Small World books evolved when Oxford University Press asked Leila at the end of the 70's or beginning of the 80's, to do a non-fiction school series for under-fives. At that time this was a new idea. She said if she did she would not pick up the questions teachers knew the answers to, but the ones under-fives were asking. (For instance, the only thing under-fives want to know about bees, is "will it sting me?") |
She wrote some samples, based as always on children around her (one of her grandchildren musingly spoke what became the opening of Rainbows, though the other way around - " A banana is like a rainbow, but not so many colours"). In response to the samples, teachers said couldn't Leila make the books more "educational", which caused her to withdraw from the whole idea. However, her original concept was then taken up by another publisher, Methuen.
The eight Small World books were produced as miniature hardbacks, approx 14 x 15 cm, the sort with a glossy cover, not with an additional paper jacket. Each consisted of about a dozen full-colour double-page illustrated spreads, with not more than a couple of sentences overprinted on each illustration.
They present non-fiction in the graphic and verbal language of fiction, for the youngest of readers. They were written by Leila, then possible illustrations were talked about, sketched, and laughed over in Lisa Kopper's studio, then the pictures themselves carried out with her own creative vigour by Lisa (who invented a family with a very large dog).
The eight titles published included: Bees, Blood and Plasters, Cars, Dogs, Ducks, Rainbows, Vacuum Cleaners, and Worms.
When they were published, although they did issue forth from the printers, scarcely any reviewers, shops, libraries, schools, or members of the general public saw them. This was because Methuen, the new publishers, were taken over at exactly this time, with the result that the books were warehoused and ignored by the subsequent owners. Yet every child or adult shown them since, privately, by Leila or Lisa, has been delighted by them.
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