Eleanor Graham, the first editor and creator of the Puffin list died on March 8th, aged 88.
As a bookseller, Eleanor Graham ran the famous Children’s Room at Bumpus from 1927 to 1931. She knew her books inside out and was always ready with advice for parents, librarians, children and writers, who might pop in to see how their books were going. In the 1930’s she wrote a regular children’s book column in the Sunday Times and became known and respected as a reviewer. When Allen Lane invited her to become the editor of `a series of sixpenny paperbacks for children’ she agreed, but only if it was made up of `the best of the new work then being done for children’ and had nothing to do with out-of-copyright classics. A children’s series comparable to the now established Penguins was exactly what Allen Lane had in mind and the bargain was struck. Getting started was not easy: many publishers refused even to consider allowing their books to appear in cheap editions, librarians thought paperbacks were undermining their good works on behalf of `the book’, booksellers didn’t want to sell `wretched paperbacks’ and war-time restrictions meant there was little paper to spare. Nevertheless, in 1941 the first five Puffins appeared – Barbara Euphan Todd’s Wurzel Gummidge, Derek McCulloch’s Cornish Adventures, Mrs Molesworth’s The Cuckoo Clock, Herbert Best’s Garram the Hunter and Will James’ Smoky.
When Eleanor Graham retired in 1961 there were over 120 titles including many that remain today — Eve Garnett’s The Family from One End Street, which was Puffin number seven, King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, which she commissioned specially from Roger Lancelyn Green, A Puffin Book of Verse and A Puffin Quartet of Poets, which she edited and Dorothy Edwards’ My Naughty Little Sister stories, which along with Leila Berg’s Little Pete Stories came to her via Listen with Mother at Methuen where she was also editing children’s books.
The impact that Puffins have had on succeeding generations of children is immeasurable but when we look at the many children’s paperback lists which we take so much for granted we would do well to remember Eleanor Graham’s pioneering spirit and even more her insistence on giving children the very best. In an article she wrote for Signal after receiving the Eleanor Farjeon Award in 1972 for distinguished services to children’s books, she recalled The Puffin Years and revealed how, with Allen Lane’s support she held out against opposition. `There was a good deal of criticism in the Penguin office about the early Puffin selection. It worried me, but not because I doubted my own choice. I was, of course, frequently urged to get some Blyton on our list, but I never did.’