Friday, June 19, 2015

Robin Jacques illustrations for "Some Adventures of a Brownie"

This is Robin Jacques' lead illustration for "Some Adventures of a Brownie," which appears in Volume 14 of Nelson Doubleday's mid-century "Best in Children's Books" series.1

In all, Jacques — well-known for his distinctive stippling-technique artwork and his long period of collaboration with Ruth Manning-Sanders — contributed 19 illustrations to "Some Adventures of a Brownie." Not all of them are in full color like the one above, which is probably the most beautiful of the bunch.

The tale was written by Dinah Maria Mulock (1826-1887), who was known for her novels and poetry. Mulock had an extensive bibliography, but her career had its ups and downs. According to Wikipedia, several of her books were "of inferior merit," "inferior in every respect," and "of no great account." Ouch.

Still, Mulock shows a nice touch in "Some Adventures of a Brownie." Further, her style with this kind of children's written, with its read-aloud quality, reminds me of Manning-Sanders' work, almost to the extent that I wonder if Manning-Sanders (1886-1988) was influenced by Mulock's writing during her youth. The timing would have been right, as Mulock would have still been widely read and in print.

Here's the opening passage of "Some Adventures of a Brownie":
"There was once a little Brownie who lived — where do you think he lived? — in a coal cellar.

"Now a coal cellar may seem a most curious place to live in, but then a Brownie is a curious creature — a fairy, an yet not one of that sort of fairies who fly about on gossamer wings, and dance in the moonlight, and so on. He never dances, and as to wings, what use would they be to him in a coal cellar? He is a sober, stay-at-home, household elf — nothing much to look at, even if you did see him, which you are not likely to do — only a little old man, about a foot high, all dressed in brown, with a brown face and hands, and brown peaked cap. He is just the color of a brown mouse, and like a mouse, he hides in corners — especially kitchen corners. He usually comes out after dark when nobody is about, so sometimes people call him Mr. Nobody.

"I may as well tell you the adventures of a particular Brownie, who belonged to a family in Devonshire, a family he had followed from house to house most faithfully for years and years."

Read the full adventures of Mr. Nobody, if you wish, at (Warning: The illustrations of the Brownie in that earlier edition are much creepier.)

Long footnote
1. "Best in Children's Books" was a 42-volume series published by Nelson Doubleday Inc. between 1957 and 1961, according to an in-depth post on Rare Books Digest. While spanning a wide range of historically important children's literature, the series is most collectible now because of the illustrators it employed to do original artwork for the various volumes. The artists included Richard Scarry, Andy Warhol, Leonard Kessler and Maurice Sendak. It appears that Robin Jacques provided illustrations for at least two other books in the series, too. According to Rare Books Digest:
"Several of the books are now considered collector’s items and have become hard to find, especially if quality is desirable. They are indeed rare books. Most of the volumes available are either missing their attractive dust jacket or have some other significant limitation such as stains, tears or writing, so the drive to complete a full set has now become a popular undertaking for a great deal of collectors, who have exhausted the easy picks from the market."
I come across the books regularly at book sales, but never in better than fair condition and I have yet to see one with its original dust jacket. They probably wouldn't have piqued my interest at all, if I hadn't leafed through one and happened upon the Jacques illustrations. The other selections in this Volume 14 include:
  • "Robert E. Lee," by Smith Burnham
  • "Wait for William," by Marjorie Flack
  • "The Old Woman and Her Pig"
  • "The True Book of Dinosaurs," by Mary Lou Clark
  • "Tell Me Why," by Ellen Wales Walpole
  • "Let's Visit Scotland"

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