Wednesday, 14 October 2015

We take a look at two fantastic titles from Bodleian Publishing's upcoming children's range

The Bodleian Library is legendary, cataloguing and collecting just about every book that ever went to print, it's a treasure trove indeed. Let's dip into that trove with two new books from Bodleian's upcoming children's range...
We've often talked about books that have truly made a mark on children's publishing by being so groundbreaking and ultimately so timeless that they've become almost a template for other titles to follow.

Way back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, children's books were going through something of a golden age, shrugging off rather staid and unimaginative children's titles, with new books that combined amazing design, brilliant stories and fabulous illustrations to really bring their subjects to the attention of busy little ones who were just beginning to be wooed away by other media (particularly the rise in popularity of TV).

For books to compete, they needed to be inventive, informative and absorbing, and the two titles we're going to look at today could truly be described as all of those and more.

Johanna Johnston and Leonard Weisgard were a fantastic team, working on several books together including "Penguin's Way" first published way back in 1962. It tells the story of an Emperor Penguin colony from the Antarctic Ocean and liltingly describes the penguin lifecycle as they hunt, fish, choose a mate and ultimately give birth to their offspring, as the circle of life continues and flourishes.

Unusually for a children's nature book, "Penguin's Way" does something that very few other books did at the time, it relates the information as a story - as if being narrated for a TV nature programme, again perhaps consciously so as the very first nature programmes had already hit screens and had introduced folk to the wild and wonderful animal species throughout the world.

Big bold illustrations by Caldecott Medal winner Leonard Weisgard featured in each page spread, larger than the traditional linework illustrations that had featured in many books previously and reinforcing the importance of fantastic quality illustrations in children's books.

In 1965, "Whale's Way" was published again by Johanna and Leonard, this time examining the amazing species of whale (and our particular favourite, the Humpback Whale) that dwell in our deepest oceans. Once again the book is almost narrated rather than dishing up dry scientific facts about whales, and once again examining the life cycle and habitat of these gentle ocean giants.

Looking at both of these with Charlotte, we were both completely absorbed by each book's thoroughly 'modern' feel - these are very like the sort of non-fiction titles Charlotte adores and are still published today, so they must've been incredible for children of the 1960s who would normally have only encountered books like these in school libraries (and any book that can perform the neat trick of imparting information without feeling like 'school work' deserves special mention and merit.

Bodleian Publishing are bringing together a fantastic range, drawn largely from an enviable back catalogue of amazing works and I can't wait to see some of the others (watch out very soon for the very first Jean De Brunhoff Babar stories - particular faves of ours!)

Both "Whale's Way" and "Penguin's Way" are glorious books, presented with the original hardback and cloth-spined look and feel to give them an even more nostalgic touch. Utterly timeless and brilliant.

Charlotte's favourite bit: The arrival of the baby penguins in "Penguin's Way"

Daddy's favourite bit: Brilliant books bristling with facts and information but told in a rather gentle narrated way (you can almost imagine Sir David Attenborough reading these to his kids at bedtime back in the day!)

"Whale's Way" and "Penguin's Way"

Written by Johanna Johnston

Illustrated by Leonard Weisgard

Published by Bodleian Publishing

Release Date (Hardback): 15th October 2015