News - Discovering Children's Books

The British Library brings together 100 treasures from children’s literature for the first time in a new free-to-access website...

Press Release

Launched on last Friday, Discovering Children’s Books explores the history and rich variety of children’s literature, drawing on inspiring material from medieval fables to contemporary picture books.

The site is aimed at primary school children, teachers and lifelong learners and features thoughtful drafts, scribbled notebooks, sketchbooks, story boards and dummy books, revealing the creative processes behind some of the best-loved children’s literature.

Discovering Children’s Books also provides access to some of the earliest printed works created for a young readership and an array of movable, miniature, noisy and toy books, propaganda stories, comics, poems and fairy tales.

The project unites children’s literature collections from four major cultural institutions: the British Library, Seven Stories The National Centre for Children's Books, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford and the V&A.

Highlights include:

Original artwork for Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea (1968), including pages from the author’s sketchbook, showing tigers drawn from life at London zoo, and drawings of her own kitchen table, cooker and cupboards at home. (Seven Stories)

Axel Scheffler’s sketches for The Gruffalo (c. 1999), showing various iterations of the Gruffalo after being told to make the monster less scary. (Axel Scheffler’s personal archive)

Roald Dahl’s drafts and Quentin Blake’s drawings for Matilda, The BFG and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, including a list of ‘Gobblefunk’ words – specially invented by Roald Dahl for the BFG (Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre and Quentin Blake’s personal archive)

The first manuscript of ‘Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’ (c. 1862-64), which would later become Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. (British Library)

John Agard’s poetry notebook, containing a draft of ‘Poetry Jump-Up’ (dated 13.3.85), showcasing the certainty with which he writes, with very few changes and crossings out visible in the notebook. (Seven Stories)

Letters sent from Kenneth Grahame to his son, Alastair (‘Mouse’), containing stories of the adventures of Rat, Mole, Badger and Toad that later turned into The Wind in the Willows (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford)

SF Said’s manuscript drafts of Varjak Paw, showing how the author evolved the story first inspired by watching his own cat's adventures (SF Said’s personal archive)

Liz Pichon’s sketchbooks for the Tom Gates books, featuring one of the original hand-drawn exercise books, created as if Tom is drawing and doodling in his own books. (Liz Pichon’s personal archive)

Enid Blyton’s typescript drafts of The Famous Five (c. 1952) and Last Term at Malory Towers (c. 1951), showing a covering note to the original typescript for Five Go to the Mystery Moor, in which Enid Blyton explains her writing process. (Seven Stories)

Edward Lear’s ‘nonsense’ manuscript (c. 1865), including a handwritten draft of ‘The History of the Seven Families of Lake Pipple-Popple’, a dark comic tale. (British Library)

Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, the first anthology of nursery rhymes (1744). (British Library)
Curiosities in the Tower of London, a miniature book published in 1741 by Thomas Boreman, the first publisher and bookseller to specialize in books for children. (British Library)

Significantly, the resource will offer a bank of creative activities that will encourage children of diverse abilities and interests to get inspired by the primary sources and create their own stories, poems, illustrations, miniature books, graphic novels and more. Through these activities, children might create their own comic; invent a superhero; write a nonsense dictionary; make a pop-up book; develop an imaginary school; create a recipe book or city guide.

The site also includes:

Interviews with authors and illustrators such as Quentin Blake, Julia Donaldson, Michael Rosen, Lauren Child, Andy Stanton, Zanib Mian, Joseph Coelho, Jacqueline Wilson, Viviane Schwarz and SF Said, revealing their creative processes, memories of childhood reading and tips for budding writers and artists

Films showing illustrators at work in their studios, including Axel Scheffler’s masterclass on how to draw a Gruffalo

Articles exploring literature from different times and places, grouped by themes such as fairy tales, changing the world, fear, heroes, magic, journeys, belonging, representation and much more.

Anna Lobbenberg, Lead Producer, Digital Learning Programme, said “Discovering Children’s Books is a unique opportunity to showcase a treasure trove of diverse children’s literature and to open up this area of our collection to new audiences. Created for lifelong learners, teachers and children, the site will inspire and develop creativity, support literacy programmes and empower children by demystifying the way in which books are created. We want children to experiment and gain confidence as storytellers, poets and illustrators, who we hope will become the writers, artists, editors, librarians and book lovers of the future.”

Discovering Children’s Books coincides with the Library’s free, family-friendly exhibition Marvellous and Mischievous: Literature’s Young Rebels (closing 1st March), which showcases the British Library’s vast collection of children’s literature, many of which are now available to explore online.

Images - Sketches for The Gruffalo, 2020 © Axel Scheffler. Photo by Joe Turp.
Sketches for The Gruffalo, 1999 © Axel Scheffler
Clarice Bean original artwork, © Lauren Child
Original Tom Gates notebook © Liz Pichon
Second manuscript draft of Varjak Paw © SF Said
Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, 1744, © British Library Board
Billy and the Beast, © Nadia Shireen, 2019 – Jonathan Cape, Penguin Random House Children’s
The History of the Seven Families of Lake Pipple-Popple from Edward Lear’s ‘nonsense’ manuscript, 1865, © Estate of Edward Lear
The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr Illustrations © Kerr-Kneale Productions Ltd, 1968, image courtesy of Seven Stories
Manuscript of 'Alice's Adventures Under Ground' by Lewis Carroll, 1862–64, © British Library Board
Letter from Kenneth Grahame to his son, Alastair (‘Mouse’) Grahame © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
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