When I was a small child staying on my grandparents’ farm near Newbury, one of the few children’s books I used to find there not devoted to horses was something called The Twins of Empire. It was the illustrations, and the cover, that I really loved. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, children’s book illustrations were not at a highpoint, as television serial promotion shots seemed to take over the covers of my favourite books, with characters never anything like one’s imagined heroes.

However, as a new parent from the mid-1990s, I became aware of a great revival in children’s book illustration: Quentin Blake, Brian Wildsmith, Ian Beck, Emma Chichester-Clark and the Ahlbergs. Therefore, I was interested to come across Alan Powers’s new book which is, on the face of it, quite an odd subject.

He traces the best of design from the 18th century to the present, and shows many of the best examples.The Twins of Empireis not featured (no doubt it would no longer be thought suitable for children), but Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway, Arthur Ransome and Pauline Baynes (see above) are all here. No Country Life reader will fail to spot an old favourite or two.

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