Picture This! Children’s Books at the British Library.

A well-written story can paint a wondrous world in our imaginations, sometimes though; a little help doesn’t go amiss, after all they say a picture is worth a thousand words. When I think back to the books I enjoyed as a child, it’s the illustrations as much as the words that I remember.

What would Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories be like without those drawings from Martin Brown. More to the point, could you imagine a world in which Roald Dahl wasn’t illustrated by Quentin Blake?

Simply unthinkable, right?

The British Library’s current display Picture This! (on until 26th January) features the writings of ten children’s writers and the illustrations that helped the stories to come alive and gives us a chance to reflect on the stories from our childhood. For once, the author’s work has taken a back seat to the artist as Picture This! celebrates how successive artists re-imagine the authors work.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a tale that has been imagined and re-imagined time and again as the story has gone from book, to screen and to stage. It is one of the stories that the exhibition focussed on. For me, Willy Wonka’s world of pure imagination has the chaotic energy of Quentin Blakes’ drawings, but when the story was originally published in 1964 both the US and UK versions had illustrations that were much more ‘chocolate box-y’.

Quentin Blake's interpretation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Quentin Blake’s interpretation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Fitting, perhaps, for a story about a chocolate factory but, they just seemed a bit off. It would be really interesting to hear what people who remember these older versions think of the new covers.

Ted Hughes was an author whose inclusion in this exhibition surprised me. I always think of him as a lofty poet laureate and sometime husband of Sylvia Plath. Ted Hughes: children’s author. It feels weird just typing that!

Nevertheless, children’s author he was, writing The Iron Man (published in 1968). A giant cut out of the iron man looms over the visitors, in the foyer whilst a cheeky Iron Woman –who got her very own sequel in 1993- peeks out at you from the pages of a personalised copy “For Lin and Leonard with love from Ted.”

Ted Hughes' Iron Woman
Ted Hughes’ Iron Woman
Ted Hughes' Iron Man
Ted Hughes’ Iron Man










I love books, and these illustrations made me think of the stories in a new light – looks like I’m headed back to my bookshelf to rediscover some old favourites…


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