28th July 2016 will be the 150th Anniversary of the birth of Helen Beatrix Potter, better known as Beatrix Potter. Her life-long love of animals and the natural world began as a child when she and her brother had many 'pets' including rabbits, mice and frogs which would one day become the subjects of some of her books. Her love of the countryside was developed during family holidays in Scotland and later in the Lake District. In later life she would settle in the Lake District and bought several farms which she would bequeath to the National Trust thus preserving the countryside.
When I read this book a few years ago, my first question was 'why is this book called "Biggles Sees it Through?"' With most Biggles books you instantly have an idea of the story from the title; however I would argue that "Biggles Sees It Through" could aptly describe the majority of the Biggles books as Biggles and Co. will never leave the job half done! This book could equally have been entitled "Biggles In Russia" although the story starts with Biggles being assigned to an international squadron to help the Finns in their battle against the Russians.
This is a very fast moving story which is highly enjoyable as long as you don't mind reality taking a sideways step. The whole story revolves around a mission to collect some missing papers from a Polish scientist who lost them during a plane crash which Biggles discovered during his initial reconnaissance flight. The majority of the action takes place on or near a frozen lake just to the Russian side of the Finland-Russian border.
A good friend of mine - Amy Goddard - is a folk singer and has recently released her second Album – “Secret Garden”.
I asked her why “Secret Garden” and she said it was because she loved the book and also she loves 'secret' places where you can escape for peace and quiet.
As a child The Secret Garden was one of my favourite books as well so I thought I would feature it in this month's article.
Written by Frances Hodgson Burnett and first published in 1911 the story begins when Mary Lennox, a spoilt young girl living in India, loses her parents to a severe plague of cholera and is forced to go and live with her mysterious uncle (Archibald Craven) in his large manor house (Misselthwaite Manor) on the Yorkshire Moors.
A delightful, descriptive story in verse. Originally written and illustrated by A.J. Macgregor, the verses in this Ladybird book were later revised by Walter Perring.
Bunnikin's Picnic Party tells the story of little Bunnikin and his brothers and sisters, Loppy, Fluff, Bobtail and Whiskers. Bunnikin decides one day that 'A picnic would be grand!' With their picnic all prepared by Mrs. Bunnikins, the four bunnies hop off to enjoy some fun near the 'shady woodland'.
Bobtail comes running to them when they are wood gathering 'Her excitement was intense: "Robbers, Fluff!" she stammered, breathless, "I could hear them, by the fence!" But brave Fluff finds out it's not robbers but a sleeping Pig!
This pony story tells of a very discontented pony named Merrylegs. Even though having everything a little pony needs - a field to run about in, a kindly farmer owner and farmyard friends Daisy and Squeaker -Merrylegs still begins to feel discontented with his lot in life.
After hearing stories about his great-great-grandfather who had been a great race horse, Merrylegs begins to think that "he was much too well-born to work".
The story continues with a trip with the farmer to the market, where it was 'Fair Day'. Even though still feeling above his work, Merrylegs begins to enjoy the fair day, watching all the comings and goings, hearing the happy music playing and even a Punch and Judy show! It is at the fair day that the little pony finally realizes what it is that he should become in life. He notices a roundabout and to his great surprise, it is not chairs that the children are riding on - but horses - "What horses!". 'These were lordly creatures, with proud, flashing eyes, and wide nostrils. Their long manes and tails floated out behind them, their fore-feet pawed the air, and they had coats of scarlet, with here and there a touch of gold'.
I am afraid I am biased, I LOVE Dr. Seuss' stories. What do I like about them? Mostly the nonsense rhyming as the story is told – sometimes it is very silly e.g Green Eggs and Ham ('Do you like green eggs and ham?' - anyone in their right mind would say no!). Also, the simple, colourful illustrations that accompany each story play as much a part as the text.
The Lorax is story with a moral... The plight of our Earth and the damage we humans can do...
This month's Featured Book is strictly speaking 3 books, but they do come in one slipcase, published by the Folio Society.
The illustrations are by Patrick Leger, who gives all three volumes a fabulous fifties vintage look.
It has been a long while since I have read these books. I probably read them in my early teens and if my memory serves me right, it was my first foray into the world of Science Fiction books.
When I looked at the John Wyndham bibliography, I realised that I must have liked his writing quite a lot as I have read six novels and two books of short stories.
