Tag Archives: children’s literature

Maggie Arrives at Mayfair Library

Maggie Arrives, by Yara EvansOn Wednesday 8 March, author Yara Evans visited Mayfair Library to read from her book, Maggie Arrives, which is based on the antics of real-life foxes that have visited Yara’s back garden for several years now.

‘Maggie Arrives’ is the first in a series of stories entitled ‘The Adventures of an Urban Fox’.

Yara Evans at Mayfair Library, March 2017Around 30 children and adults came along to Mayfair Children’s Library to hear Maggie’s story and to learn about the beauty of wild foxes.  They received photos of Maggie as well as fox-themed stickers and pencils.

The afternoon was both entertaining and educational and enjoyed by all!

[Rachel]

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A Bear of Very Little Brain

Commuters reading the London Evening News on Christmas Eve 1925 would have seen a new children’s story called ‘The Wrong Sort of Bees’, featuring the first appearance of a honey-loving bear. What the readers wouldn’t have known is that this wasn’t the last they would hear of this particular bear. Ten months later, on 14 October 1924, Winnie-the-Pooh was published and everyone’s favourite bear appeared between hard covers for the first time.

Opening page of Winnie the Pooh by A A Milne

Pooh’s creator, AA (Alan Alexander) Milne (1882-1956) grew up in Kilburn, where his father ran Henley House school. The school boasted HG Wells as one of its teachers and for a time Wells did teach the young Milne. He then went onto Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge where he made the right contacts and was able to get a job working on Punch. As well as writing comic essays and sketches he found success as a a novelist and as a playwright (The Dover Road was recently revived at Jermyn Street Theatre) but it was as a writer for children that he found lasting fame.

In 1921 Milne bought a teddy bear at Harrods for his baby son Christopher Robin which was soon named after Winnipeg, a Canadian bear in London Zoo. Winnipeg was a female bear which presumably accounts for the nickname Winnie. Young Christopher’s toys also included a donkey, a kangaroo and a piglet and later a tiger (but no owl). These toys, along with Christopher Robin himself found themselves appearing in Milne’s stories. The initial 1925 publication in the London Evening News was followed in 1926 by Winnie-the-Pooh, with The House at Pooh Corner following in 1928.

The books were instant successes. Christopher Milne found himself a rather unwilling celebrity and the subject of much teasing at school. Eventually he left London and spent many happy years running a bookshop in Dartmouth, Devon.

Incidentally, you can see Winnie, Piglet, Kanga and friends on display in the New York Public Library, where they are kept in captivity and much appreciate visitors from home… [see post script below]

Map inside cover of Winnie the Pooh, by A A Milne

For many of us, our enjoyment of the stories owes as much to the charming pictures as to the text. And these were drawn by another Londoner – EH (Ernest Howard) Shepard (1879-1976), who spent much of his life in St John’s Wood. He was born at 55 Springfield Road and in the 1930s lived in a splendid house in Melina Place with his son Graeme, whose own bear Growler was the model for Shepard’s drawings of Pooh. Shepard, of course, also drew the most famous set of illustrations for The Wind in the Willows (which AA Milne dramatised as Toad of Toad Hall) and he wrote a charming memoir of his St John’s Wood childhood called Drawn from Memory. This includes his memories of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and the famous 1887 fire that completely destroyed Whiteley’s department store (then in Westbourne Grove) which could be seen from Highgate Hill. You can see a plaque to EH Shepard at another of his Westminster homes – 10 Kent Terrace, Regents Park.

EH Shepard illustration from Winnie-the-Pooh

You can find out more about AA and Christopher Robin Milne and EH Shepard in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log in with your library card number). You may also wish to look at the splendid bound volumes of Punch held by Westminster Reference Library.

Christopher RobinWinnie the PoohAnd of course, you’ll find plenty of Disney DVDs in our children’s libraries though you’ll have to try to ignore the American accents and the incongruous Gopher – we all know the real Pooh was a true Londoner!

[Nicky]

Post script: Catherine Cooke of the Sherlock Holmes Collection has paid several visits to Pooh and friends in their New York home, and sent these great pictures to share:

Winnie the Pooh and friends in the New York Public Library, January 2015. Picture credit: Catherine Cooke  Winnie the Pooh and friends in the New York Public Library, January 2015. Picture credit: Catherine Cooke

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Parties!

