Thursday, 23 August 2007

Joyce Lankester Brisley

Sweet, simple stories, this is how you can describe the Milly Molly Mandy books. Set in the English countryside of the 1930s or so, Milly Molly Mandy is a little girl with a long name, who lives with her extended family in a cottage with a thatched roof. All her small adventures may seem quaint by today’s standards, such as growing mustard and cress, making a hide out, going blackberry picking, but it is almost The Good Life, how nice things could be away from computers and cars, and our ‘want, want, need, need’ society.

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!


Anonymous said...

Great synopsis of Bisley and her MMM stories. I work as a volunteer librarian caring for a collection of historic children's books in Renwick, Marlborough, New Zealand. I wanted to find out a little about the MMM stories. Thanks

Jayne said...

Hello! Thank you so much for stopping by and letting me know this post was useful to you. The MMM books were very special to me - I can remember all the stories very well and used to try and recreate them as a child!

And that sounds an ideal way to spend some time - caring for historic children's books! How lovely - I bet you have some wonderful treasures in that collection.

Gary Sturni said...

Jayne, doing research on my mom's great aunt, JL Brisley and came across yours. Thanks so much. Anything you can point me to re her family tree? Fr. Gary Sturni, St. George's Episcopal Church, Germantown, TN

David said...

Gary, JL Brisley was born in Bexhill, it seems. I am involved in publicising Bexhill history and wonder if your research has uncovered the address of her place of birth?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your blog I adore MMM and so did my mum. I have her original old copy and a newer recent repro. I've noticed that the illustrations in the repro are slightly different and seem to be slightly less genuinely MMM. Has someone redrawn them or is it the printing process. I use 40s and 50s illustrations of children as a source for my paintings.
Regards, Rosalee

Yolande said...

JLB is my first cousin (twice removed) and I too grew up on her books. I live in Auckland, New Zealand. I'm curating the family tree and working through the Brisley connections.
I even found a MMM book last year and bought it, nostalgia I guess.
Great blog and thanks

Jayne said...

Hello Yolande. How lovely to be related to JLB! And thanks for getting in touch. It sounds like Gary (above comment) is also working on a family tree, perhaps you'll end up related!

Mike said...

Hi Yolande, I have researched JLB for the past 5 years on and off I was read M.M.M as a child I have quite a bit of info on JLB and I have contact detail of a relative in the UK I would like to get in contact with you if poss, please feel free to visit

Verity Hope Dolls said...

What a lovely post about Milly Molly Mandy, thank you so much for writing it. If anyone is interested, I have just set up a 'Milly Molly Mandy/JLB' forum and am hoping to build up a community of MMM devotees in the hope of increasing awareness of the stories and other JLB works again. I don't mean to detract away from this blog so apologise for any 'self promotion', my intention is to help promote MMM so wanted to invite anyone to join the forum here:
and help increase awareness of Joyce's wonderful works.
Thank you,Susannah