I feel it is important to set any science fiction book into the context of the time the book was written. In this instance, the set of 10 books in the Space Series were written before Man had gone to the moon, although plans, I assume, were in motion. The series was published between 1955 & 1963.
W.E Johns is famous for his Biggles books, of which there are around 100. He did try his hand at other genres including a couple of romance novels, gardening magazines and books. However, it will always be his children's books for which he is remembered including Worrals, Gimlet, and Steeley. Some of my personal favourites are his Space or Science Fiction novels. As with all W.E. Johns’ books, they are good easy reading yet fast paced novels. Unlike some of the Biggles books which can become a bit formulaic, at the end of each Space series book there are unanswered questions which draw you straight into the next book - not so much a cliff-hanger, as in modern television, but more intrigue.
Exploration. Curiosity. Mystery. All of these ideas are often central to a good adventure narrative, and all of them are very much plain in Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea: the tale of a scientist, his manservant and a witty whaler, all three of them captured by a mysteriously glowing vessel beneath the deep and taken forth into a whole new world by the mysterious and captivating Captain Nemo.
20,000 Leagues is considered to be one of Verne's best-known books, along with A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth and Around The World In 80 Days, but since 1979, Verne has been the second most widely-translated author in the world, in between Agatha Christie and William Shakespeare, and he's often named as one of the primary fathers of modern science fiction – Verne has in his writing an incredible penchant for describing a foreign aspect of the world in a way that pulls the reader indescribably.
To describe the contents of this book in just a few words I can't do better than to quote from the front flap of the black and white version of the dustwrapper:
"The Study of lichens is a fascinating subject and in this book the authors have sought to provide an introductory volume for the layman, teacher and student, as well as a handy reference book to the subject. The book fully covers the structure and reproduction of lichens together with the methods of collecting and examining. Also included are explanations of technical terms to help the reader. These terms have been gathered into a glossary for easier reference and there is a key to the identification of the genera.
The Observer's Book of Glass is No. 62 in the series. Written by Mary and Geoffrey Payton, it was first published in 1976, primarily for those with the collecting bug - but is also an easy reference book.
An introductory chapter is included with this book and chronicles the early development of glass. It briefly looks at the influences of differing time periods from ancient Egypt through to 'Roman Glass' and concludes by looking at more modern glass makers, such as Tiffany or Bristol Blue.
Above: the Warne edition (left) and the Bloomsbury edition (right)
For ease of reference, this book has an A-Z of glass, accompanied by 95 half-tone illustrations and eight pages of colour photographs - showing some exquisite examples of glass types and styles.
Being an excellent reference guide to the Insects and Spiders of Britain this book has stood the test of time and been published many times. For a summary of the contents of the book see image left of the wrapper flap from the 1971-75 version of the Wrapper.
There has been 7 Different dust wrappers for this book, whilst the book was published by Warne, who finished publishing the observer's in 1983. You can see some of the different designs below.
To give you a flavour of the content see the images below.
Prices for this observer's vary greatly according to condition and edition for example a reasonable copy of a 1st edition with a dust wrapper will go for something over 20 pounds, whilst the edition with the cyanamids wrapper will cost you between 50-80 pounds. Most other editions will be around or just under the 10 pound mark. (Prices correct 2007)
From the blurb on the front panel of the 1st edition dust wrapper, we get a flavour of what this book tries to cover: "This pocket guide, with its comprehensive Visual Index, contains 270 different illustrations, 125 of which are in colour. It describes the development of English architecture from Saxon times until the present day, and is designed to provide the observer with an adequate background of the development of building, planning and technique through the centuries."
From some of the images you can see how the book is well illustrated with simple colour and b/w illustrations with addition of annotation when it was consider necessary. The book takes us through a journey through history starting with the Buildings of the Medieval Period, including the Pre-Conquest or Saxon period, it ends with the Buildings of the Industrial Era with a chapter each on the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century.
This is one of the most successful of the Observer's Books and probably the title with the most editions for a collector. The book started life entitled 'The Observer Book of Airplanes' written by Joseph Lawrence and was issued with this title in 1942, 1943 & 1945. Interestingly this book was not issued as an Observers Series number until 1949. The 1949 edition saw a number of changes, the most notable being the change in the title from Airplanes to Aircraft. It was allocated the number 11 in the Observer's Series and the authors became William Green and Gerald Pollinger.