Children at four Westminster libraries have been partying in Wonderland, thanks to volunteer Maureen Pepper and Made in Libraries. In this blog post, Maureen tells us how it all came about.

“I have been a volunteer at Queens Park Library for a long time. Last year I was talking to a group of children at the library and was surprised to discover that none of them had read Alice in Wonderland. One had tried but had found the original text too hard. I thought if the book could be introduced to children via games, riddles and puzzles it would be very appealing and many would read it. I devised the first performance for Queens Park Library in November 2015 and worked with Bebie Waller of Actingworks and some of her staff to perform it.”

“Once we had done the show in Queens Park Library, it seemed a shame to pack away all the props etc and I heard about the possibility of support from Made In Libraries and the Westminster Wards budget for a further three performances at St John’s Wood, Church Street and Pimlico libraries. The performances (or perhaps the word workshop would be more appropriate) took place in May 2016.”

“I was particularly delighted with the reaction from some of the very young boys who took part at all three libraries. They were enchanted and engaged in a way that the Disney film could not touch. I was thrilled that children at St John’s Wood Library and Pimlico Library left clutching a copy of the book which they had borrowed with their own library card. Three mothers at Church Street were so delighted with the event that they insisted on helping us to wash the china cups and saucers afterwards! At St John’s wood, elderly members of the public were watching the tea party with delight through the window from the pavement and one came into the library to say how thrilled she was to see young children being introduced to a book that she had loved as a child.”

“All the performances attracted a diverse range of children – EAL speakers from Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, China, Malaysia and Japan, children with special needs, boys and girls. Everyone got involved in every activity, and the parents seemed to enjoy the performance as much as the children!”

[Maureen]

Temper temper!

Sam's Pet Temper by Sangeeta BhadraOn Tuesday, Years 1 & 2 from Queen’s Park Primary School enjoyed a special Queen’s Park Library visit with Canadian author Sangeeta Bhadra. Sangeeta’s debut children’s book, Sam’s Pet Temper, uses humour and striking illustrations (provided by Marion Arbona) to tell the story of a little boy whose bad temper takes on a life of its own.

The children loved hearing all about the Temper’s naughty antics and finished the session by producing some very creative drawings of their own imaginary Tempers:

Sangeeta Bhadra visits Queen's Park Library

Fortunately there wasn’t any sign of bad moods during the visit; Sangeeta was impressed by the excellent behaviour of all the children and the very grown-up thoughts they had about the book. Sam’s Pet Temper is a charming picture book and perfect for ages 5+ who might be struggling to get their own tempers under control!

[Lucy]

Presentation bookplates (or, The joy of being given a book)

World Book Day 2015World Book Day on 5 March is a day for celebrating the joy and value of books and reading, especially for children. I wonder how many of you reading this began your relationship with books at school?

I remember Prizegiving Day at my old Grammar School. Those pupils who had excelled academically or in sport, high attendance etc were allowed to choose a book or books up to a certain value. These would then be purchased by the school and presented to the lucky pupils in the presence of the whole school and invited parents. At the front of the book(s) would be inserted a printed bookplate inscribed with your name and the details of your achievement.

Presentation bookplate - East Ham Grammar School For Boys

By my time (the 1960s) the bookplates were fairly plain, but in the late 19th and early 20th century they might be highly elaborate, decorative pieces of artwork, typical of the style of the period, which would no doubt be proudly shown by recipients to their family and friends. Not just state schools, but also Sunday Schools and other religious organisations might make such presentations of books with bookplates as these examples show (click on the images to see larger versions):

All of these bookplates were found within children’s story books, many dating back to the 19th century, which form part of Westminster Libraries reserve stock collection. How these books, given to children at locations all over Britain, came to end up in Westminster Libraries might make a fascinating story in their own right, if only the details had been recorded!

Schools still give out books as prizes, though in this digital age it is perhaps as likely to be an e-reader or electronic book tokens. I bet they don’t come with a bookplate!

