Who was Alice? She was born Alice Pleasance Liddell in Oxford in 1852, the middle daughter of Dean Liddell (Dr Henry Liddell, former head of Westminster School, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford). The Liddell family belonged to the English upper class. The family could afford all sorts of luxuries including elegant clothes, books , toys and have their children educated by private tutors . They had a beautiful home and hosted elegant parties Their house was staffed with lots of servants, so all in all Alice had a very privileged childhood. Mr Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) studied at Christ Church Oxford and obtained a Batchelor of Arts degree in Mathematics and remained at Christ Church as a lecturer for 47 years until his death.
A fascinating, colourful and educational series of books for children, first published at the start of the Second World War and with some volumes continuing to be reprinted well into the 1970's. How did this series come to be published in the war years when there were severe paper shortages and little money to be spent on books? The series was the brainchild of Noel Carrington, editor for Country Life books and described by Kathleen Hale as "a brilliant talent spotter"
Carrington had for some time been an admirer of the brightly coloured lithographed books mass-produced for Soviet children. Well illustrated, they were printed in huge numbers and given away on street corners so that every child in the land could have one. Carrington believed that there was a need for such books in Britain and was actively seeking a publisher who would be prepared to take a similar risk. He had researched the subject thoroughly with the printers W.H. Cowell and was convinced it was viable. Artists would be required to draw their illustrations directly onto lithographic plates to avoid the expense of camera work. While this was a complex and time-consuming process it would help to reduce the published price of the books in line with Carrington's ideal.
Whilst tidying the shelves recently I came across a book by Catherine Sefton. Nothing odd in that but as I was reading the text on the wrapper flaps I discovered that Catherine Sefton is the pen name of Martin Waddell! This set me thinking why do some authors use pseudonyms or pen names?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary a pseudonym is 'a fictitious name, especially one used by an author'. There are many reasons why an author may not want to use their own name. They may wish to hide their identity or to disguise their gender. They may use different names for different genres. There may already be an author with the same or similar name or it may simply be a marketing ploy. Some author's pseudonyms become common knowledge whilst others may be known only to their publishers.
Well that was in the middle of the nineteenth century!
What have the Portuguese done for us? (To paraphrase Monty Python)
Hans Christian Andersen, best known today for his children's Fairy Tales was, in his time, best known as a writer of travelogues. Andersen visited Portugal in 1865-66 and was extremely impressed with the country, the modernity of its railways, the neatness of its towns and the courtesy of its people (still true today - well at least the courtesy bit!) In contrast, he thought Spain was backward and disordered! Portugal at this time led the way in education and had developed new ways to help the children learn their own language, which right now I could use as I'm currently struggling to learn Portuguese!
I read in a newspaper recently that most people collect something - for me it's pigs! My collection started many years ago with a wooden pig I saw on a bric-a-brac stall in Hay market. It was nothing special, not an antique, not particularly pretty and not expensive (I think I paid about 50 pence) but it caught my eye and I bought it. My collection has grown and grown over the years because, along with my purchases, family and friends have bought me gifts of pigs as well - I was never difficult to buy for, if in doubt get a pig! To date I have over 400 pigs in all shapes and sizes and made of all manner of materials.
After at least 25 years (good grief, am I really that old?) I have decided to take up piano lessons again. I remember having lessons when I was young and the last time was in Chepstow, South Wales, on a Saturday morning - I must have been in my early teens.
I have always loved the piano as an instrument. My mum has always played (sometimes more the organ than the piano) and I loved to listen to her. I can't remember why I stopped having lessons - probably just a teenager thing, I lost interest. When I moved out of the family home to Hay-on-Wye, I did buy myself an electric keyboard because we would never have been able to get an upright piano up the narrow staircase to our flat. But it was not the same and I didn't really play properly again until early this year.
Jane’s recent article on her better half’s passion for a well used Land Rover led me to think back over the many cars that have passed through my hands over more years than I care to admit.
It all started when my indulgent parents agreed to help my older brother purchase a rather stately two-tone grey Austin Cambridge, on the proviso that his rather battered and unreliable Ford Anglia became my first vehicle, ah the freedom! Apart from the many parental requests like ‘can you just pop me to town’ or ‘can you just drop me off at aunty Peg’s’ etc. Which, of course, were agreed to with alacrity as they had helped me to become mobile in the first place!
