Suffragette: the battle for equality by David Roberts

I’m fascinated by the early part of the twentieth century; it was such a turbulent time in British history.  The First World War aside, one of the most significant features of that period was the campaign for votes for women.  By the outbreak of war only New Zealand, Finland and Norway had universal suffrage.  By the end of 1918 another eight countries had joined them.  The United Kingdom was one of another handful that had moved some way towards electoral equality but it would be another ten years before men and women had equal voting rights.  By then we were lagging way behind Sweden, Albania and Mongolia amongst others.

Nowadays the campaign for votes for women in this country is largely synonymous in the popular consciousness with the so-called Suffragettes.  Fronted by Emmeline Pankhurst and her eldest daughter Christabel, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) became noted for its acts of violence in pursuit of its aims.  But there is a much deeper history to tell.

And, in this excellent book, David Roberts tells it.  Beginning with an overview of the situation up to 1903, he then focuses on the newly formed WSPU and details the key events of the militants’ campaign, as well as their contribution to British society at war, concluding with universal suffrage in 1928 .  The book ends with an overview of the international perspective.

Inevitably Roberts uses pictures along with his words and together they provide an excellent introduction to the subject for younger readers.  It is not, however, simplistic even though it is accessible.  An adult reader looking for an overview of the subject would find it here.  The illustrations are vibrant and dynamic, designed to capture interest at the same time as educating.

The book is a desirable item in its own right.  Two Hoots has packaged David Roberts’ work attractively and sympathetically, frequently including full-page illustrations alongside smaller details giving the book an expansive feel. It’s a book that I expect to dip into time and again and I am sure that any young teenager fortunate enough to acquire a copy would feel the same.

Stylish Fairy Tales

Although I know more now than I did fifteen years ago, I still don’t consider myself to be any kind of expert on illustrated fiction. However, from being someone who was fairly ambivalent about it, I have become a bit of an enthusiast.  Not being an artist by any stretch of the imagination I don’t really have the technical knowledge or vocabulary to describe illustration particularly eloquently.  But, in that well-worn saying, I do know what I like!

One of the things I’m enjoying just now is a series of books by David Roberts and Lynn Roberts-Maloney published by Pavilion Children’s Books. The books play around with fairytales, setting them in different periods and subtly altering their messages.  I’ve blogged elsewhere about Cinderella and today another two floated across my desk.

Sleeping Beauty (subtitled A mid-century fairy tale) brings the setting fairly up to date – and beyond.  Annabel, aka Aurora, lives with two aunts and has been cursed by a spiteful witch.  Clever Aunt Flora modifies the wicked Morwenna’s spell although she can only diminish its power.  If Annabel pricks her finger before her 16th birthday she will sleep for one thousand years.

For Little Red, the duo has gone back in time and across the Atlantic to pioneer America at the end of the eighteenth century.  Unlike most versions of Little Red Riding Hood, the main character is a boy but the wolf and Grandma are still there.  This one is subtitled A howlingly good fairy tale with a twist and it very much does what it says on the tin.

What I love about the illustrations in these books is the detail, not just the attention to it but also the amount of it there is. The clothes and hairstyles in both books are particularly wonderful.  I especially love the 1950s styles of the first part of Sleeping Beauty.  Morwenna stands out from all the other guests at Annabel’s christening by dint of her dress and Annabel’s teenage ponytail proclaims her vintage.  Equally evocative are the pictures in Little Red with their stylised fashions voluptuously fixing the story in the eighteenth century.

Look out for both of these as well as Rapunzel, a groovy 1970s fairy tale and the aforementioned Cinderella in art deco design.

Some New Looks at Old Ideas

I came quite late to picture books as a professional but now that I’m there I can’t get enough of the best of them.  Here are three that are standing out for me currently.

Many years ago I had a much-treasured copy of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.  I love the beautiful underground world where the sisters danced in secret away from the confines of the palace, and the little hint of mystery.  This new version by Alison Jay and published by Templar is gorgeous.  Her crackle-glazed style with sumptuous colours and dynamic characters draws the reader in to the princesses’ private world.  I particularly like the forest and lake scenes which contrast so well with the lighted ballroom.  This is just as much a treasure as my well-loved and read older copy.

Princess Eliza is clever, busy, kind and lonely. She needs a friend but few people make it to her snow-bound kingdom.  One day she ventures out alone into the forest where, instead of the bears she’d expected to meet, she finds a reindeer who carries her off to meet his friends.  Told in verse, this is a joyful story with sly allusions to other fairy tales, and the illustrations bring to life a Nordic winter.  In The Princess and the Christmas Rescue from Nosy Crow, Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton have created a modern take on an age-old story of friendship.

Cinderella: an art deco fairy tale published by Pavilion is a retelling of the well-known story by Lynn Roberts-Maloney illustrated by David Roberts. The text gives the tale a gentler feel and makes the stepmother and stepsisters less horrific but still self-centred, demanding and dismissive of Cinderella.  The illustrations set the story very firmly in the 1930s and are full of art deco style from the hairstyles to the shoes and the pictures on the walls.  The attention to detail makes this a fabulous book to view and the tightly-written story is laced with an undercurrent of dry humour.