March 18, 2020

A is for A

        (My theme for this year’s A to Z Blog Challenge is traditional English language nursery rhymes, and their block printed illustrations.)

Great A, little a, bouncing B,
The cat’s in the cupboard and can’t see me.

        I’m starting off this A-Z series with A.  You can’t get any more on-point than that, now, can you?  I’ve also chosen this rhyme to begin with, because my first illustration of it comes from the earliest known book of nursery rhymes (in English), Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book from around 1744.  It’s a tiny book, made small for children, and printed in both black and red ink (but only one color per page.)  Apparently there were two volumes, but no known copies of volume one survive, and there is only a single known copy of this second volume.  Presumably these books were well-loved and easily lost.  And that goes to show how beloved nursery rhymes have been, for centuries.  In the mid-eighteenth century there were very few children’s books for pure entertainment, and many books that include nursery rhymes straddle the line a little, claiming to be educational.  One could argue, I suppose, that this one teaches at least the first
two letters of the alphabet!  As we shall see, however, while some nursery rhymes are moralizing or educational, many are nonsensical or downright subversive.
        I do not claim that I’m offering the best illustrations during this challenge.  Many of the greatest names in children’s illustration have turned their skills to nursery rhymes, and yet I am ignoring most of them.  That’s because this is a blog about block printing, and that’s what you’re going to get.  But I hope there will still be plenty of entertainment - and even some education - along the way.
        The first illustration is actually an engraving (printed intaglio) rather than a relief print, so it sneaks in here by virtue of its special status of “First.”  Besides, it doesn’t even include the cupboard or the cat, so it isn’t doing anything to illustrate the “story”.  The second includes both As, the B, the cupboard and the cat, and proceeds to stick the poor cat’s head in a pot just to make certain that she can’t see, even with the cupboard door open.  In that regard it actually does the best job of including all the elements.  Our third illustration, however, is certainly the most attractive, with its multiple colors and decorative details.  This one is by Walter Crane, who dominated children’s illustration and book design for a generation.  We’ll be seeing plenty more from him over the course of the alphabet.  Note that the ball on the left is marked with a B so that we really can have a bouncing B!
        Do you have fond memories of nursery rhymes and the person or people who shared them with you?
        And a final note for impressionable children: It isn’t nice to shut the cat in the cupboard.
[Pictures: Engraving from Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book (Vol. II), published by Mary Cooper, c 1744 (Image from the British Library);
Wood block print from The Nursery Rhymes, printed by J.L. Marks, 1835 (Image from Internet Archive);
Color wood block print by Walter Crane from Baby’s Own Alphabet, printed by Edmund Evans, c 1874 (Image from Internet Archive).] 


Frédérique said...

You are early in the challenge ;) Pretty pictures, but I agree with your final note ;))

Lisa said...

I love those illustrations! I do have fond memories of my father reading to me. I remember him reading A. A. Milne "When we were Very Young," and actually making me wait until I was 6 to read me "Now we are Six!"

Kristin said...

I do have fond memories of nursery rhymes. I wonder if any of my old books are around here.

Why wouldn't intaglio qualify as a print?

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Kristin, intaglio is definitely a form of printmaking, but it is not *relief* printmaking. The difference is that in intaglio the ink goes into the carved (or engraved) area and the line that is printed is the line that was carved. In relief printing the ink stays on the upper surface and does *not* go down into the carved part, so the line that is printed is the line that was left behind in the carving. This gives the two techniques a somewhat different look, and this blog focuses on relief prints because that's my favorite, and that's the kind I do.

Lisa, your dad was hard-core! =)

Kathe W. said...

Definitely do NOT stick the cat in the cupboard especially with a pot on it's poor head. The CAT will get even! Cheers! Love the last illustration best!

Tasha Duncan-Drake said...

I used to love Nursery Rhymes - however, the first things that always comes into my head these days is Sapphire and Steel Adventure 1 which does haunting things with Nursery Rhymes :). Best of luck with the AtoZ.
Tasha 💖
Virginia's Parlour - The Manor (Adult concepts - nothing explicit on blog)
Tasha's Thinkings - Vampire Drabbles

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

Starting with A, happy to see you in the Challenge again! :) And now I'm wondering if there is a copy of the first volume hiding somewhere in some archive or personal box of papers...

The Multicolored Diary

Frédérique said...

Hi again!Now is the time to A ;)
If you want to join other AtoZ Challengers, feel free to link your A post here: A to Z Challengers Linky Party

Deborah Weber said...

What a fabulous start to the challenge Anne. I'm so looking forward to you taking us through the alphabet on this one. I love the idea of tiny books made small for children, and knowing nursery rhymes have been in existence for so long delights me. I don't actually remember anyone reading any to me as a child, although my grandmother used to recite some. But I came to loving them in adulthood, and when I fell, I fell hard.

Wes said...

What a fantastic site. And a great start to the A-Z challenge. I can't wait to explore the rest of your site!!! - Wes

Kristin said...

I just wondered about the disclaimer for intaglio as print because I'm a print maker too, although I don't do much now, and intaglio was my favorite method.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Tasha, there is definitely a creepy side to nursery rhymes. Agatha Christie used lots of them in her murder mysteries, and all you have to do is have children sing them in a minor key and my son is sure bad things are about to happen!

Zalka, that would be so cool if they found a copy. It's certainly possible that one could turn up someday.

Thanks for stopping by, everyone!

Jade Li said...

Such an enjoyable post. I like learning more info about the prints.

I'm doing A2Z on essential oils at:

The Dream Girl said...

This is such a unique theme!
Looking forward to

A is for Accomplice

Lynnette Forest said...

I love these old prints!

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

Some nursery rhymes are on the darker side, aren't they? Great images :-)

An A-Z of Faerie: Ankou