Joyce Lankester Brisley was born in 1896 and lived in London; however she frequently visited the countryside, where she took inspiration for her most famous character. She started earning money from illustrating when she was sixteen, and the first publishers of the M M M stories was The Christian Science Monitor in 1925, which sounds more like an academic paper than a publisher of children’s books. However, the format in which we today know the books was published three years later by Harraps, and Joyce went on to produce six collections of Milly Molly Mandy stories, the last one to appear in 1967.
The best thing about the Milly Molly Mandy books is that at the start of each book there is a large picture map of the village she lives in, so you can trace her journeys with your finger. In each subsequent book, the village changes a little, just as it would in real life, which is a great touch to look out for. The line illustrations inside the book effortlessly capture the essence of characters, with larger pictures full of detail and smaller, thoughtful studies in amongst the words.
The front cover says ‘Milly-Molly-Mandy stories, told and drawn by Joyce Lankester Brisley’. I love that – ‘told’. And each small adventure is told exactly as a child would see it, from the names of people (little-friend-Susan, Miss Muggins’s Jilly) to the descriptions of the village. The stories reinforce values such as friendship, of helping out, of responsibilities and of fun.
I was also delighted to read that Shirley Hughes wrote the foreword to a recent (2001) collection of Milly Molly Mandy stories, and described how much she loved them too. She went on to say how through reading the Milly Molly Mandy books, that she learnt the importance of building a complete picture of where her characters (such as Alfie) live and that her daughter went on to be the most recent illustrator of current editions of Milly Molly Mandy. What a fab full circle!