Philip Ardagh at the British Museum

5 Feb

Just before Christmas, Philip Ardagh, one of my favourite children’s authors, came to the British Museum to run a writing workshop with families. As well as having an enormous beard, Philip writes hilarious and also very lovely books, including the Eddie Dickens Trilogy, a series of stories about a young boy called Eddie Dickens, who has to leave his parents (who are ill and smell like old hot water bottles) to go to live with his Mad Uncle Jack and his Even Madder Aunt Maud, who also happens to own a stuffed stoat called Malcolm. If you’ve not read them, I’d thoroughly recommend you do! He’s also written lots of other fiction and non-fiction, including the Grubtown Tales series, The Heiroglyphs Handbook and many more.

Anyway, back to the workshop – after some careful pondering (and beard-stroking), Philip chose a series of objects from our Museum handling collection, which we keep in a little room in the depths of the Museum basement. He wanted to choose things with a sense of mystery, and picked a lovely range of objects – from a two-faced puppet from Java and Roman coins, to a powder horn and a shield made form hippo skin. All the objects would act as a starting point for the introduction to a story.

We had around 70 people in the workshop, and they wrote some wonderful things. Here’s an excerpt from a story written by a girl called Sarah, about a puppet from Java:

Its face was wracked in a terrible grimace of what seemed to be a combination of fear and anger. Just looking at its amazingly lifelike face made me tense. My eyes were locked on those glittering eyes. I couldn’t move. A sound came from behind me. I tore my eyes away from the puppet and turned to look. It sounded like a quick intake of breath. Goosebumps rose up on my arms and my heart started to thud. Was I alone? Looking back at the puppet, I was sure its sprawled position had changed. I blinked. It moved again. The torch in my hand started to flicker. The puppet lifted its head and its eyes narrowed and its pupils flicked towards me. The torch went off…

It was fantastic to see how much children were inspired by working alongside a successful author – and Philip really did spend time with each child, helping them to develop their ideas. Using objects as the starting points for stories is hugely exciting, as there’s so much to think about: Who owned it? Where was it made? Where has it travelled to since? What was it used for? There are endless possibilities – all you need is imagination, and the children we worked with had imagination in bucketloads.

You can see all the children’s stories here.


Tick-tock! Make a Salad Clock

19 Jan

Someone recently showed me their copy of a children’s cookery book from 1946 called Let’s Have  Party, full of wonderful post-war recipes, often for food that looks like other food (Chocolate Salami, Mock Eggs, etc). Interestingly nearly every recipe involves an egg in some form or another – even the Mock Eggs, which include an egg yolk. My favourite is this recipe for a Salad Clock – it reminds me of the Fruit Faces my Mum made for me when I was little*, and the fantastic work created by Funky Lunch. Apologies for the low quality of the photograph – sadly I wasn’t able to take the book away to scan, and had to take a sneaky phone picture.

* I made her one recently as a small thank you for the hundreds she made for me – it was a giant, ugly clown face with an obscenity written across it in apple sticks.

Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse

12 Jan

Hello! This is the beginning of my new blog, all about children’s books and illustration. I’ll be photographing and sharing some of my collection of vintage and pop-up books, and also writing about some modern authors and illustrators whose work I love.

I wanted to start with a brief post about this blog’s namesake, Adventures of the Little Wooden Horse by Ursula Moray Williams. My Mum read this to me as a child, and out of all the hundreds of books I discovered as a child, this one stuck with me more than any other – simply because it caused me so much distress. Judging the book by its cover, you’d think it was a homely, safe and slightly fluffy story of  a small, nondescript toy horse. However, it’s anything but – the rosy-cheeked LWH suffers 19 chapters of  tear-jerking hardship, including working in a coal mine and losing his leg, all in the hope of returning to his master (who’s fallen on hard times). A lot of people will have already read this, but just in case you haven’t, I won’t spoil the ending. I’ll warn you, though – even thinking about it now makes me well up. Read it if you dare.

Image from