Book Design and Illustration: My Bookhouse Series

My two year old daughter has always been really interested in books (as I’m sure most kids her age are) and so I’ve been thinking a lot about children’s books–specifically, I’ve been thinking a lot about how crappy looking and shoddily constructed most modern children’s books are.  At some point, I’m going to maybe do a full post about specifically about the terrible, terrible binding methods that are employed almost universally with modern children’s books that virtually guarantee that they’ll wind up in the recycling bin in a year or two.  For now, though, I just wanted to post a few images from a beautiful set of books that were just passed on to my daughter from a relative: the My Bookhouse series edited by Olive Beaupre Miller.

We were lucky enough to receive a full six volume set of the original 1920-1922 edition of the series and they’re all in really remarkable shape.  The material is selected to advance as the reader ages.  So the first volume is mostly nursery rhymes and such, but by the final volumes selections are things from Robert Burns, Alfred Tennyson, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, etc. along with myths, legends, mythology and Bible stories.  I imagine it’ll be a while before my daughter’s interested in reading Don Quixote, even the  condensed excerpt here, but in the meantime I’m content to just look through them myself.  Here are a few scans:


This is the beautiful cover image to Volume Five, done by an illustrator I’ve not heard of: M.D. Charleson.  Volume four, though, has an N.C. Wyeth cover.


This gorgeous image appears as the endpapers in the front and back of all six volumes.


What a beautiful title page.  I love computers as much as the next guy, but damn that pre-helvetica hand-done typography is amazing.  I love the way it mixes so many different typefaces and combinations of  upper and lower case letters, yet it all coheres somehow.


Here’s an interior illustration from the Don Quixote section.  The books use a number of different illustrators, but this individual–I believe it’s Donn P. Crane–is my favorite.  What a great image: amazing composition, beautiful draftsmanship, and I love the restrained color palate.


3 pings

  1. Chris S says:

    I love old book designs like this. These are gorgeous, especially the walk-to-the-castle spread.

  2. John says:

    Love N.C. Wyeth. A great sense of adventure narrative in his illustrations, which rank among the best art, IMO. The son is dry, in comparison.

  3. Leslie says:

    Thanks for your post – I love this series of books. I have the set of these from 1971 and I loved them so much as a child. I still love and revisit them today. The illustrations always captivated me and I’m sure I spent hours just looking at them. Probably my love of reading was inspired by this set. I hope your daughter loves them as much as I did and still do.

  4. Ben says:

    @Leslie – I’ve actually priced and considered buying a later edition of the set. I started reading these first editions to my daughter, but they’re so old and in such good shape that I kinda freaked out when I was reading them because the pages were coming unglued from the spine as I read them. It’s great to have these beautiful old editions, but I’m definitely thinking about getting some “reading copies” too!

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