Friday, February 22, 2013

18th February Barbara Firth (1928 - 2013)

Sad news this week, reading that Barbara Firth had died on 18th February, and so soon after Jan Ormerod. Two wonderful illustrators that we will not see any new illustrations from. Luckily so much of their work is well known and still in print.

Barbara Firth is  the English illustrator responsible for the wonderful Little Bear that Martin Wardell created, but she brought to life, firstly in Can't You Sleep, Little Bear? which won the Kate Greenaway Medal and the Smarties Prize in 1987. There were then four more titles and the series went on to sell more than seven million copies.

When I was a young teacher and mother, Can't You Sleep Little Bear? was new and a must read. Then Martin Waddell was in Australia and visited our school to talk to Year 1. The children were enthralled. His publisher left posters which we displayed in the library and all over the school. We had a small toy Little Bear that the children read with and ever since then I have felt the need to share these books because their gentle messages work so well with young children.

Currently, my parents and children are newly involved in the Premier's Reading Challenge and therefore are on a mission to only take books with red stickers on their spines. This means any book without a sticker is going to languish in the library for a couple of months until they have read their thirty books.

No matter, I was going to honour Barbara Firth and yesterday I got out all her books that we have in the library and put together a small display. A few had red stickers and they were gone by home time, but so had a few others...good, parents with taste who will hopefully come back looking for more now that they have been introduced to her work and the series of five books about Little Bear:
Can't You Sleep, Little Bear?
• Let's Go Home, Little Bear
• Sleep Tight, Little Bear
• Well Done, Little Bear
• You and Me, Little Bear

 "I have always been biased toward illustrating natural history, so it was a joy to be able to draw pages and pages of bears," Barbara Firth says of her collaboration with Martin Waddell on Can't You Sleep, Little Bear?the first of their classic Big and Little Bear series. As part of her research, she spent hours at a zoo, carefully watching and recording the movements and habits of bears. 

Barbara Firth has illustrated for other writers besides Martin Waddell and they too, show her aptitude for animals. See Karen Wallace's Bears in the Forest and Peter Hansard's  Wag Wag Wag, a book about dogs.


  1. Thanks for sharing this news. I love the Liftle bear series. I have a lantern that I use plus I have a fold out book. I also love The park in the dark. Read it with a spooky voice. I first saw it on a tv murder movie... I agree it is so sad not to have any more books from Barbara Firth. I will make a display on Monday.

  2. Oh, I didn't know about Jan Ormerod. She's one of my favorite illustrators. And I didn't realize she was so young. Now I will have to look for books Barbara Firth illustrated!