When Helen Craig and Katharine Holabird donated their archives of work for the Angelina Ballerina series, the exhibition team wanted to put the material on display as quickly as possible. Not only does the archive represent one of the most popular children's series of the past thirty years, but the level of detail available from both sides of the page is wonderful.

Kris (Seven Stories Archivist) and I (Alison, Curator) identified three main themes visible in the archive and stories.

How to make an Angelina book

The first was 'How to make an Angelina book'. One of the most crucial parts of the archive, and Seven Stories mission, is to make visible the process of creating a book. This material gives us the chance to show the long development that goes in to creating each book; showing the involvement of not just author and illustrator, but editor too. 

Section of draft for Angelina and the Princess, written by Katharine Holabird with comments from Helen Craig, c.1983
Kris and I worked through all the books represented in the collection, and chose Angelina and the Princess as the most visual example of this process. The second book in the series, published in 1984, it was written while the concepts behind Angelina and the world of Mouseland were still being developed. There is also a complete run of preparatory work, in which alterations to the story are clearly visible. What we found most intriguing was the evolution of the original story from Angelina performing for 'The Duchess of Mouseberry', to performing for the Princess. The material on display allows the viewer to track the changes made through the whole process. 

To represent the illustration side, we chose to focus on one particular scene from the book - the double page spread of Angelina performing for the Princess. For this there were many rough illustrations created by Helen Craig, complete with notes to herself about composition. It is an interesting exercise to decipher which elements have changed between each draft, and work out which came first.

Early rough for final double page spread by Helen Craig, for Angelina and the Princess, written by Katharine Holabird (Aurum Press, 1984)
Colour rough for final double page spread by Helen Craig, for Angelina and the Princess, written by Katharine Holabird (Aurum Press, 1984)

Angelina's Journey

The second theme most apparent in the archive is that of Angelina's journey, both within the books, but also from initial picture book to global star.

The archive holds the very first illustrations and manuscript created by Helen and Katharine. Although different to the final version, these show the very beginnings of Angelina, and are on display alongside each other. Showing Angelina's journey within the books led us to choosing some of our favourite Angelina moments, including when she is preparing to go to her first ballet lesson, performs for royalty, and when she meets her new baby sister for the first time. We also have on show an illustration from the (as yet unpublished) latest book in the series Angelina's Big City Ballet, of Angelina and her family arriving in the Big Cheese (aka New York).

Small section of the first draft, which later became Angelina Ballerina. Katharine Holabird, 1982.
The set of stand up illustrations Helen Craig sent to Katharine Holabird, as her idea's for 'Primrose', c. 1982
We also follow Angelina's journey to international fame. The archive contains material from Katharine and Helen's initial and ongoing discussions with HiT entertainment, who hold the licence for the Angelina Ballerina brand. This correspondence often shows the frustrations of allowing other people to work on a character the creators care deeply about. There is also an opportunity to display material from the many different spin-off's, such as the English National Ballet adaptation, much of the merchandise produced over 30 years, and examples of the two television animations.

A sample of some of the Angelina Ballerina merchandise, these were created in 2002 for HIT Entertainment


Probably the most fun we had was choosing content for this section. The world Angelina inhabits is called 'Mouseland', and comes set with certain rules. It was wonderful to explore this within the illustrations and Helen's rough work, uncovering hitherto unseen floorplans of Angelina's home, and choosing pieces which help to show the detailed world the mice inhabit.

Small section of 'Angelina's House', by Helen Craig, 1982

Cross section of a house in Mouseland, with Angelina peering through the window. Final illustration by Helen Craig, for Angelina's Christmas, written by Katharine Holabird (Aurum Press, 1985)
If you would like to visit the exhibition, it will be on display from Saturday 19th July 2014 until April 2015, at Seven Stories, National Centre for Children's Books. Click here to find out more details about visiting the centre.

If you would like to book a visit to research the archives within our collection store, click here for further details.

Interested in other posts about the Storylab Gallery at Seven Stories? Click here or here.

Angelina Ballerina is now published by Puffin Books, and are available for sale from the Seven Stories bookshop, one of the largest independent children's bookshops in the UK.