This month we are daft about dogs, in honour of the Seven Stories exhibition tour to Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery! Our Enid Blyton exhibition - Mystery, Magic and Midnight Feasts: the Many Adventures of Enid Blyton opened on Wednesday 17th June. It will be on display until the end of August, with a further tour venue at Scarborough Art Gallery in spring 2016 to look forward to.

Typescript page from Five on a Hike Together, written by Enid Blyton (Hodder and Stoughton, 1951), pictured with a contemporary proof copy of the same title.
So of course, our first item to explore this month will be one of Blyton's manuscripts, Five on a Hike Together, with a focus on the (best?) Famous Five member, Timmy the dog. He is an integral part of the team, and this selection shows him standing guard over his human friends whilst they are all out on an adventure. Earlier, Timmy had been causing all kinds of trouble after getting stuck down a hole chasing rabbits! The dog is often a uniting force for the group, and one beloved of readers who longed to have pets of their own.

This is one of four typescripts by Blyton held by Seven Stories for the Famous Five; Five Have a Wonderful Time, Five Have Plenty of Fun and the play Famous Five Adventure. The collection also holds one unpublished novel (Mr Tumpy's Caravan), as well as drafts for numerous short stories published in magazines and newspapers.  Seven Stories also holds many of Blyton's diaries, both her personal diaries and her 'nature diaries', in which she documented developments in her garden and kept track of the weather. They both often feature her own pets, she had many cats and dogs over the years. She was a big lover of animals, and her beloved 'Bobs' the dog even wrote a few books of his own!

Find out more about the Seven Stories Blyton Collection here, where you can also see many more digitised pages of typescript.

Preliminary artwork for Time for Bed, Fred, by Yasmeen Ismail (Bloomsbury, 2013)
Our selected artwork this month are some gorgeous ruffs  roughs, created by illustrator Yasmeen Ismail. These vibrant and colourful pages are among several deposited with Seven Stories in 2013, and showcase a brilliant variety in the different kinds of dog which the book could have featured. We see a possible simple blue wash, black outline with a single colour wash, and a simple black outline, close the final look of our hero.

Time for Bed, Fred follows the story of a very mischievous dog who just won't go to bed. He gets himself in all kinds of trouble, jumping in puddles and hiding all over the place, but rest assured, he does find his bed in the end!

Ismail's archive at Seven Stories currently contains a small range of artwork for Inside Out, Upside Down, Specs for Rex, and If I had a Cat. There is also a range of advertising illustrations and commissions, including the Carnegie nominated title by Sarah Crossan Apple and Rain. Find out more about the Yasmeen in the Seven Stories Collection by clicking here.

This month’s printed book is Top Dog by Partap Sharma (with cover illustrations by Caroline Pickles) which was published by Andre Deutsch in 1985.

Partap Sharma's Top dog (Andre Deutsch, 1985)

Top Dog is a collection of short stories set in Bombay.  They are all about the author’s Alsatian dog called Ranjha, who was so skilfully trained in the art of tracking, that he became famous for the crimes he solved.  The stories “… are, in essence true.  The real-life dog, Ranjha, helped solve them.”  Intriguingly, the stories / cases are narrated by Ranjha so give a dog’s eye view of the world.

Top Dog is one of the ‘Armchair Travellers’ collection of 495 books which were donated by the Jayne Truran , Chair of St Albans Children's Book Group, to Seven Stories in 2008.  The collection was originally put together by Joyce Du Cane who was a school inspector and member of IBBY (The International Board on Books for Young People ). According to the donor, Joyce Du Cane “… travelled extensively and brought books back from all her journeys. She was very popular with the publishing world and one suspects that people gave her things when they knew about her collection… she devoted her life to the book group and her other charities. She was very philanthropic.”  Further books were added to Joyce Du Cane’s collection when a teacher training centre in Hertfordshire closed and moved to new premises, in the early 1990's.

The St Albans Children's Book Group ran for over 30 years, during the school summer holidays, the ‘Armchair Travellers’ book collection was made available for local children to borrow.  The St. Alban’s Children’s Book Group was in essence a forerunner of the ‘Summer Reading Challenge’ groups offered by local Public Libraries these days, who are keen (just as the St. Albans’ parents were) to keep children reading, and usefully occupied through the summer holidays.

The idea was that the children could ‘travel the world from the comfort of an armchair’.  Between 25 and 50 parents joined the book group each year and brought along their children to borrow books and for events.  On average 30-40 children would attend on a sunny day.  Past Chair, Jenny Stroud held the Armchair Traveller event for many years either in her home or her wonderful garden.  The books were displayed by Continents with each continent having its own table, or space in the garden if the weather was good.  (There were also sections of ‘Folk Tales’ and ‘Journeys’).  Each child had a ‘Passport’ and would get a ‘stamp’ in it for each continent they visited, by reading and rating a book telling a story from that continent.  So, a child reading Top Dog would receive a ‘stamp’ for India / Asia.

‘Armchair travelling’ was obviously a popular, enjoyable and worthwhile pursuit in St. Alban’s -not least for Jenny Stroud’s own son,  Jonathan, the children’s books author of Lockwood & Co. and the Bartimaeus Sequence!

If you'd like to find out more about the Seven Stories Collection, then 
email: or phone: 0191 495 2707 or comment on this blog.