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A Childhood Mystery Solved

When I was a child, I used to drive my family mad because I always wanted to play one particular game. A Memory Game. It wasn’t because of the game itself, I was the youngest and rarely won, it was the illustrations that were on the cards. As you can see I still have it, 

It must be more than 50 years old. I’d play it today if you asked me…

The style of the illustrations appealed to me, that mid-century style, all about shape, colour and texture that was prevalent in children’s books of the time, especially in the US. I’d wondered ever since who created those images that meant so much to me in my childhood, recently I finally discovered who it was, or rather who they were.

In my never ending quest to buy every book that I want on the planet, I recently bought ‘Animal Fair’. I stumbled upon it as I was doing some research into the Golden Books series which was created as a low cost series for children in America to encourage reading. The book was recommended on a blog I found, it was originally published in 1952, original copies are rare and worth a fortune, but I found a reprint for under a tenner which was irresistible. I’m so glad I did! Imagine my surprise when I turned the page and saw…

the familiar face of my memory game lion. I was ridiculously excited. Further investigation in the book found other friends from the game. The book was written and illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen. I expect you can guess my next move…was there a book about there work? Yes there was and fortunately I had a birthday book token to spend.

So who were Alice and Martin Provesen? Alice was born in Chicago in 1918, Martin two years earlier also in Chicago. They met in 1943 when they were both working as animators, but left animation after the Second World War to work together on children’s books. What’s interesting about their work is that it was a complete collaboration. Unlike Janet and Allan Ahlberg, they didn’t work as separate entities with one of them writing and the other illustrating, they worked on the text and illustrations together. I can’t imagine myself how that was possible, it would have been interesting to see them at work. The book is wonderful, not only packed with their book illustrations, but with images from the many sketchbooks they completed on their travels around the world. 

I’ve found all of my little friends from the memory game in the book, along with so many other inspirational pieces of work. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in that or any other period of illustration. It’s full of humour, colour and exudes their obvious joy in what they created together.

The Art of Alice and Martin Provensen : Hardcover Publisher Chronicle Chroma, 2022:
ISBN 10: 1797209582  ISBN 13: 9781797209586 

Animal Fair : Alice Provensen, Martin Provensen Published by Merrigold Press, 1992
ISBN 10: 0307109968ISBN 13: 9780307109965

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Posted by author: Judy Brown
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