years were spent in poverty. Before his wife’s death a year after his, she gave his remaining illustrations to Frederick Monhoff who in turn tried to place them in museums. However, none – American or Danish – would accept them at the time.

“Then he coaxed her down and took her home”
“The North Wind goes over the sea”

In researching this book and Kay Nielsen himself, I find in several websites that he is considered one of a ‘golden triumvirate’ of illustrators along with Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac (not that they’re weren’t several other wonderful and celebrated illustrators working at the time too). This is interesting as I find his work very different to the others. One of the reasons is that the colour images for East of the Sun and West of the Moon were reproduced by a 4-colour process, in contrast to many of the illustrations prepared by his contemporaries that characteristically utilised a traditional 3-colour process.

“The lad in the bearskin, and the King of Arabia’s daughter”
“The troll was quite willing, and before long he fell asleep and began snoring”

But it’s more than just technicalities. I am reminded of Erté and Harry Clarke – the long elegant characters with angular features, the big scale landscapes with these tall inhabitants, the detail in the clothes and fabrics. Very Art Deco, ahead of their time. I think it’s tragic that Kay Nielsen’s popularity diminished in his lifetime, but I hope that there is still a stong love for his beautiful, haunting work amongst his fans now.

“So the man gave him a pair of snowshoes”
“The King went into the Castle, and at first his Queen didn’t know him, he was so wan and thin, through wandering so far and being so woeful”

Acknowledgements: Wikipedia, Art Passions, Artsy Craftsy