Month 2: Poet’s view
On our visit at the beginning of March, I had a question for Brian Alderson, concerning W.H. Auden’s favourite children’s book: The English Stuwwelpeter by Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann. I had seen a copy of Auden’s book in an exhibition in America.
I asked Brian if he had ever come across it. He laughed, left the room, and returned carrying a large pile of books. They were all versions of Hoffman’s Struwwelpeter – Brian’s collection of this single book is vast: it includes a German Manuscript version, and one called Struwwelhitler.
Knowing that I had written my PhD thesis on Hughes, Brian produced a book which he thought might interest me – the American edition of Hughes’s first children’s book, Meet My Folks!Published in England in 1961, this edition came out in the US in 1973, published by The Bobbs-Merrill Co. and illustrated by Mila Lazarevich.
The British Library are considering publishing a collection of Brian Alderson’s writings, which will include reviews and essays, but also short ‘think pieces’ as he calls them. This forthcoming collection will be of interest not just to those who study children’s literature, but also to anyone curious about critical writing in general.
In Month two, Brian told us of his days at school when he read Yeats’s The Tower and Last Poems. He remembered being struck by the beautiful bindings, and realising then that he was interested in the physical presentation of books, as well as (and sometimes rather than) their content.
In month two of the project, Brian told us the story of Marjorie Moon. This is a name well known to children’s book collectors, but I had not heard it before, and it sounded wonderful to me, so I wrote it down in my notebook. “Marjorie Moon was a secretary interested in children’s books. She went without lunch to buy a Newbery book.” So begins the tale of a woman who would become a notable book collector. In 1994, Brian Alderson helped to curate an exhibition of her collection, at Oxford.