However since 1998, on World Book Day, every child in full-time education in the United Kingdom and Ireland is given a £1 book token. They can then take the book tokens to a bookshop and purchase either one of 10 children’s books specially priced at £1 or get £1 off any book with a full price of £2.99 or more. So every school child can have a book of their own.

[Malcolm]

Christmas books? We’ve got them covered

Christmas comes but once a year, as they say… It is a time for family gatherings and celebration, for feasting and relaxing. A time when many people will give and receive books as presents (many of which may be destined never to get read!).

Christmas book lists

Click on the image above or go to http://bit.ly/christmasbks to get a flavour of what you can find in your library this Christmas season – there are fiction, non-fiction and children’s selections available, with more titles being added all the time.

There is a selection of new stories and other books set around a theme of Christmas time. There are family stories of course, but also many murder mysteries. A game of Cluedo may go down well after the Christmas dinner, but by Boxing Day evening the presence of in-laws may be pushing some people’s patience towards committing the ultimate crime – at least that’s how the plot traditionally goes!

Festive in death, by JD RobbFor instance – How about this from the blurb for Festive in Death by JD Robb:

“The kitchen knife jammed into his cold heart pinned a cardboard sign to his well-toned chest. It read: Santa Says You’ve Been Bad!!!”

A New York Christmas by Anne PerryCrime writer Anne Perry has been producing a Christmas crime story each year for the last few years. Her latest is  called A New York Christmas.

Many ‘chick-lit’ and family saga writers are increasingly tapping into this market with seasonally-set stories. Some of the authors featured in our list will have stories from previous years also in stock.

For lovers of romantic stories, Mills & Boon always publish a selection of seasonal romances around Christmas time.

So settle down with a book, a glass and a mince pie and enjoy finding out how these fictional characters past and present cope with the festive season.

A very pirate Christmas by Timothy Knapman– Look on the Christmas display shelves and stands in your local library for these and other seasonal books, such as ideas for Christmas cooking, crafts and decorations, Christmas customs and history.
– Look also for Christmas carols – both as songbooks and recordings on CD.
– Look in the children’s library for Christmassy picture books, stories, craft activities, and books about Christmas time.

[Malcolm]

Paddington and friends go to town

Paddington Bear books32 Windsor Gardens, one of the most celebrated addresses in literature, is, as many pilgrims have discovered, sadly fictional. But film fans have been delighted to see the home of Mr and Mrs Brown, their children Judy and Jonathan, their housekeeper Mrs Bird and a bear called Paddington brought to life in the enchanting new film. Much of the film was made on location in London, including a lengthy scene – obviously – in Paddington Station here in Westminster as well as Portobello Market in the neighbouring borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

When you’ve seen the film, why not revisit some of the books, which have been loved by children and grown-ups alike since they first appeared in 1958. Readers of a certain age will remember Paddington appearing in Blue Peter annuals. Completely uncoincidentally author Michael Bond worked as a cameraman on the programme.

Good Wives, by Louisa M AlcottPaddington is not the only famous character from children’s fiction to have visited Westminster. Little Women’s Amy March visited as part of her Grand Tour in Louisa May Alcott‘s Good Wives:

Today was fair, and we went to Hyde Park, close by, for we are more aristocratic than we look. The Duke of Devonshire lives near. I often see his footmen lounging at the back gate, and the Duke of Wellington’s house is not far off. Such sights as I saw, my dear! It was as good as Punch, for there were fat dowagers rolling about in their red and yellow coaches, with gorgeous Jeameses in silk stockings and velvet coats, up behind, and powdered coachmen in front. Smart maids, with the rosiest children I ever saw, handsome girls, looking half asleep, dandies in queer English hats and lavender kids lounging about, and tall soldiers, in short red jackets and muffin caps stuck on one side, looking so funny I longed to sketch them.

