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Leonard Leslie Brooke, illustrator of nursery rhymes and fairy tales

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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)

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.

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!

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.

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.

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:

About Brooke's Illustrations


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?


Whant to explore Brooke's background even more?

  • Mary Louisa Molesworth | Many Interesting Facts
    Collaboration between Leslie Brooks and Mary Louisa Molesworth is one of the most successful ones in Victorian times. His playful style nicely complimented her relatively rigid and strongly educational narration.
  • Fairy Tales and related stuff
    If you enjoy vintage illustration, this blog may be the right place for you. It is dedicated to old masters of children illustration and all presented images are public domain.

Did you learn something new?

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on June 04, 2013:

@Melissa Miotke: Thanks!

Melissa Miotke from Arizona on June 03, 2013:

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

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on May 19, 2013:

@WriterJanis2: Nice:)

WriterJanis2 on May 18, 2013:

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

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on April 17, 2013:

@anonymous: Thanks again!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on April 17, 2013:

@anonymous: Thanks!

anonymous on April 17, 2013:

Still here and FB love and G+ this beauty.

anonymous on April 17, 2013:

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

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on April 12, 2013:

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

siobhanryan on April 11, 2013:


Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on March 11, 2013:

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

Phoenix2361 on March 10, 2013:

Whimsical and endearing illustrations.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on March 03, 2013:

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

kabbalah lm on March 02, 2013:

Good illustrator

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on March 01, 2013:

@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...

Felicitas on February 28, 2013:

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.

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 23, 2013:

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

WriterJanis2 on February 23, 2013:

You are the king of fairy tale lenses!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 23, 2013:

@laurenrich: Great to hear that!

Tolovaj Publishing House (author) from Ljubljana on February 23, 2013:

@flycatcherrr: Thanks for you visit!

laurenrich on February 23, 2013:

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

flycatcherrr on February 23, 2013:

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

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