These delightful pocket sized books have become both a collector's delight and a torture for those whose aim it is to collect every variation of every edition. Prices for books in this informative series vary from the hundreds of pounds for a 1st edition of The Observer's Book of Birds, with a wrapper, to a few pence for some titles published in the Observer's heyday of the 1970's.
So where did it all start? Frederick Warne had a history of publishing both children's books and natural history books. Of particular note are the Beatrix Potter tales which blend the two areas together with their charming stories and illustrations. In 1895 Edward Step had Wayside and Woodland Blossoms published which was his first book and the first in the Wayside and Woodland series. These books were designed for the observant wayfarer. They were the forerunners of the present day field guides with the revolutionary features of being short, concise, well illustrated in colour, accurate and pocket sized, all of which made them ideal for the beginner. Edward Step's books were so successful that some of the text was reused verbatim in some of the early Observer titles.
We use them everyday - to build things, buy things, gamble and grow. Yet we use numbers without thinking about how peculiar they are.
We first learnt to count by saying: '3 apples and 2 apples makes 5 apples' and we could check this by actually taking physical apples and grouping them.
And then we advanced to: '3 apples plus 2 apples equals 5 apples'.
But can you remember at what point you made the huge leap and forgot about apples and instead said: 3+2 = 5?
It happens so subtly we can't remember, but it is a truly remarkable leap of faith - that what's true for apples is true for anything we want to count and is still true when we're not associating the figures 2 and 3 with any entity. We just slipped from apples to abstract without noticing!
I read somewhere that the things that you are passionate about as a child, stay with you for life. They say it is similar to buying a computer: when young, the things you become passionate about go onto your hard drive, as you age and your tastes alter it is similar to buying software, but the hard disk info remains.
With me this is oh so true - images, aromas, sounds take me immediately back to an earlier time, the music, for example, of my early teens may not be great music, but oh does it affect me still! I only have to hear the opening bars of Daydream Believer by the Monkees, and I am back, 12 years of age, and all that it implies. I re-read books that I loved as a youngster, it is I accept a strange mix, Jennings is in there, as growing up on a council estate the tales of public school life fascinated me. How I longed for tuck boxes and dormitory life, tales of Nelson's time with Alexander Kent, the Bolitho novels' tales of sailing the seven seas held me in their sway, but there were also tales of The Man from Uncle mixed up with Gerald Durrell's weird family and love of animals.
SENSUAL AND ALLURING
NATURAL HISTORY BOOKS?
ABSOLUTELY TRUE WHEN IT'S A NEW NATURALIST!
Look at a collection of New Naturalists in their beautiful dust wrappers; touch the green buckram bindings, the top quality paper. Savour the visual and tactile sensations.Sensual and alluring - absolutely!
The New Naturalist Library is a series of about one hundred books first issued in Great Britain by William Collins in 1945 and continuing into the 1990's with it's peak in the 50's and 60's. The series covers every aspect of British Natural History from Moles to Measles. Clifford and Rosemary Ellis painted most of the dustwrappers. The series is worth acquiring simply for these works of art. From the subtlety of the Swallowtails for Butterflies (the first title published in 1945) to the dramatic and terrifying mole for the monograph The Mole.
That age old adage 'let the train take the strain' is arguably no longer relevant in today's modern society of people rushing here and rushing there in their little metal boxes and getting stressed out when they meet other people in their little metal boxes.
I used to travel to work in Cardiff on the train - a journey of 40 minutes. As I started work at the crack of dawn, the morning train (the first of the day) would be deserted. However, the train on my return journey was during rush hour and would be packed with rarely a seat to be found. Often I would have to sit or stand in the little cubbyhole by the door all the way home. I'm not sure if that is 'letting the train take the strain'! At that time, I would pine for my little Fiesta metal box - but then I could be stuck in traffic on the M4 motorway so I couldn't really win.
