Images and imagination

Hokitika Kiwi by my son's friend at Sloefox Fine Art

Hokitika Kiwi by my son’s friend at Sloefox Fine Art

The first thought that sprang to mind when I saw work created recently by a young lady who is a friend of my son was that were I to write the children’s book that is wandering round my mind, I think she would make a perfect illustrator. There is a quality to her work with a fineliner that took me straight back to the books of my childhood… even though reading them may not be so far away as you might expect.

I still read children’s books. I make no bones about that, nor any apology. There is a simplicity and clarity in the way the stories are woven, often barely hiding the underlying message; sometimes disguising it so well that it is only as an adult that you realise what you had been reading all those years ago. In fact, I would agree with C.S.Lewis, the creator of Narnia, that, once beyond picture books, ‘a children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.’

Stig of the Dump by Clive King. illustration by Edward Ardizzone © Puffin Books

Stig of the Dump by Clive King. illustration by Edward Ardizzone © Puffin Books

I’ll be honest, most of the children’s books I read are the old favourites. Worlds that were woven in my childhood still wait for me through the wardrobe or between the Beltane fires. Their familiar landscapes are home to my imagination, the characters I have loved so long are friends, teachers and the companions of my child-self.

Most of the books I read as a child had an element of magic to them. I was never one for the Famous Five type of thing, with lemonade and sandwiches to finish. No, for me it began early with the Magic Faraway Tree and the adventures of the Wishing Chair… which inevitably led on to Wonderland and the Looking Glass, via the Land of Green Ginger and meeting Stig of the Dump. And Narnia. Always Narnia. But then, that wasn’t just a place in a book… it was Real.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: Illustrations by EH Shepard

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: Illustrations by EH Shepard

What do I mean ‘was’… it is real for me, and always will be, as long as my name is both Susan and Lucy… my mother’s nickname for me…and for just as long I will seek to bury my face in the Lion’s mane with love… even though ’he’s not a tame lion.’

Many of my childhood books are still in my keeping. It is probably no surprise that they snuggle cover to cover with fantasy on my shelves; the evolution was a natural one and works of fantasy bear much in common with children’s stories. The best ones still share a deeper meaning with the reader and teach through imagination… something we have adopted for the Silent Eye too, oddly enough.

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S.Lewis; Illustration Pauline Baynes

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S.Lewis; Illustration Pauline Baynes

Dog-eared, well thumbed, some of those childhood favourites are decorated with my first, childish scrawl and early illustrations… even if I now have no idea what they were supposed to be. The majority of those books were properly illustrated too, in addition to my own infantile efforts. There will never be another image of Aslan for me than the one on Pauline Baynes’ cover for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. But the covers were only half the story, so to speak.

Inside these books were line drawings, pen and ink illustrations of the characters and action… and many I recall even today though the story itself may have faded. From the slightly sinister illustrations from Down the Snow Stairs, to the simple style of Dorothy M. Wheeler, via the magic of the illustrators whose names I did not know back then has stayed with me for a lifetime, shaping both memory and the landscape of my own imagination. They are, more often than not, the unsung heroes of the children’s book.

Gordon Browne, Down the Snow Stairs, Alice Corkran

Down the Snow Stairs, Alice Corkran. Illustration by Gordon Browne

Yet even as an adult, the illustrations… rare in books intended for such lofty beings as grown-ups… still matter. Perhaps that is why almost all our books have images.. and why we ventured into the graphic novel with Mister Fox. Whether it be marvelling at Blake or Gustave Dore’s illustrations… or whether I am simply revisiting the bookshelves and finding once more the images created by such as E.H. Sheppard, Ronald Searle and Edward Ardizzone, there is something very special about those simple images that makes the magic happen and turns back the clock until the heart is as light as that clear, clean heart of a child once more.

The Thirteen Clocks and the Wonderful O by James Thurber. Illustrations by Ronald Searle

The Thirteen Clocks and the Wonderful O by James Thurber. Illustrations by Ronald Searle

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
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35 Responses to Images and imagination

  1. Sadje says:

    How absolutely right you are! The love of reading I developed as a child was due to these wonderful books. And the love is still there.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. TanGental says:

    Illustrations really do enhance and resonate, don’t they? I was the opposite really the grounded child, but still pursuing Pooh and Paddington and Searle in the Molesworth books . Ah happy days.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jenanita01 says:

    That early magic never leaves us, I am delighted to discover…


  4. V.M.Sang says:

    I, too, still llove children’s books and fondly remember The Faraway Tree and others you mention. Like you, they led me to a love of adult fantasy. And how I remember those wonderful pictures that brought the stories to life.
    Sadly, though, there are people who still class all fantasy as children’s stories.


  5. memadtwo says:

    That is indeed a magical kiwi. I think the images from our favorite books are always entwined with the words. (K)


  6. Darlene says:

    I consider the books I read as a child, old friends. I still have many of mine as well.


  7. Eliza Waters says:

    Our weekly trip to the library was one of the highlights of my week as a child. Such a rich world I found there. My favorites I would take out again and again. As an adult, I sought them out in used book stores and sales, a few were reprints. When my boys grew up, there were many favorites among theirs that I held onto, not able to part with them. Opening their covers, I am transported back in time, with a warm, freshly-bathed child snuggled in his bed beside me, exploring worlds within those covers– oh, how fine a memory that is!


  8. My Uncle Jack was a lithographer and his small publishing company produced the most amazing children’s books. I was almost afraid to open them lest I get them dirty or damaged. The all had illustrations a lot like these.

    I think pretty much all the books I read — not counting books about dogs and horses — were magical. When I became a teenager, I started reading classics, though at the time they were just books. I didn’t know they were classics until I got to college.

    I always thought the Narnia books were a pretty good introduction to Christianity without ever mentioning religion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I always loved the illustrated ones…and still have many of them, plus quite a few acquired in later years.

      As to Narnia, they were read to me so early on, by people whose take on religious beliefs were so wide, it didn’t occur to me until I was old enough to read them for myself that Aslan and the values that were being taught were anything to do with religion. But I agree, they give a good grounding an a faith that came from the heart of their writer.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Jemima Pett says:

    You probably know that I love illustrations. I too was drawn into books as much by the words and what they did to my imagination as the illustrations. Thanks for sharing these ones.
    And there are so many talented young artists out there – my niece’s daughter being one of them! We’re lucky to have such talent close at hand 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jennie says:

    Spot on, Sue. It’s the illustrations that bring the words to life and stick with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Jack Eason says:

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    Sue remembers her favourite books of yesteryear

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I agree Sue. And still love childhood books and their accompanying images. Perhaps that is why I asked artist Carolina Russo to create two amazing images for my first book. It’s interesting to see how she painted two of my much loved characters: Esme the girl trapped in the mirror and the creature Eruterac, caretaker of the magical crystal cottage. I was thrilled with her interpretation from my descriptions and passages from the book.


  13. mickjscott says:

    Great thoughts. Ronald Dahl and Quentin Blake the dream combination for me. I’ve just started writing picture books for my grand children. The freedom it allows in both words and pictures is probably the most liberating experience I have had making art. I would recommend that you get that book started! Happy New Year.


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