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Leonard Leslie Brooke, illustrator of nursery rhymes and fairy tales

Updated on April 26, 2016
Johnny Crow by L Leslie Brooke
Johnny Crow by L Leslie Brooke

L Leslie Brooke, the real Johnny Crow

Leonard Leslie Brooke (1862-1940) was illustrator, caricaturist, painter and most of all - a man with impressive ability to present the playfulness of childhood in seemingly simple line drawings.

Brooke's kind and gentle humorous style with incredible sense for details in many ways resemble another great children illustrator, legendary Randolph Caldecott. Let's explore together who was L. Leslie Brooke, as he signed his works, let's check his illustrations of Johnny Crow and all the other characters from his magic garden!

(Illustration from Johnny Crow's Garden, all illustrations on this page are public domain.)

The Girls and I by ML Molesworth, illustrated by Leslie Brooke
The Girls and I by ML Molesworth, illustrated by Leslie Brooke

An early break

Leonard Leslie Brooke showed his drawing talent from early age but only after contracting typhoid on trip in Italy which caused him to become partially deaf he decided to enroll in Art School instead of University.

After two years of schooling in his birth town Birkenhead he proceeded to Royal Academy in London where he received prestigious Armitage medal in 1888.

He soon started to earn a living as portrait painter and watercolorist.

Only few years later big break comes when he succeeded Walter Crane as illustrator of young adult fiction books written by Mary Louisa Molesworth.

Miss Molesworth's Books - illustrated by Leslie Brooke

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Miss Mouse and her Boys, Mrs Molesworth, Leslie BrookeMrs Molesworth: Miss Mouse and her Boys, illustrated by Leonard Leslie BrookeLeslie Brooke: Miss Mouse and her Boys, written by Mrs. MolesworthMy New Home, Mrs Molesworth, Leslie BrookeMrs Molesworth: My New Home, illustrated by Leonard Leslie BrookeLeslie Brooke: My New Home, written by Mrs. MolesworthMy New Home, a book by Mrs Molesworth, illustration by Leslie BrookeThe Girls and I, Mrs Molesworth, Leonard Leslie BrookeThe Girls and I, illustration by Leslie BrookeLeslie Brooke: The Girls and I, written by Mrs Molesworth
Miss Mouse and her Boys, Mrs Molesworth, Leslie Brooke
Miss Mouse and her Boys, Mrs Molesworth, Leslie Brooke
Mrs Molesworth: Miss Mouse and her Boys, illustrated by Leonard Leslie Brooke
Mrs Molesworth: Miss Mouse and her Boys, illustrated by Leonard Leslie Brooke
Leslie Brooke: Miss Mouse and her Boys, written by Mrs. Molesworth
Leslie Brooke: Miss Mouse and her Boys, written by Mrs. Molesworth
My New Home, Mrs Molesworth, Leslie Brooke
My New Home, Mrs Molesworth, Leslie Brooke
Mrs Molesworth: My New Home, illustrated by Leonard Leslie Brooke
Mrs Molesworth: My New Home, illustrated by Leonard Leslie Brooke
Leslie Brooke: My New Home, written by Mrs. Molesworth
Leslie Brooke: My New Home, written by Mrs. Molesworth
My New Home, a book by Mrs Molesworth, illustration by Leslie Brooke
My New Home, a book by Mrs Molesworth, illustration by Leslie Brooke
The Girls and I, Mrs Molesworth, Leonard Leslie Brooke
The Girls and I, Mrs Molesworth, Leonard Leslie Brooke
The Girls and I, illustration by Leslie Brooke
The Girls and I, illustration by Leslie Brooke
Leslie Brooke: The Girls and I, written by Mrs Molesworth
Leslie Brooke: The Girls and I, written by Mrs Molesworth

Illustrating Victorian novels of ML Molesworth was good from business point of view but Leonard really made a break with illustrations of The Nursery Rhyme Book, edited by Andrew Lang (today he is most famous by his collections of fairy tales).

First edition was published on Christmas 1897 and is dated 1898. Illustrations were black and white as we can see in the gallery below.

The Nursery Rhyme Book in black and white

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Doctor FaustusMistress MaryThere was a frogLittle Bo PeepHumpty Dumpty
Doctor Faustus
Doctor Faustus
Mistress Mary
Mistress Mary
There was a frog
There was a frog
Little Bo Peep
Little Bo Peep
Humpty Dumpty
Humpty Dumpty

Nursery Rhymes by L Leslie Brooke became big success and many reprints, often heavily adapted and remixed followed.

