Long lost treasure discovered in magical University cupboard

A rarely seen collection of letters and illustrations by some of the UK’s most loved authors, including Quentin Blake, has been found at the University of Reading.

gorillaIt holds the responses of nine children’s authors to a letter sent 20 years ago asking for a list of books they would recommend to children marooned on a desert island. Although the authors’ picks are wide-ranging, it’s the iconic Treasure Island by R.L Stevenson that tops the list with three recommendations.

The collection includes beautifully sketched answers from Roald Dahl Illustrator Quentin Blake, Shirley Hughes, as well as the creator of Gorilla Anthony Browne. The collection was found in a store cupboard during the relocation of literature to the University’s new Learning Hub.

In an illustration that echoes her ‘Chips and Jessie’ book, Shirley Hughes picks ‘Dogger’ for her own work.  Her desert island books included ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Fairy Tales of the British Isles’.  Anthony Browne’s Gorilla image says his favourite is Zoo and he’d choose ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘The Mysteries of Harris Bundick’ amongst many others.

Although Quentin Blake doesn’t name his desert island books his illustration offers a fascinating insight. Quentin picks Cockatoos as the favourite book he worked on because ‘it meant I could draw birds (which I like) and also all the things in that old French house (which I also like)’. He also reminds us that ‘picture books aren’t as simple as they look.’

The authors were replying to letters sent by the Reading and Language Information Centre in 1993, to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The letter asks children’s authors across the UK two questions – which work gave you the most pleasure and what novels would you give to an 8, 9, 10 year old child marooned on a desert island? The collection went on display for one day but has not been seen since then.

Karen Goulding, Director of the University’s Learning Hub and who found the collection, said: “It was a wonderful surprise – our own C.S Lewis magical wardrobe moment.  Although we can’t be certain, it’s likely that these letters and illustrations that hold the hand-written musings from some of the UK’s best authors, have only been seen by a handful of people.

“The sketches are beautiful, but what is particularly fascinating is the breadth of all the authors’ choices. It is also interesting to see that some of the books recommended are still highly prized today.  In a recent Guardian article the newspaper asked  top authors and former poets laureate to nominate their favourite children’s books. Neil Gaiman, named  Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In the Willows as one of his ‘classics’-  This novel was  also chosen by Michael Foreman in his handwritten letter in 1993.”

The collection was displayed during the official opening of the Learning Hub. This unique resource gives trainee teachers and schools the tools to provide children with the very best in literacy teaching and development. The University was delighted to welcome best-selling children’s author Ian Beck to the launch.

The University plans to put the collection on public display in the near future.