Are you from the Janet and John generation?
Or were your first reading friends Peter and Jane?
Maybe you were helped on the road to literacy by Mrs Blue Hat (or bloody Mrs Blue Hat as she was known to many of the teachers of my acquaintance who had to share their classrooms with her everyday). Or the dreaded Biff, Chip and Kipper!
I’m from the J&J years but we also had Beacon Readers at school. Kitty, Rover and Old Dog Tom are still lurking in the cobwebs of my memory somewhere.
However, at home I had a series of early readers called Simple Reading Steps.
These books were lovely. They had bright orangey-red, paper covers; not much more than pamphlets really but they were wonderful.
The books featured a different fairy in each tale and I loved them all.
I don’t have the books any more but I’ve found a few examples. This is from “The Goblin and his Cap”.
There were twelve books in the orange series and I had my own copy of about half of them. The others were borrowed from the public library. One of the stand-out titles was Lob-a-Gob, the name of one of the goblins. Googling the title didn’t tell me any more about that particular book but I learned some new urban slang!
Even though I was enjoying the Simple Steps books in the 1950s, they were originally published in 1931.
I found this in the British Newspaper Archive. It’s from a new books review in the Aberdeen Press and Journal of Wednesday 27 May 1931.
The reason I enjoyed the books so much is really simple.
In addition to the charming stories written by Eila Mackenzie, the illustrations were by the renowned children’s book artist Margaret Tarrant. That’s a well known name to everyone who believes in fairies!
Born in Battersea, south London, Margaret Winifred Tarrant (1888 – 1959) began her career as an illustrator at the age of 20. Her parents were Percy and Sarah Tarrant. Percy Tarrant was an artist who specialised in landscapes. Margaret studied initially at the Clapham School of Art before enrolling at Heatherley’s School of Art, in Newman Street, London. Founded in 1845, Heatherley’s was one of the oldest independent art schools in London. Alumni included Burne Jones, Rossetti, Millais and Sickert.
The illustrations for an edition of Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies launched Margaret’s career and she helped to popularise fairies in a long-running series of themed titles such as The Forest Fairies, The Pond Fairies, and The Twilight Fairies.
By 1911 Margaret had moved with her parents to live in Guildford, first at Gomshall and later at Peaslake. Following the death of her parents in 1934, Margaret attended the Guildford School of Art. She continued to paint throughout her life and her illustrations were published into the early 1950s. They still have huge appeal today.
The author of the Simple Reading Steps stories, Eila Mackenzie, seems to be lost in oblivion and I can’t find out anything about her at all. However, I have found that other authors and illustrators were involved with the Simple Reading Steps series. These had blue covers (the books, not the writers and illustrators) but I don’t recall ever reading any of those as a child.
I wish I’d saved my copies of these charming little tales. They’re selling on rare book sites for about a tenner and could have become heirlooms!
Thanks for reading my blog today.
You might also like this blogpost: Two of My Favourite Childhood Books or even Cabbage and Semolina: Memories of a 1950s Childhood.
Have a good day!