March 28, 2016

Small World series

Illustrations: Lisa KopperMethuen Children’s, London, 1983 / illustrations © Lisa Kopper

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 that if she did it, she would not pick up on 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 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.

Read a Small World book by clicking through this slideshow!

  • Leila Berg - Rainbows

The eight Small World books were originally produced as miniature hardbacks, approx 14 x 15 cm, with a glossy cover, and no 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 were republished in soft covers in the UK, and in the USA, and in translation elsewhere.

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, and finalised with her own creative vigour by Lisa (who invented the family with a very large dog).