Working as a Saturday 'boy' in a book shop would not be everyone's cup of tea but I quite enjoy it. Working with just one colleague you have someone to talk to when you feel lonely, but you are not hassled by all the complications which seem to arise when all the other staff members are present.
And it gives you the chance to talk to all those booklovers who now have time to wander round the shop over the weekend, not being constrained by lunch hours etc. (although, like me, they still appear to have some problems with waiting partners). You can sympathise with those that have arrived without their glasses or their lists (sometimes both) because that sometimes happens to me (very often my wife says as, yet again, she has to bring my glasses in for me).
While pop-up books and moveable books of today are mostly created with children in mind, before 1700 AD books aimed specifically at children were simply not produced. Those few children who were lucky enough to be able to read had to content themselves with the material found in their parents' library.
In the early seventeenth century the development of the printing processes made the production of small, inexpensive books possible. The 'chapbook' thus came into being. Typically these were booklets of eight or twelve pages, often poorly illustrated and badly printed.
Even those who get dizzy at the top of a step-ladder cannot fail to be enthralled by the exploits of Mountaineers even if the force that drives people to what look like near suicidal situations can never be understood by sane human beings. Surely only spiders can stick to overhanging and vertical cliffs?
So when was mountaineering invented?
For most British people the mid-nineteenth century saw the prosaically named Albert Smith climb Mont Blanc in 1851 and Edward Whymper climb The Matterhorn in 1865 and perhaps more importantly both wrote books about their exploits. The Alps received much attention during this period and many gentlemen travelled further afield so that climbing books such as books about the Himalayas by William Conway appeared as early as 1894. In this Victorian period the molehills of Great Britain did not receive much attention or at least much documented attention.
The books we read as children have a special place in our memories. Those we loved remain with us throughout our lives. Often as adults we return to these books - sometimes just to read them again ourselves, perhaps to learn something about who we once were. Other times maybe we want to just share the experience and joy with our own children, grandchildren or other children.
I myself come from a family which had no books at all in the home. By chance at the age of about six or seven I stumbled upon the local public library. I had been wandering around the local street market aimlessly not quite knowing what to do with myself. I got a warm welcome from the library staff and three library tickets - the old fashioned type where they took a slip out of the book and retained it with the ticket until you returned the book. Ah! I feel a whiff of nostalgia for those pre-electronic days when libraries were for books not computers and where people were expected to read quietly and talk in whispers. I have been an avid reader ever since.
There is often a moment of panic when I'm reminded it is my turn to write Theme of the Month for the website and this time was no exception. However, the title of a Madrigal being learned by my local choir keeps going round in my head and it became the title of this article.
The madrigal (a part song for several voices, usually unaccompanied and often from the Renaissance period for those who were wondering) was written by Thomas Morley and published in 1595. It is sung by the choir of Magdalen College, Oxford during their 1st May morning celebrations. Here large crowds gather early - about 6am (or indeed have been up all night at the May balls) - to hear the choir sing from the top of the tower at the college before the revelries continue. So I thought I'd investigate more about the month of May.
Imagine the world without ships, or floating craft of any kind. The empires that would not have been born, the innocence of mankind for each other with our many and varied trades, cultures and creeds. The lands that would have been left solely to our fellow creatures when the continents slipped (some might call that utopia in this age of conservation awareness).
Left: A Viking Ship
Here at Stella Books we have an extensive range of maritime books from ancient times to modern-day heroes and heroines together with books on canals, old ships photographs, sailing manuals and children's adventure stories (watery ones of course).
So it is no surprise that one of my favourite sections in the shop is the one on London. As is right and proper, all manner of books have been written about London, so from this section I am just going to highlight a few of my favourites.
You can't beat a Ladybird book!! A comment made in Rose's Books recently and one with which many people would agree. Well written, well illustrated, with just enough information to help any child who is learning to read or doing a school project (and not just in pre-computer days!)
Nearly everyone who visits Rose's Books walks past our fabulous collection of Ladybird books. Memories of these books come flooding back. But what I think people remember most is the illustrations - although there are a few people who can practically recite Tootles the Taxi or Ginger's Adventures! One customer bought a copy of British Birds And Their Nests from the 536 series because he found the illustrations really useful when bird watching.