Vanessa Thorpe wrote recently at the Guardian about some old nursery tales that are finding a new audience.
“Old-fashioned language and quaint illustrations are part of the ageless appeal of a classic children’s book, so stop modernising them: this is a growing plea from the parents of young readers – and it seems publishers are beginning to listen.
“[A September 2016] decision to turn back to the original look and vocabulary of the Famous Five books by Enid Blyton has opened the door for another classic children’s author, a forgotten star of storytelling, to be republished, as written, this autumn. Convinced that the best stories stand the test of time, editors at Pikku Books are to bring out original versions of stories by writer Elizabeth Clark, once a familiar sight on nursery bookshelves.
“ ‘There’s always going to be a market there for an elegant turn of phrase and a beautifully crafted story,’ said Elena Sapsford, founder of Pikku. ‘As a child, there are a few well-known classics you work your way through, but it is quite obvious there must have been more good writing going on, and often things are out of print just because copyright contracts have been lost.’
“Clark was a Winchester vicar’s eldest daughter, born in 1875. She found her vocation telling stories to the children in her village and began to teach others, moving to London and becoming a lecturer at teachers’ training colleges as well as the author of a series of successful children’s books, often illustrated by the acclaimed Nina Brisley.
“Clark’s stories, including ‘Dobbin and the Silver Shoes’ and ‘The Cat that Climbed the Christmas Tree,’ were often drawn from foreign folklore and legend and many were broadcast on the BBC’s Children’s Hour radio show in the 1920s. Sapsford came across the writer when secondhand editions were given to her family, and she then set about tracking down the Clark literary estate.
“ ”You have to become a detective because there was a lot of poor record-keeping in many publishing companies and I had to dig quite deep,’ she said. ‘I really don’t think they need any change of vocabulary.
People are looking for something fresh but we tend to forget that for young children everything is new.
Children do seem to like the flowery language. My three-year-old granddaughter, for example, is a fan of the way Beatrix Potter tells the story of Peter Rabbit and can fill in the blanks when an adult reads the book to her. I myself like that explaining a word can lead to an interesting discussion or tangent.
Reprint from the Talkative Sparrow & Other Stories, by Elizabeth Clark