Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 27 Sep 2015

The Margaret Tarrant Story Book

We were out bumbling around the bookshops not too long ago when we stumbled on a 1948 reprint of The Margaret Tarrant Story Book original published the year before in 1947. Although the book wasn't in tip-top condition we were happy to stump up £7.50 for what is a fantastic time capsule - both in terms of the history of children's book illustration and in the way that it depicts childhood in that immediate post-war period.

I think it's probably fair to say that Tarrant, who died in 1959 but really flourished in the inter-war years, would now be seen as rather an old-fashioned illustrator. Her children are certainly romanticised and frequently accompanied by representatives of the Fairy Kingdom but they are also very solid and realistic, middle-class and white. In this respect she was very much a woman of her time and this would certainly have been her target audience. Even though she seems to depict a childhood long gone, it's easy to see that she must have been a significant influence on the work of someone like Shirley Hughes who is still publishing today and whose work also divides opinion.


However, what is undeniable is that Tarrant is a delightful and skilled artist. Her colour palate is immediately arresting and her compositions have the ability to conjour an atmosphere both of nostalgia and contented long summer days. In this story book she has selected work by Marjorie Bowen and Marigold Keeble alongside some traditional tales and so she is working with diverse but quite strong material and her colour plates in particular are perfect to sit alongside an array of less powerful but still pleasurable black and white sketches.



I suspect this book is going to appeal more to the nostalgic adult than it will to modern day children but that in itself isn't a bad thing. The power of book illustration to take us back in an almost Proustian way to our childhoods is something to be valued - perhaps a little more than it currently is.


Terry Potter

September 2015