– Noel Carrington and the Puffin picture books
By Joe Pearson
Published by Penguin Collectors Society; Limited Edition (2010) 095583953X
Review by Derek Brazell
Although many readers will be drawn into this book through an interest in the Puffin Picture Books artwork, it examines the rise of these children’s books through publisher Noel Carrington and those he commissioned and worked with to create the Puffin Books. The series included self-education books as well as the enduring Orlando stories.
The influences behind the books, especially coveted Soviet and French titles from the 1930s, are presented as the precursors to the Puffins, and looking at the reproductions from these bold, graphic artworks, it’s easy to see the appeal of this new approach to publishers in the UK.
The thorough text goes into great detail, covering the trials of publishing during wartime, printing issues and the debates on how certain titles should be approached. Carrington brought a passion for children’s books to his role, keen to expand children’s understanding of how everything around them functioned and worked. Many of the Puffins were documenting a way of life that was changing at the time (farming, transport, architecture – e.g. new uses for concrete), and although the images can now hold a nostalgic appeal to modern readers, the text gives a sense of how this artwork was received in its time.
There are clearly so many images which the author wanted to show, that many are fairly small on the page, and one wishes for larger reproductions for many of them. However, the strength of the artwork means that even at a limited size, there is much to enjoy. Many of the illustrators commissioned for the Puffin Picture books are covered, with analysis of their work, discussion on their relationship with Carrington, and also some comment on the fees they received. Drawn Direct to the Plate is a publication that should fascinate those interested and practising in children’s’ books, offering a significant slice of British picture book history in a wider context.
The Penguin Collectors Society study twentieth-century book design, particularly Penguin Books, and help to preserve and conserve Penguin Books and material relating to Penguin.
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