Friday, November 14, 2014

Beautiful Book #32

Johnny Crow's Garden by L. Leslie Brooke. Frederick Warne, 1905.

There was no way L. Leslie Brooke was not going to be included on this list. No one else captures the humour of anthropomorphized animals quite like him, and legions of artists who have illustrated animals in 20th- and 21st-century children's literature, from Kurt Wiese (of Walter Brooks' Freddy the Pig books) to David Wiesner, owe an artistic debt of gratitude to him. I've chosen Johnny Crow's Garden for no better reason than one of my favourite illustrations of all time is in it: the pig who dances a jig.

Brooke illustrated and wrote-and-illustrated numerous books, many of which can be viewed at Project Gutenberg. Make a point to linger on his interpretations of Lear's nonsense verse as well as his many nursery books. Along with Beatrix Potter, Brooke was a darling of Frederick Warne and Co., although his Johnny Crow has not become the household name that Peter Rabbit has. Brooke published a total of three Johnny Crow books: two while he was in his 40s and a third when he was in his 70s. I like looking at them all together for a longitudinal comparison. The bear who was naked in the first book, only to be styled in a fashionable vest, striped trousers and a waistcoat by the apes, retires to his pyjamas in the final book. Similarly, the lion who comes to the first party in his green and yellow tie abandons it on the final page of the last book as he bids goodbye to his friend, Johnny. The final book also features a venerable looking turtle contemplating the 19 mile journey to Johnny Crow's garden, which, to me, is a lovely, understated comment on age and retirement.

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