Twin tracks for The Little Train.
has long been a valued friend to the inky trade and now, thanks to search engines and the like, has become a gleefully-adopted companion to aspirants for Higher Education. However – at an uninformed guess – I fancy that few readers of this number of Books for Keeps will also have been readers of the December 2005 issue of Children’s Literature in Education and will thus happily not notice that what follows is pretty much a plagiarism of myself.
My article in 2005
marked the sixtieth anniversary of the signing of a contract by the publisher Eyre and Spottiswoode for a picture book under the title of The Little Train by a hitherto unknown creator of children’s books, Dorothy Craigie. She and her hero, a 2-2-2 locomotive with a big driving-wheel and a tall smoke-stack, were travelling along a well-enough known line behind such predecessors as The Little Engine that Could and Diana Ross’s Little Red Engine – machines with big personalities winning through to success by gallant perseverance.
In this instance
the unnamed Little Train, stationed at Little Snoreing, not far perhaps from the Little Red Engine’s home at Taddlecombe Junction, finds life boring. With a well-stocked boiler , he determines to go for a jaunt, crashes the points on to the main line, and travels through wild lands to the Woosh, Stop, Boomp terrors of High Yelling and Grimbrough. It was an extensive trip for a picture-book hero (you can see a map on the endpapers) and was illustrated à la mode with remarkable gouache drawings, often integrated into the text.
What was not revealed
to lineside spectators however was that the E & S director who signed that 1945 contract was in reality the author of the story itself and, indeed, the lover of its illustrator – a certain Graham Greene. At that time he was, true, approaching the brink of severing his relationship with Dorothy Glover (Craigie’s real name) but by delivering full rights in the book to her he was, in small measure, seeking to compensate her for his future perfidy.
It was not his only gesture of comradeship. The collaboration engendered almost immediately a companion volume, The Little Fire Engine, which was designed in the same format as The Little Train and was also contracted for by E & S. As production proceeded however ‘trooble at mill’ led to the deal being passed on to another, newish, publisher, Max Parrish. He gained permission to advertise for the first time Grahame Greene as author of both the new book and its predecessor and he went on to foster two further Greene/Craigie picture books now designed in a square format: The Little Horse Bus and The Little Steamroller.
They were not up to much,
bearing evidence of hasty construction and composition on the author’s part. Their commercial success nonetheless encouraged Parrish to commission Craigie to redesign the two earlier books to fit the new format thus establishing the four as a ‘set’ until such time as they were overtaken by time and went out of print.
But that is not the end
of the story of the stories. As time passed, Greene shifted his main publisher from Heinemann to The Bodley Head whose owner, Max Reinhardt, besought him to allow a new re-illustrated edition of the four books to appear. This Greene, with a wholesome sensitivity, did not permit until he knew of the death of Dorothy Glover, when her work was superseded by that of an old friend of his, Edward Ardizzone (the books now due for reissue from Random House). The format returned to the more adaptable ‘landscape’ dimensions of the two original books, but Craigie’s slightly reckless style could not help but give way to Diz’s more benign ‘existential continuum’, for all that he tipped his hat to elements in the composition of his predecessor.
By way of a coda
I may also remark that many of Craigie’s original illustrations for The Little Train have now passed to Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books at Newcastle, through a donation by the book collector, the late Gerry Bell. More recently, largely through the generosity of three agencies: the Art Fund, the MLA/V&A Purchase Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries these have been joined there by Ardizzone’s own original watercolours (plus a dummy) – a comfortable siding for the retirement of these puffers in their old age.
Brian Alderson is founder of the Children’s Books History Society and a former Children’s Books Editor for The Times.
The Little Train by Graham Greene with illustrations by Edward Ardizzone is published in a new edition by Jonathan Cape, 978-0857551597, £14.99 hbk.
[Brian Alderson’s article in Children’s Literature in Education also established beyond doubt, what has not yet been acknowledged by Greene’s bibliographers, that the partnership with Craigie extended to include at least three other titles: Summersault’s Circus (1947) ostensibly by Dorothy Craigie and The Voyage of the Luna I (1948) and Dark Atlantis (1953) ostensibly by David Craigie.]