Leonard Leslie Brooke (1862 - 1940)
Artist and illustrator. Created the popular Johnny Crow books for children and illustrated many nursery rhyme books. He married Sybil (1890-1957), daughter of Stopford Brooke. Their son Henry was MP for Hampstead and Home Secretary, and they moved to 28 Hollycroft Avenue in 1934 to be near him. An exhibition ‘Leslie Brooke and Johny Crow’was held at Burgh House in 1984.
Leslie Brooke was born in Birkenhead, just across the Mersey from Liverpool. His parents were both Irish and he was the second of three children of Leonard and Rhoda Brooke. Leslie’s drawings attracted the attention of his headmaster at Birkenhead School. During a trip to Italy he contracted severe typhoid, which caused him to have partial deafness, and it was this that made him decide to attend Birkenhead Art School rather than go to university. He went on to study at St John’s Wood Art School and then The Royal Academy of Art, where he received the Armitage Medal in 1888.
Brooke went into illustrating books and book covers, using pen-and-ink line drawings and watercolours. In 1891 he succeeded Walter Crane as illustrator of Mrs Molesworth’s Victorian children’s novels for Macmillan, and this was a turning point in his career.
Leslie married Sybil Brooke, his cousin, in 1894 and in 1897 his father-in-law produced a Nursery Rhyme book for Warne which was illustrated by L. Leslie Brooke, the name he chose for all his future publications. The illustrations are full of strong characters, with his trade-marks of amusing details and visual puns. It was said that “Brooke catches the spirit of childhood with rare skill“. His housekeeper said that he ‘kept a tall looking-glass in his studio and he would pull faces in it to get the expressions for the animals he drew’.
His skilful and witty illustrations in Andrew Lang’s Nursery Rhyme Book (1897) established his reputation as a leading children’s book illustrator. His acclaimed works include Johnny Crow’s Garden (1903) , Ring O’ Roses, The Golden Goose Book, Johnny Crow’s Party (1907), Johnny Crow’s New Garden (1935), and Oranges and Lemons, published by Frederick Warne & Co.
When Brooke was still in London, Warne sent him a set of drawings by a then unknown artist and asked for his opinion. After taking a look he gave them back with his immediate approval and told the publisher to go ahead for they would be an undoubted success. The illustrations were for (what became) a very well-known and beloved set of children’s tales – The Tales of Peter Rabbit – and the artist was none other than Beatrix Potter.
In 1899 the family had moved to the village of Harwell near Oxford for Sybil’s health. When he decided to write and illustrate a picture book, Sybil suggested Johnny Crow’s Garden which he developed from a rhyming game he learned from his father. This book became a classic. Leslie next turned to fairy-tales. The stories of the Three Little Pigs and Tom Thumb in 1904, then in 1905 The Golden Goose and the Three Bears. All four of these were published in one volume, The Golden Goose Book(1905).
Johnny Crow’s Garden gained in popularity so he produced a sequel – Johnny Crow’s Party – in 1907. In 1908 he moved to St John’s Wood where he continued to work. After the death of his mother in 1915 and his son in 1918, the family moved back to Oxfordshire where they built a house in Cumnor. It was here in 1920 that Leslie illustrated Nursery Rhymes, which were published as Ring O’ Roses in 1992, containing his last illustrations of that decade.
He moved to Hollycroft Avenue, Hampstead in 1934 with his wife, Sybil, to be near his son Henry, where they lived until his death in 1940. His last book, Johnny Crow’s New Party, was completed in Hampstead in 1935. Leslie Brooke arranged to be buried by a local undertaker called J. Crowe – to match the name of Johnny Crow, his favourite creation.
Leslie’s elder son, Leonard, was killed whilst flying in the First World War; his younger son, Henry, was Conservative MP for Hampstead and in 1962 became Home Secretary in the Macmillan government.
1892 – Leslie Brooke met J.M.Barrie and began painting portraits, exhibited in RA 1896
1900 – Leslie Brooke illustrated Edward Lear’s Nonsense Songs
Papers relating to an exhibition at the Hampstead Museum, Burgh House in 1984
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
The Horn Book (the Journal of American Children’s libraries), devoted its Spring 1941 issue to tributes to L. Leslie Brooke
Three of his most popular stories -The Golden Goose, The Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs, and Tom Thumb – are available at Project Gutenberg, at – http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15661/15661-h/15661-h.htm
See a video of The Three Little Pigs at http://www.ovguide.com/l.-leslie-brooke-9202a8c04000641f8000000000d6ceee
This page was last updated on May 19th, 2012.