It's difficult to imagine our favorite childhood books without the artwork that originally embellished, enhanced, and elevated the stories.
Remember Beth and Joe Krush's wonderfully-detailed illustrations for Mary Norton's books about the Borrowers?
Recently I was intrigued to learn that the Krushes were not the first illustrators to draw the little people -- Arrietty, Pod, and Homily -- who live beneath a grandfather clock and "borrow" from the "human beans" residing in the house above. When the British edition of THE BORROWERS was originally published in 1952, the art was created by Diana Stanley. Editor Margaret McElderry, then working at Harcourt, purchased the U.S. rights to the book and released it the following year, with new illustrations by Joe and Beth Krush. They were paid a flat fee of $500 for their contribution.
Here are the dustjackets of that first title, with the British edition on the left and the American on the right:
The subsequent volumes in the series were released during the same calendar year in both England and the U.S., though Stanley always did the British illustrations and Beth and Joe Krush the American. Here's 1955's THE BORROWERS AFIELD:
And THE BORROWERS AFLOAT from 1959:
1961 brought THE BORROWERS ALOFT:
POOR STAINLESS was first published as a tale in THE ELEANOR FARJEON BOOK (London: Hamilton, 1966) but later released as a short (less than 32 pages) book in England (with illustrations by Diana Stanley) and the U.S. (with illustrations by Beth and Joe Krush) in 1971. I only have a picture of the American edition to share:
The final volume in the series was THE BORROWERS AVENGED, which was published in 1982. By this point the Krushes had worked their way up to a $5000 flat fee for illutrating the book.
It's fascinating to compare the illustrations from the different editions of these books. Here are two dining scenes, presented side by side. It appears to me that Ms. Stanley's work has more of a "fine art" style, while Mr. And Mrs. Krush are working more in a "line drawing" mode.
This scene from THE BORROWERS AFLOAT presents very similar compositions, though only the Krushes include the Borrowers cowering in the foreground:
Occasionally the Krushes give us an ambitious double-page spread, brimming with content and character:
Incidentally, people often wonder how two artists -- even those as closely linked as husband-and-wife -- could create single illustrations. Beth Krush, who died a few months ago at age ninety, once explained, "When we work together we usually pick the incidents and talk over the staging together, then Joe does the first composition and perspective sketch. Then I rework that, adding my ideas and looking up costumes, interiors, plants, animals, and people. Most often Joe does the final rendering in his own decorative line."
Comparing the British and American illustrations, I notice that Diana Stanley's work often emphasizes the tiny size of the Clock family, while the Krushes frequently shift perspective to have them looking full-sized within their environment. In THE BORROWERS AFIELD, Stanley shows us the characters running toward the woods:
while the Krushes show their actual arrival in the woods:
Personally, I prefer the latter type of illustration, which reveals the almost Dickensian characterizations of Pod, Homily, and Arrietty, as well as some evocative details about their period clothing and individualized belongings. In comparsion, Ms. Stanley makes the borrowers somewhat more generic.
But which version did author Mary Norton prefer?
Beth Krush revealed, "When our BORROWERS work was ending, Norton sent a single letter saying she liked our drawings but some things in them were a little too fancy for Homily to make. If Norton had told us earlier, we would have gladly arranged changes."
How odd that Ms. Norton waited thirty years before voicing an opinion.
Can't you just hear the Krushes saying, "NOW she tells us?"
But, personally, I am just as glad she waited.
I can't imagine these books without the Krush illustrations. They make Arriety, Pod, and Homily come alive through expression and detail.
Of course part of the reason I'm so fond of this artwork may simply be because I'm familiar with Beth and Joe Krush (their work highlighted so many books of my youth, including Elizabeth Enright's GONE-AWAY LAKE)...or because their illustration style is somehow more appealing to my own American tastes.
Probably right now, on the other side of the Atlantic, a British blogger is writing a piece about THE BORROWERS, explaining why he prefers Diana Stanley's work.
After all, whether you're American or English: it's difficult to imagine our favorite childhood books without the artwork that originally embellished, enhanced, and elevated the stories.