Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Friday, 10 January 2014

Between the Pages

"How do you know that? Have you been there to see? And if you had been there to see, and had seen none, that would not prove that there were none ... And no one has a right to say that no water babies exist till they have seen no water babies existing, which is quite a different thing, mind, from not seeing water babies.

The illustration comes from a copy of a book called The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley. The original owner of the book was my mother, Mary (well-known by now to regular readers), who won it as a Sunday School Prize at the age of nine. My mother was, and still is, a lover of books and reading, and this book was treasured and handed down, first to me, and then to my daughter.


















When I visited my daughter at Christmas I took the familiar volume down from the shelf and many happy memories were revived. The story itself was rather more shadowy, except that I remember reading and re-reading the book, just as I imagine my mother must have done.

 The book possibly fell out of favour largely due to its prejudices, common at the time; however, it seems Kingsley had set out to write it as part satire and part tract against child labour and ill-treatment of the poor, as well as introducing lessons in morality and spirituality with a theme of Christian redemption. I’m sure as child readers we weren’t aware of these underlying themes, just as the book didn’t turn my mother, my daughter or me, into intolerant and racial bigots. We enjoyed the story and the beautiful pictures; in my mother’s case, in an age when reading was the pastime of choice for nine or ten year-olds, and in mine and my daughter’s, long before iPads and Kindles had been invented.
Mum, top right, c1930

This isn’t the place to debate the influence of childen’s literature but as a parent and a teacher I know that many stories, shared with children in the right way, can be used for good. I don’t believe we should shelter children from the real world and a healthy discussion with a caring adult can be part of a chid’s education. I’d like to think that my grandchildren will be able to enjoy The Water Babies too in time. I know that if they do read it and ask questions they will be met with sensible answers which will help them to realise that there is a balance to be struck in all things.



My grandchildren were given two books for Christmas by us; Floella Benjamin’s My Two Grandads, and Jamila Gavin’s Blackberry Blue, a brand new collection of folk tales with black and mixed race rôle models. Yes, there will be some lessons between the pages (love, sacrifice, endurance), but also, I’m hoping they’ll be lost in the ‘spooky, engaging and refreshing’ stories and the ‘atmospheric’ illustrations; everything a good book should have for young children. Shared with a loving adult to both answer and encourage questions, the experience will, I hope, be as joyful as that of the three generations who have enjoyed The Water Babies. I’m looking forward to their response - once they’ve finished Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine, which they’re sharing with Daddy. That’s another book with a lesson, but oh what fun!

The Water Babies can be read online, where many versions of the illustrations can also be seen; the ones I’ve shared with you come from that very copy, now 83 years-old and holding pride of place on my daughter’s shelf; the one between the pages of which we were able to lose ourselves in a world of make-believe and fairyland. My grandfather had written my mother’s name and address inside, so the volume has an added reason to be treasured.


Between the pages of this week’s Sepia Saturday book you’re bound to find some wonderful stories. Why not join us over there? If you have any of your own we’d love to hear them.


22 comments:

  1. Beautiful illustrations certainly make the book appealing even 80+ years later.

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  2. I really love illustrations of this period. I think it's partly because they were taught to draw properly in those days, so I don't have to be griping away at rubbishy drawing. I think it's because there was a love of fantasy and fairyland as bright places for children to inhabit. I'm always sorry that "fantasy" has become hijacked by monsters and space ships. I'm not surprised the book is treasured. Lovely post.

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  3. I've been looking at old childhood books lately and it struck me then how different illustrations from my childhood differ from those of today. I'm not sure which I prefer -each is lovely in it's own way. Beautiful images from The Water Babies.

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  4. Hello Lanzarote, this is Holland calling. No Water Babies here I'm afraid but the style of the drawings looks familiar. I'm trying to remember a Dutch title from the 40/50's to refer to but so far in vain.
    Anyway, your illustrations trigger fond memories.

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  5. I love illustrations from that era, these have an aspect of menace but I like the pastel shades. I too inherited a Water Babies but it had black and white drawings and despite being a voracious reader as a child it was one of the rare books I couldn't get into although I could endlessly look at the illustrations.

