The launch of the Kindle got me thinking about all the things an e-reader can never be. You can't inscribe it to a loved one or press flowers between it's pages. It can never be an object, loved and cherished and passed from person to person, with any history. Your children cannot draw upon the pages and fill it with precious memories. Illustrations look terrible on it, especially art, which needs a grand scale. For these reasons and many more, help me celebrate the real thing: dusty old books!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Seeing London

One of my very favourite children's books is this out-of-print gem by an American called Dale Maxey. A voluminous Red Elephant with roller skates is a symbol for a London bus, and takes a pair of children on a thorough and in-depth tour of our capital city. There are too many pages to show you here. But the disarmingly naive maps (with my infant scribbles) and the whale in the Natural History Museum are typical. I remember vividly my first trip to the big city. Coming from Suffolk it was A Big Event, and although I was only 3 or 4, I still can picture the big Blue Whale. Of course it is still there...and I have seen it many times since... but I remember that first visit and throwing a coin on it's tail from the balcony.

Then there's the museum of London with the Fire Of London panorama, also embedded in my memory and included in the book. As I grew older I would "collect" memories of my visits to the places in this book, which was an ideal souvenir of them, and educational too, with the ornate signs on Lombard Street revealed (are they still there?) and the whispering gallery of St Paul's remembered. It would be hard to reprint this book as I daresay it is hopelessly out of date (but no more so than the fashionably retro This Is London by Miroslav Sasek, recently republished). But I love it for the smoky 1960's Chim-Chim-Charoo atmosphere of a grey London, still with soot and rain and hidden secrets.


  1. Lovely looking book,James. The map is rather like the one in the Scotland Yard board game by Ravensburger and those very 60's style vans at the Planetarium are wonderful.

  2. Hey, these are great illustrations. I remember my first trip to London, on the coach when I was eight. It was almost Christmas and I was so overwhelmed by the lights in trees (which were not fir trees but regular deciduous ones) and the contrast of the huge beautiful buildings and the shabby streets, plus all the different cultures - awesome. It was magical and scary and huge!