I am sorting through a collection of children’s books from one home, amassed as the family grew, thumbed by children and later by grandchildren. The books are exhausted by repeated reading, decorated by large claims of ownership and drawing practice. In some, pages are missing when a favourite picture was just too nice to remain between the book’s covers and in another a helpful adult or older child has marked the text for iambic pentameter. Brown tape and Sellotape shore the books up for another day. It is a heart-warming family record.
It interests me too, as here are many writers and illustrators that excite collectors: Jean de Brunhoff’s Babar, Arthur Rackham doing ‘Undine’, Rosalind Thornycroft’s lovely illustrations for ‘Heroes and Heroines’ by the Farjeons, (the image of Grace Darling cresting the waves I posted on Instagram last week). There is also the inexpensive but still lovely Ladybird book, ‘What to Look for Autumn’ with Tunnicliffe illustrations and just for me, child of the 60’s, Dick Bruna’s Red Riding Hood with its pared back, graphic illustration and a very jolly looking Grandma, given that she has just been cut out of the wolf’s stomach.
Here is one book that I particularly like, ‘Mr Tootleoo and Co’ by Bernard and Elinor Darwin. Taped up, without dust-jacket, I find it is a rare thing in immaculate condition and consequently the serious collector must pay many hundreds to acquire it. It has a rather nice palette of pale blue and ketchup red. Mr Tootleoo, having been thrown off his sailing ship onto a desert island for an April Fool which the Captain did not appreciate, befriends a turtle, elephant and tiger, for despite finding buried treasure and three gold crowns, he is a wise man:
‘It may be jolly fine’, said he,
‘To be a man of propertee,
But treasure serves no useful end
If you can’t entertain a friend.
My Tootleoo though, is too weary for the Collector’s World. This gives me the satisfaction of slipping it back onto my children’s shelves, where it too can entertain a friend a few more times.