What Katy Did, by Susan CoolidgeKaty Carr, heroine of the What Katy Did books by Susan Coolidge, stayed in Batt’s Hotel, Dover Street (a real hotel of the ‘second class, especially adapted for families’ according to the Victorian London site. Katy was particularly excited about seeing Wimpole Street, not because of its connections with Elizabeth Barrett Browning but because of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park:

“Wimpole Street!” she cried suddenly, as she caught sight of the name on the corner; “that is the street where Maria Crawford in Mansfield Park, you know, ‘opened one of the best houses’ after she married Mr. Rushworth. Think of seeing Wimpole Street! What fun!” She looked eagerly out after the “best houses,” but the whole street looked uninteresting and old-fashioned; the best house to be seen was not of a kind, Katy thought, to reconcile an ambitious young woman to a dull husband. Katy had to remind herself that Miss Austen wrote her novels nearly a century ago, that London was a “growing” place, and that things were probably much changed since that day.

Fairies were first spotted in Kensington Gardens in 1722 when the perhaps justly forgotten poet Thomas Tickell wrote a poem about them:

“When Albion rul’d the land, whose lineage came
From Neptune mingling with a mortal dame,
Their midnight pranks the sprightly Fairies play’d
On ev’ry hill, and danc’d in ev’ry shade.”

Peter Pan, by JM BarrieHowever it was JM Barrie who immortalised them. In 1897, Barrie met George Llewellyn-Davies and his nanny in Kensington Gardens. He soon became friends with the entire family which included the boys’ uncle Gerald Du Maurier, later to be the first Captain Hook on stage. Barrie invented stories for George and later Jack Llewellyn-Davies about their younger brother Peter who he claimed could fly (which was why there were bars on the nursery window) and who ran away to live among the fairies.

This grew into the tale of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, later turned into a stage play and the more famous Peter Pan and Wendy:

You must see for yourselves that it will be difficult to follow Peter Pan’s adventures unless you are familiar with the Kensington Gardens. They are in London, where the King lives, and I used to take David there nearly every day unless he was looking decidedly flushed. No child has ever been in the whole of the Gardens, because it is so soon time to turn back. The reason it is soon time to turn back is that, if you are as small as David, you sleep from twelve to one. If your mother was not so sure that you sleep from twelve to one, you could most likely see the whole of them.

You can visit the Peter Pan statue by the Long Water and amaze your children or friends by getting a phone call from Peter… if you know how.

Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace, by AA Milne and EH ShephardWhen he wasn’t hanging out with Pooh, Eeyore and the gang in the Hundred Acre Wood, AA Milne’s son Christopher Robin was a London boy who liked nothing better than a bit of pageantry:

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace –
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
Alice is marrying one of the guard.
“A soldier’s life is terrible hard,” Says Alice.

From Changing Guard at Buckingham Palace by AA Milne and EH Shephard

The real Christopher Robin has a somewhat ambivalent relationship to his alter ego – you can read about growing up as a National Treasure in his memoirs The Enchanted Places.

The BFG, by Roald DahlSlightly more recently, another visitor to Buckingham Palace was Roald Dahl’s BFG who even manages to have breakfast with the Queen

She found it almost impossible to believe that she, Sophie, a little orphan of no importance in the world, was at this moment actually sitting high above the ground on the window-sill of the Queen of England’s bedroom, with the Queen herself asleep in there behind the curtain not more than five yards away…

Harry Potter booksThe part of London most associated with JK Rowling‘s Harry Potter is of course King’s Cross Station in neighbouring Camden, but many key scenes in the books do take place in Westminster. Notably, Diagon Alley, the wizard’s shopping centre with the extended opening hours, is located just off Charing Cross Road:

Seconds later Harry’s feet found pavement and he opened his eyes on Charing Cross Road. Muggles bustled past wearing the hangdog expressions of early morning quite unconscious of the little inn’s existence. The bar of the Leaky Cauldron was nearly deserted. Tom, the stooped and toothless landlord was polishing glasses; a couple of warlocks having a muttered conversation in the far corner glanced at Hermione and drew back into the shadows.

The opening of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince has a suspiciously Blair-like Prime Minister being visited in his office (presumably in Downing Street) by his opposite number the Minister for Magic, whose own office is just down the road in Whitehall. Anyone who thinks their daily commute is bad should feel grateful they don’t have to clamber into a public lavatory as the ministry staff do in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and be whisked to their office via a drain.

You can find all the books mentioned above in Westminster Libraries and if you’d like to research the authors, why not check out the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and Contemporary Authors – both part of our 24/7 Library, just log in with your library card number.

[Nicky]