Bellow we can see some colored illustrations from the one of later versions.

The Nursery Rhyme Book, color illustrations

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Little Bo Peep, nursery rhymeRing o Roses, illustration by Brooke LeslieThere was a Little ManHickety Pickety My Black Hen, old nursery rhyme, illustrated by L BrookeLeslie Brooke: Wee Willie Winkie
Little Bo Peep, nursery rhyme
Little Bo Peep, nursery rhyme
Ring o Roses, illustration by Brooke Leslie
Ring o Roses, illustration by Brooke Leslie
There was a Little Man
There was a Little Man
Hickety Pickety My Black Hen, old nursery rhyme, illustrated by L Brooke
Hickety Pickety My Black Hen, old nursery rhyme, illustrated by L Brooke
Leslie Brooke: Wee Willie Winkie
Leslie Brooke: Wee Willie Winkie

His style

All Brooke’s signature elements are already present: children, playgrounds, animals, amusing details and of course always blooming gardens.

He especially loved English gardens!

Scene from Nonsense Songs, another collection of songs for kids
Scene from Nonsense Songs, another collection of songs for kids


After The Nursery Rhyme Book Brooke illustrated several similar projects.

His style was fitting perfectly with witty and playful rhymes of Edward Lear, author of Book of Nonsense.

So the publisher (Frederick Warne & Co.) decided to follow a good punch with more.

Leslie Brooke illustrated two books with Edward Lear' verses: Pelican Chorus in 1899 and The Jumblies in 1900 which were eventually combined in Nonsense Songs:

The Nursery Rhyme Books - (annotated version)

A classic book for everybody.

The Nursery Rhyme Books - (annotated version)

The Nursery Rhyme Book
The Nursery Rhyme Book

A classic book for everybody. brings most popular nursery rhymes with witty illustrations which are more than one hundred years old.

They are actually part of literary history but still fresh and witty and still bring joy to children.

Little Bo-Peep, Humpty Dumpty, Hush-a-bye, baby, Mistress Mary and other evergreens are available here.

Use the chance to pass the wisdom and humor from the past to our kids.

The Nursery Rhyme Books edited by Andrew Lang and illustrated by L Leslie Brooke is available for your Kindle totally free of charge!

 

The Pelican Chorus - collaboration with Edward Lear

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The Pelican Chorus - titleMr and Mrs Spikky SparrowThe Table and the ChairThe Two Old BachelorsMr and Mrs Discobbolos
The Pelican Chorus - title
The Pelican Chorus - title
Mr and Mrs Spikky Sparrow
Mr and Mrs Spikky Sparrow
The Table and the Chair
The Table and the Chair
The Two Old Bachelors
The Two Old Bachelors
Mr and Mrs Discobbolos
Mr and Mrs Discobbolos

Edward Lear was another interesting figure in Victorian times. He was very versatile artist who is today mainly remembered by his poems. His probably most important 'invention' are so called nonsense rhymes, playful songs with catchy wordings and no clear messages. His work is still standard part of education of young poets.

The Jumblies - another work with Edward Lear

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Owl and the PussyThe Duck and the KangarooThe Dong with a Luminous NoseCalico PieIncidents in the Life of my Uncle Arly
The Owl and the Pussy
The Owl and the Pussy
The Duck and the Kangaroo
The Duck and the Kangaroo
The Dong with a Luminous Nose
The Dong with a Luminous Nose
Calico Pie
Calico Pie
Incidents in the Life of my Uncle Arly
Incidents in the Life of my Uncle Arly
Cover of Johnny Crow's Garden
Cover of Johnny Crow's Garden

Johnny Crow


In 1903 came the biggest hit for already established artis. L. Leslie Brooke had written his first book which he also illustrated.

When he needed the name for the main character, his wife suggested Johnny Crow after his father's game for him and his brother.

So the Johnny Crow's Garden got its title thanks to Leslie's father and because the book was published in 1903 when Leslie's and Sybil's second son was born (it is dedicated to both their sons) it connected three generations of Brooke's.

Actually four generations - Johnny Crow got two sequels, the second and also last of Leslie's books published in 1935 with a title Johnny Crow's New Party was dedicated to Leslie's grandson!

Johnny Crow's Garden

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Golden Goose in video

In next two years L Leslie Brooks rewrote and illustrated several fairy tales and all became huge success at the audience. Some are still reprinted!

