Skip to content

Lost Children’s Books



A few years ago I used to tell my children a serial over cereal about Matilda. In the story she was their godmother and owned a little monkey called Chuckles and a magic umbrella, and she’d take the boys on adventures. She was a cross between Isabella Blow and Mary Poppins. She was probably too much like them to be truly original, but it’s always good to have a model when you’re building stories on the fly.

Matilda took the boys lots of places in her magic umbrella – they went to Cairo and to Rome. Chuckles was a little kleptomaniac with a penchant for purple, so he was always getting them into trouble, whipping off with the Pope’s ring and sacred cats in Egyptian temples. The story would always involve some kind of feast because somebody once told me that food was an essential ingredient in children’s stories, kind of like sex was in adult novels.

I found all these pictures the other day when I was searching for a missing disk. I think I had some kind of Ottoline book in mind, or perhaps a comic book for kids, in which I got to indulge all my travel and fabulous clothing fantasies. I even wrote a draft for one of the stories I told. But I never did anything with it. There are all these stories that just slip through my fingers.

The other night I watched The September Issue, about Anna Wintour and her master stylist Grace Coddington. It was fascinating to watch all the glorious images that Grace produced, and then to see Anna come and edit them down, removing what Grace felt were her best shots. Still, after so many years in the industry, Grace was devastated to have her work scratched out like that. And Anna was decisive and unsentimental in her image selection. It was fun to watch Grace construct her sets – she was inventing a fantasy on an epic scale, with photoshoots in Versailles and Rome, $50k a shot. I watched it with great interest, because my novel is a lot about creating stuff and then having to relinquish the things that you’ve made. I’m not very good at letting go. That’s why I’ve dug up these pictures and posted them on the internet. I should learn to throw things away – but obviously even the most successful have trouble doing so.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Caroline permalink
    14/11/2012 7:54 pm

    Gorgeous illustrations, Sarah. I love the magic umbrella (especially as a plane) and Matilda’s outfits are to die for! Great name too … I’m sure my Matilda (6 months) would love those stories, as would my five year old, who’s currently enjoying having Roald Dahl’s version read to her.
    Really enjoying your posts.

    • Sarah Laing permalink
      16/11/2012 9:12 am

      Thank you so much, Caroline! Maybe I will write the book after all 🙂

  2. Lucy permalink
    26/11/2012 4:51 pm

    I would definitely read (and buy!) a book about Matilda and a kleptomaniac boy who stole the Pope’s ring. Go on… please?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: