What are little boys made of?

Do you have a favorite illustrator? Have you ever thought about it? It’s usually not a completely conscious realization, but there may be a book from your childhood that captivated you, drew you back time and again. For me, it was (and still is) the Dean’s Mother Goose Book of Rhymes.

I used to think it was my Uncle Dean who gave it to me.

I’m not sure who gave me this book or when, but it has been a cherished part of my life for nearly as long as I can remember. My first real memory of this book took place on the way to a family picnic. The ranger at the gate to the state park gave me a sticker, which I promptly stuck on the back of my book.


At least my 4 year old self had the foresight not to plaster my love of Oregon State Parks right onto that adorable little mouse. The book is full of gorgeous illustrations like that: Beautiful animals, graceful people, charming children, detailed period clothing.

Two of my very favorite pages

My copy of this book has been… well-loved. It is missing pages, has a convenient pull-out section in the middle, and half of the binding is gone. The Oregon State Parks sticker has become a rather minor issue. Mr. Gren and I have looked on Amazon or Abe books and were stunned to see used copies of this book going for $100, $200, $250, with a new copy priced at $499! What kind of treasure did I have here on my hands? Of course, I was sure that the illustrations were the attraction, so the other day, I did something I had never done before: I turned to the title page and looked up the illustrator’s name. Turns out there were two: Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone. Do those names mean anything to you? They didn’t to me, either. After a quick search on the Interwebs, I discovered exactly why this book is such a treasure. Without rehashing every brief biography that I was able to find of these two sisters, suffice it to say that they illustrated hundreds of books together, one of the most famous being Dodie Smith’s One Hundred and One Dalmatians. Ah, now it makes sense!

The clothing is so inspiring that I have begun sketching out designs which I hope to translate into actual 3-D clothing. Today, I wanted to do something a little more artistic than making basic line drawings of uninhabited clothes. This morning, I was watching my 20 month old son, Konik, walking around the living room towing a pull-toy hippo behind him. It was so simple and sweet and matched the childish innocence in so many of the Grahame Johnstones’ illustrations, that I knew I wanted to use the book as inspiration to capture that moment. Wouldn’t you know it, on the second nursery rhyme in, there is a picture of a little boy with a pull-toy.

Until I grew up and met some Brits, I never knew “Norwich” and “porridge” could rhyme.

I made some small changes to the original drawing (aside from the fact that the face on my boy turned out differently). It was fun to do. Drawing is kind of relaxing for me, even though I’m hunched over a paper, studying minute details. Here is the progression of my drawing.

First pencil sketch

Color added

Finished. Maybe.

You can see that the color varies wildly from the middle to final picture. My house has the ceilings of a cave and it was a gray Northwest day today, which results in poor and uneven lighting. Even photo editing couldn’t bring out the correct colors. The middle picture probably looks truest to life. Anyways, at some point I will even out the background on the final picture, but I’m happy with it overall. And I’ve got the drawing bug back and will most likely mimic another one of these beautiful illustrations sometime in the near future.

And one of the best things about drawing this little boy and writing this post is the brief search I did for the book as I began in order to verify the outrageous price to obtain another copy of it. Why is that the best? Because I found someone on etsy who was obviously ignorant of the gold that they had and priced it at $9.95. Mr. Gren chanted, “Buy it! Buy it now!” next to me as I scanned the listing to make sure that the book really was intact and the verdict is:

This time next week, I’ll have a new (new to me) copy of my most cherished childhood book, this time with all the pages. Score!

8 thoughts on “What are little boys made of?

  1. Jen:

    You are an inspiration to me! From your post I remember the days of my youth spent pouring over favorite books, such as Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes!

    I loved the stories, the adventure, and the imagination trip to a new land … Somehow that never translated into my adult life of Goals and practical accomplishments. Where did that fun girl go? I hope to find her again one day soon …

    OH and by the way … I didn’t know you were such an artist too!
    Thanks for sharing and congratulations on your find! Tom loves a good treasure hunt such as this! 😉

  2. Hello i use to have this book as well as a child along with the other i still have Dean’s A book of Fairy Tales… Im not sure if it’s the book i’m looking for Does it have the Story of a Girl with a Curl OR what girls and boys are made of???

    • Yes, this one is nursery rhymes. It does have “There was a little girl who had a little curl…” and “What little boys are made of.” I never had the fairytale book; I’d love to see that one someday!

  3. I can not thank you enough for posting these images of this book, because I have been searching for this book and its title for about 30 years. My dad used to read this book to me and my brother when we were very young. Unfortunately, we somehow lost the book early on. The last time I saw it, I was about ten years old. Every couple of years, starting around 1996, I would search the Internet for hours for the pictures I held in my memory. Thanks to you, I finally spotted one, the man in the moon! I couldn’t believe it! I was in awe! These beautifully illustrated images moved me greatly as a child. They flared up the artful flame that burned deep within me. They helped to inspire me to become an artist and illustrator. I was starting to think I would never see them again. Not only have I now seen them again, but I now know the title and the names of the two illustrators. I will soon have to buy a copy. Thank you, thank you!!!

    By the way, nice drawing of the boy!


    • You are so very welcome! I’m so glad I was able to help — without even knowing it! The illustrations really are captivating, aren’t they? All these years later and I still love that book. Best of luck finding your own copy! I found mine on etsy, of all places!

      • Luckily, I found one copy (and only one copy of the edition I had as a child with the plain white canvas cover and gold lettering) for only $30 on Amazon. It, of course, has a little wear and tear. But I don’t mind. I kind of like the idea that it’s a little worn. It means it was actually used and likely read to and by children. All the other copies online, as you already know, cost about a $100 or more. My copy is now on its way. I can’t wait! Thanks again!


      • Wonderful! I’m so glad you found an affordable copy with a little character! It really is a treasure of a book. So yours had a different cover, huh? I wonder how many editions there were. Anyways, I’m so glad you’ll have it in your hands again soon!

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