Continuing our monthly transport themed blogs, Seven Stories Exhibition Curator David Wright explores the significance of boats in the work of Edward Ardizzone.


Last week, the Collections and Exhibitions team at Seven Stories, National Centre for Children’s Books was working full steam ahead to ensure that our new exhibition was shipshape and ready to open for bank holiday weekend.

The exhibition uses original artwork from the Seven Stories Collection to celebrate the eightieth anniversary of the publication of Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain, the first picture book by one of Britain’s greatest illustrators, Edward Ardizzone.


Edward Ardizzone: 80 Years of Little Tim exhibition. 


Little Tim is Ardizzone’s most famous character, starring in a series of eleven picture books, published from 1936 – 1977. Originally created as a character to amuse his son Philip, Tim went on to become one of the great heroes of children’s literature, described by Maurice Sendak, creator of Where the Wild Things Are, as:


“A proper, courageous, if somewhat headstrong seven year-old who has an insatiable wanderlust and lives in a house by the sea…”


Seven Stories Collection © Edward Ardizzone Estate



Ships, the sea and adventures on the waves are at the heart of all of the Little Tim books, with many of Ardizzone’s own childhood experiences informing his stories.


As a boy, the young Ardizzone was engrossed by postcards sent from overseas by his parents, who travelled the world working on government service. He was also fascinated by a ship’s logbook written and illustrated by his Great Grandfather, who had captained a ship that sailed from London to Bombay and back in 1846 – 47.


Growing up at the coast in Ipswich, Ardizzone loved to play by the docks with his cousin Arthur, sneaking aboard the ships to explore, sometimes befriending the crew, sometimes being chased away. Later, Ardizzone lived in Deal, Kent, in a house close enough to the sea for the gentle music of the bands playing aboard passing cruise ships to drift through his bedroom window at night. This house, backing onto a long pebbly beach, is immortalised in his books as the home of Little Tim, and his friends Charlotte and Ginger.


Tim, Charlotte and Ginger outside Tim’s house.  Finished artwork from Tim and Charlotte (Oxford University Press 1951) Seven Stories Collection © Edward Ardizzone Estate


Little Tim himself certainly shares his creator’s enthusiasm for all things nautical. When not sipping grog with his friend Captain McFee or practicing his knots on the beach, Tim can be found spotting "Cunarders" through his telescope, making his plans to run away to sea.


Tim gets his wish in Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain, sailing out with the old boatman, in a small motor boat memorably named Saucy Sue Walmer. Disaster is never far away in the Little Tim series and before long Tim is narrowly avoiding a one way trip to Davy Jones’ Locker.


Despite the danger of this first adventure, Tim is desperate to go to sea again and never struggles in finding work as a cabin boy. Always eager to help, throughout the series Tim can be found scrubbing decks and peeling potatoes, painting ships and delivering the captain’s dinner; even reading Moby Dick to the crew and writing love letters home for the ship’s cook.


Ardizzone used his childhood experiences to bring the lively atmosphere of ships and the camaraderie of their crew to life on the page. When Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain was first published in New York, Ardizzone decided to make the journey across the Atlantic in a small, slow cargo boat, rather than a comfy cruise ship, as he felt more at home aboard ordinary working ships.


Finished artwork from Tim in Danger (Oxford University Press 1953) Seven Stories Collection © Edward Ardizzone Estate


Never exhausted by his daily chores, Little Tim always leaves time to avert catastrophe and save the day. A truly fearless hero, Tim is permanently on hand to rescue his friends (and the occasional ship’s cat) from the storms and shipwrecks that are par for the course in Ardizzone’s briny tales.


If reading this blog has helped you find your sea legs, why not visit Seven Stories this summer to see some of Ardizzone’s masterful original illustrations for yourself.



Edward Ardizzone: 80 Years of Little Tim is on show at the Seven Stories visitor centre until 18 September 2016.


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