Three Little Pigs, Tom Thumb, The Golden Goose and The Three Bears were published separately at first and finally in 1905 all together in the book titled Golden Goose Book. This kind of publishing (smaller pieces and after a while larger book with all toether) was a standard in last decades of 19th and first of 20th century.

The Story of the Three Little Pigs - rewritten and illustrated by Brooke

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Mummy and three little pigsWolf is prayingLittle pig is laying bricksPiggy at workPig at restLeslie Brooke: scene from Three Little PigsL Leslie Brooke: Wolf and Three Little PigsThree Little Pigs by Leonard Leslie Brooke
Mummy and three little pigs
Mummy and three little pigs
Wolf is praying
Wolf is praying
Little pig is laying bricks
Little pig is laying bricks
Piggy at work
Piggy at work
Pig at rest
Pig at rest
Leslie Brooke: scene from Three Little Pigs
Leslie Brooke: scene from Three Little Pigs
L Leslie Brooke: Wolf and Three Little Pigs
L Leslie Brooke: Wolf and Three Little Pigs
Three Little Pigs by Leonard Leslie Brooke
Three Little Pigs by Leonard Leslie Brooke

Note: Leonard Leslie Brooke didn't only illustrate the story of Three Little Pigs, he also added some unique twists to the plot.

You don't have to read the whole picture book, everything is pretty clear from illustrations only.

Tom Thumb

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We should mention Tom Thumb is very old fairy tale which was one of inspirations of Hans Christian Andersen’s Thumbelina.

In these illustrations the key scenes from initial wish for a child which was finally fulfilled by magic to the ending scene in the world of flowers and nobility are easily recognized.

The Three Bears

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Note: The Three Bears is now more known as the Goldilocks and Three Bears.

The main difference is the focus of the story.

In the beginning of 20th century Goldilocks was considered as an intruder and the bears were the victims.

More about the impressive history of Goldilocks can be read here:

Note: The Three Bears is now more known as the Goldilocks and Three Bears.

The main difference is the focus of the story.

In the beginning of 20th century Goldilocks was considered as an intruder and the bears were the victims.

More about the impressive history of Goldilocks can be read here:

Johnny Crow's Party - (published in 1907)

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Very short biography

Here are some quick facts:

Born on 24 September 1862 in Birkenhead to Leonard and Rhoda (both Irish).

Married on 28 June 1894 to his cousin Sybil Diane.

Father of two: Leonard Stopford (killed in Word War in 1918) and Henry (he later became conservative MP and British home Secretary).

Died on 1 May 1940 in London. Buried by undertaker J. Crow (no, the resemblance with the name of Brooke's most popular character is not accidental, Brooke arranged this way).

About Brooke's Illustrations

Which do you prefer?

See results

It is hard to say where he excelled best. Color or black and white illustration? Educational stories, imaginative fairy tales, old nursery rhymes?

Here is your chance to vote. What is the single one are by which he should be remembered?

Did you learn something new?

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    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Melissa Miotke: Thanks!

    • Melissa Miotke profile image

      Melissa Miotke 4 years ago from Arizona

      I did-I'd never heard of him before but this is beautiful work.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: Nice:)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      I did and that's why I'm pinning this.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: Thanks again!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Still here and FB love and G+ this beauty.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Once again you share the magic so beautifully, delightful...I love it all! :)

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @siobhanryan: Always in the mood for some magic:)

    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 4 years ago

      Magical-Blessed

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Phoenix2361: I like their clear colors. They are so optimistic:)

    • Phoenix2361 profile image

      Phoenix2361 4 years ago

      Whimsical and endearing illustrations.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @kabbalah lm: He was top illustrator of his time.

    • Felicitas profile image

      Felicitas 4 years ago

      Although I know all of the stories, I had never heard about Leonard Brooke before. I think that illustrating and writing fairy tales and nursery rhymes must be a wonderful way to live.

    • kabbalah lm profile image

      kabbalah lm 4 years ago

      Good illustrator

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Felicitas: It is a job like every other job. You can love it or hate it. and knowing many illustrators i can add it is not best for your back...

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: And you are the princess of nice comments:)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      You are the king of fairy tale lenses!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @laurenrich: Great to hear that!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
      Author

      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @flycatcherrr: Thanks for you visit!

    • profile image

      laurenrich 4 years ago

      I did learn something about Leonard Brooke. He does beautiful illustrated work. Thanks for sharing.

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 4 years ago

      I didn't know the name, but I recognize some of these wonderful illustrations.