Shirley Hughes, Clara Vulliamy, and Childhood

Shirley Hughes’ illustrations were so all-pervasive in my childhood that I only noticed they were hers as an adult. As a child, the books just were. And they were wonderful. My favourite picture book forever is Dogger, which is very obviously Shirley Hughes, but it’s all the other favourites that I didn’t notice that probably had a deeper effect.

As part of the Oxford Children’s Book Group I got to visit a children’s book collector’s house earlier this year. Entire rooms filled floor to ceiling with books from the last hundred years. I could happily have spent weeks browsing the shelves, but we had only a couple of hours and in that time I caught sight of a few books from my childhood that I’d previously forgotten. One was a hardback with a very distinctive orange colour:
Flutes and Cymbals

A collection of poetry called Flutes and Cymbals. I loved the snippets of words, but the illustrations were the main attraction. “Illustrated by SHIRLEY HUGHES” the cover proclaims, in capitals no less. It’s now on my wish list of second-hand books to collect.

A series of books that I remembered from my childhood and re-bought were the “Stories for [X] Year Olds” collected by Sara & Stephen Corran. Again, it wasn’t until I looked for the books that I saw the illustrator: Shirley Hughes. I devoured these books when I was young. I think the ages on the covers appealed to me because I was reading “Stories for Nine-Year-Olds” aged six, having gone through the series from five-year-olds in sequence!

Stories for [..] Year Olds

Fast forward to adulthood and having my own children and I’m embarrassed to say that Shirley Hughes wasn’t on the top of my list of authors to buy. It’s only since browsing and re-remembering childhood favourites that I’ve realised how she was always there for me, in my comfort reads. I only discovered Alfie as an adult, and “Annie Rose Is My Little Sister” brought me to tears. Sniffles. She’s now always there for my daughters, and they are smitten.

Almost two years ago, I discovered a new-to-me author / illustrator via the wonder of Twitter. She was such a friendly lady, chatty and full of joy. Her blog was full of gorgeous illustrations, so I bought The Bear With Sticky Paws… And found not only a wonderful talent but books that my daughters asked to be read again, and again, and again. Books that I loved to read, stories that held interest and were a joy. I also found a truly lovely person.

And because I’m somewhat slow (and because it didn’t make a jot of difference to talent and lovliness), it was a little while before I realised that Clara Vulliamy also happened to have an extremely well-known mother! Mother and daughter’s books are now entwined for me as the perfect accompaniment to any childhood. Each new Clara Vulliamy book gets gasps of delight in this household, and my daughters may be unique in referring to Shirley Hughes’ books as “Clara’s mummy’s books” 🙂

This year, something wonderful happened in the world of children’s literature. Shirley Hughes and Clara Vulliamy collaborated on a book. Not just one book, but the start of a series. Neither a picture book or a chapter book, but a wonderful highly-illustrated hybrid perfect for early readers to tackle as well as perfect for reading aloud. Enter Dixie O’Day, and the exciting childhood…

Dixie O'Day: In The Fast Lane: Shirley Hughes & Clara Vulliamy (Bodley Head, 2013)

3 responses to “Shirley Hughes, Clara Vulliamy, and Childhood

  1. We get ‘Clara’s Mummy’s books’ too! And like you, I often go through my childhood books and marvel at just how many were illustrated by Shirley Hughes. It always feels a bit like coming across buried treasure.
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  2. I had no idea until very recently that Shirley Hughes was the illustrator of the My Naughty Little Sister stories which I loved as a child. One of our most recent purchases is The Big Alfie and Annie Rose Storybook, it’s lovely when a new generation enjoys the stories that we did as children 🙂
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