The UK’s Contribution to Children’s Literature

Families - April 20th, 2007
British books

by Ken Cooney

Are you aware that many of our beloved children’s books originate from the UK? Perhaps you are aware and perhaps you aren’t. Let’s have a look at some of the UK’s well known books that many of us, from all over the world, grew up with!

Do you remember the Mr. Men And Little Miss series by Roger Hargreaves? You know, Mr. Happy, Mr. Bump, Little Miss Sunshine (not related to the recent movie), Little Miss Chatterbox and so on? It was a huge success right off the bat and has continued to remain popular in many places, including here in Japan, where kids often use the series as a tool to learn English. The Mr. Men series was started in 1971 and the first Little Miss was published in 1981. So, can you name the first Mr. Men character that was created?

The answer is: Mr. Tickle. He was created in response to Roger Hargreaves’s son asking him what a tickle looks like. Well, that certainly is a difficult question to answer, and many of us would have quite a difficult time answering such a profound question, but not Mr. Hargreaves! He drew a silly looking orange man with long wiggly arms that tickle, and thus began the entire Mr. Men and Little Miss series.

Another famous character began with the help of a son, Winnie the Pooh. That’s right, A.A. Milne created his beloved Pooh after a toy bear that his son, Christopher Robin, owned. In fact, many of A.A. Milne’s characters were based on toys that his son played with, and he even used his son for the little boy in the stories, Christopher Robin! But why was the bear called Pooh? Well, if one reads the introduction of Winnie the Pooh, Milne explains that Christopher Robin had met a swan named Pooh, and took a liking to its name. When leaving the swan, Christopher took the name with him, thinking that the swan did not want it anymore. He then gave the name to Edward Bear (a Winnipeg bear), who had wanted an exciting name, and thus Winnie the Pooh began.

Last but not least, we have Peter Rabbit, created by Beatrix Potter in 1902. Peter Rabbit, another anthropomorphized character like Winnie the Pooh, wears human clothes and speaks, and just like humans, gets in to trouble, along with his sisters, Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail. Beatrix Potter originally wrote the Tale of Peter Rabbit for her own amusement, but because it was such an adorable story, her friends urged her to publish the work, and now we still have Peter Rabbit more than 100 years later!

So there you have it: The most notable children’s books the UK has offered not only in Japan but to children all over the world.