Fine Art for Kids

The Work of E.H. Shepard

edited by Rawle Knox
Schocken Books, 256 pp., $27.50

Edward Ardizzone: Artist and Illustrator

by Gabriel White
Schocken Books, 192 pp., $22.50

Nicholas and the Fast Moving Diesel

by Edward Ardizzone
Oxford University Press, 48 pp., $10.95

A Child's Christmas in Wales

by Dylan Thomas, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone
David R. Godine, 48 pp., $10.95

Conscientious lovers of Literature and Art suffer acutely in our society if they happen also to be the parents of young children. They are assailed from all sides by commercial artists, skillful people but without taste or talent, and these purvey hideous rubbish on cereal packets, in comic books, on the screen, in newspapers, and in the form of toys and packaging of all kinds. The stuff is carefully designed to appeal to the young and to debauch their sensibilities. Horrible to relate, our children, who when they wield a brush seem capable of exquisitely tasteful audacities, love the poisonous fare that is provided for them and lap it up as though it were nectar and ambrosia.

In fact we parents may worry too much; we ourselves no less than our children seem to emerge from the comic books of infancy unscathed. The adult who today nicely discriminates between those Corots which are unreservedly to be admired and those which betray a fluffy hint of incipient vulgarity were once, if truth be told, as enthusiastic in their admiration for the drawings in the Billy Bunter stories or Chums as the worst of them. In matters of culture some of us, at all events, seem capable of growing up.

Nevertheless, when a children’s book does emerge which seems to us both wholesome and palatable we rush for it enthusiastically. It becomes a Christmas or birthday present which, we hope, will be not only acceptable to the child but an antidote to the poisons with which it has perforce been fed. In the Twenties the great cultural panacea was Edy Legrand’s Macao et Cosmage. That in itself should make us pause in our search for educational and artistic productions, for, unless the jaundiced eye of age be mistaken, this seems very much a period piece of Art Deco and, like so much Art Deco, distinctly third-rate.

A little later, and perhaps with equal wisdom, cultured parents fell with avidity upon Winnie-the-Pooh, the result of a harmonious collaboration between Ernest Shepard and A.A. Milne. This achieved a success that went far beyond the narrow cultural domain in which M. Legrand had exerted so strong an appeal; the book was received with rapturous gratitude not only in cultured homes but in homes which in some measure aspired to culture. Winnie was canonized and adored even in our ancient seats of learning, which indeed are rather fond of an occasion to unbend and relax, so that Winnie was actually clothed in the dignity of a learned tongue. Few of us have actually read Domus apud Pooh, but I imagine that it is a model of jocular Latinity and puts Winnie almost on a par—in academic circles—with Alice.

A time came when people began to tire of the winsome charm of Christopher Robin, and it was then Tim to the Rescue, written and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, that claimed our admiration and saved the always precarious aesthetic aspect of our nurseries. Since then I do…

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