From 1955 until 1992 annual editions were published, each having their own cover design. As with the other Observer books, this title went through many forms. The editions between 1979 & 1982 were issued in pictorial boards, not with the usual dust jacket. Between 1983 & 1992 the book was published as a paperback in the New Observer's Series, with a new number N1. The final edition was the only one not to be published by Frederick Warne, being issued by Bloomsbury, returning to a hardback pictorial board format with yet another title change to "The Observer's Book of Airliners."
The original edition of this book was issued with 220 illustrations in both colour and black and white - you can see typical pages illustrated below - which were reproduced in small size from Sowerby's English Botany. Also some of the text from the book was extracted from the popular standard work Wayside and Woodland Blossoms. A good summary of the purpose of this book is provided by the preface to the 1st edition "This little book is intended for the pocket to enable the observer in his wanderings through field and woodland, to study the wonderful variety of wild flowers around him. It is not intended to take the place of the more complete works on the subject, but it is hoped that it will awaken and intensify the interest sufficiently, to all those seers after the beauties of nature..." Each flower, of which there is typically one per page, has its own botanical descriptions and notes of flowering period, habitat and distribution. 1,475,000 copies sold between 1937-1981.
The first edition of Child Whispers was published in 1922 and was issued in orange cardwraps. For the new edition/first edition thus published the following year, the format was changed to a brown, octavo sized hardback with a dustwrapper. Only one other title was published in this same format, namely the first edition of Real Fairies, also in the same year.
As collectors of early Enid Blyton titles will know, copies of these hardback books without a dustwrapper do occasionally turn up on the open market, whereas a copy with a dustwrapper is rarely offered for sale. For this reason it is probably not widely known that there are two different versions of the Child Whispers dustwrapper and that the differences are only found on the rear panel.
Real Fairies is a collection of 33 poems with all but one written specifically for the book. The exception is a poem entitled "Pretending" which was first published in the Punch magazine. There are no illustrations inside the book although the colour wrapper from the first editions and the later card cover black-and-white illustrations are by Phyllis Chase.
The publisher J. Saville & Co. Ltd only published 5 of Blyton's books, all between 1922 & 1924. This includes her first ever book Child Whispers. The other books published by J. Savile & Co. are Responsive Singing Games in 1923, Songs of Gladness, Ten Songs from Child Whispers in 1924. I think perhaps the publisher missed a trick here or did Blyton change her publisher as she had a tendency to do! We will just have to do more research unless somebody can give us the answer, if so please contact us.
Those of you who know us personally will remember that three years ago my husband Cliff and I sold our house, gave away most of our possessions, bought a truck and fifth wheel trailer and became nomads! We have since toured through France, Spain and Portugal and loved every minute of it, which is why this particular book caught my eye – Caravanning and Camping – but in 1933! I wondered how much has changed in the last 80 years since the book was published.
The concept of caravanning as a leisure pastime was unheard of until the Scottish author Gordon Stables, having admired the gipsy wagons in his neighbourhood, embarked on a life as a self-styled Gentleman Gipsy. The two-ton 'Land-Yacht Wanderer', a Pullman carriage drawn by two horses, was designed by Stables and built by the Bristol Waggon company. In 1885 Stables set off on his journeys of 1300 miles taking him around England and finally to Inverness in Scotland. But that's a subject for another article – back to our book of Caravanning and Camping in 1933.
This exquisite book has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. A treasured possession of my late mother from her own childhood, I remember it so vividly: the sheer overwhelming scale of it when you're three years old, the crackle of the spine, oh! the smell of the paper. For many years I remember it being stored in the bottom of my parents' wardrobe, protected from sunlight and daily knocks.
Despite the fact that I had grown up with this book, I knew very little about it apart from the suspicion that it dated from either the late forties or early fifties, and seemed to be quite rare. Certainly, I had never seen another copy until I started work at Stella Books and saw a copy in our Special Book Room. It was then that I discovered that it is quite hard to find original copies that retain their dustjackets, and that the book is much sought by collectors.
Being specialists in children's books, Kenneth Grahame is most well known to us as the author of The Wind in the Willows - with its many editions, illustrated; abridged; old and modern. However, what of Grahame's other works?
We recently acquired a collection of books into stock by Kenneth Grahame, so it was time for me to learn a little more about his other works as well.
Grahame started out by writing essays which were published in magazines such as St. James Gazette, the National Observer and the Yellow Book. A selection of these essays featured a family of orphaned children and their guardians.