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  6. I seem to recall something about Water Babies, but the pictures I vaguely remember seeing as a little girl had babies growing on bushes or in reeds in the water. Maybe I'm remembering something different? I went online to check out the Water Babies stories & none seemed familiar. But the illustrations back then were more realistic in a pretty fairy-world sort of way than today's more simple modern comic book style.

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  7. What a wonderful treasure, to have handed down with love, Nell. Is there anything finer for a child, than being able to step into a book and, grasped by the words, get whisked away on a beautiful adventure?

    As ever, a really enjoyable post.

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  8. A lovely tale of the pleasures we get down the generations from our favorite books. I can still recall the illustrations in an edition of "Little Women" which I read and wept over. My mother had an old 1899 edition of "Pride and Prejudice" which had bene her mother's (though unfortunate no conscription inside) , bu it had delicate line drawings, protected by flimsy tissue paer, so you had to be very careful turning these pages. Thank you for bringing back memories. .

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  9. To me, that book seems more appealing to an adult. As a child, I think I would have been frightened by naked babies under water.

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  10. I remember Water Babies -- I was totally shocked (SHOCKED, I tell you!) by the naked children.

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  11. How wonderful that these books have been passed down to 4 generations of your family. I have never heard of these books before, but am interested in taking a look at them now. I agree with you about reading stories to children from the old days. Right now I am reading chapter books to my 3 and 4 year olds after nap. I began Little House on the Prairie, but left it for Ramona the Pest. It is the one where she begins kindergarten and we are all very interested in her exploits. The language used is remarkable in that there are lots of descriptive action words and no short cuts. I'm just going to keep going on this project.

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  12. Thanks for sharing a magical story which somehow I'd missed. Now I'll have to chase Water Babies down. I do love those illustrations. This is one of those posts that I can do follow-up from.

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  13. I remember having a copy of "Water Babies" when I was a child but I don't remember ever reading it. We looked at the photos and I must admit I wasn't at all shocked at the nude underwater babies.

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  14. I'd never heard of this book before. At Wiki I read that this 19th century book was written a.o. in support of Darwin's theories, which are still being questioned by many people in the 21st century...

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  15. I don't have any recollection of Water Babies as a child reader either. Off to check it out!

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  16. I don't have any recollection of Water Babies as a child reader either. Off to check it out!

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  17. Children need fantasy stories, this one is beautiful and for you and your family a treasure. When I was a child I read mainly German stories, many I recommended to my children, we all loved the Grimm Märchen or HansChristian Andersen's fairytales. I mean the Grimm Märchen were very robust, and we were too! The bad witch had to be burned, that is so bad; despite these stories we grew up to be compassionate to humans and animals alike.

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  18. As much as the electronic industry increasingly markets tablets,smart phones, and computers for young people, it is imagination and books that really teach reading. I don't think modern media can match illustrations like this.

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  19. Finally, (after internet issues) I was able to read your amazing post about one of our dearest friends, books. It's such a shame when books fall out of favor as you mention or even banned, especially when they have so much to offer. One book I own that is dear to me, The Giving Tree (a book I'm sure you know of) has it's woes as well.

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  20. I must confess that I have never read The Water Babies, but I was very much taken by the illustration featuring Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid, who sounds like my kind of character. I am a bit out of date, but I get a feeling that books still play an important part in the lives of many young people and have done quite well co-existing with computers and video games. Long may they thrive.

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  21. I don't remember The Water Babies either but these illustrations are especially beautiful. As a result of this week's prompt I am checking out many of the older books we have including, for example, Children of The New Forest by Capt. Marryat - no illustrations though.

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  22. I've never read The Water Babies, but a friend of mine has a vintage volume of the book which she keeps thinking she will sell on Amazon. But everytime I go to her house, it's still there. I don't think she really wants to part with it no matter how much it's worth. And yours is even worth more because of the inscription.
    Nancy
    Ladies of the Grove

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