September signals the end of summer when children go back to school. Kate Greenaway (1846-1901), an internationally famous 19th Century book illustrator, illustrated and written a number of beloved children’s books including Marigold’s Garden (1875). Under the Window (1878-79) published by Edmund Evans Co, made a first printing of 20,000 copies. They sold out. Immediately and had to print 80,000 more. A particularly appropriate book for back to school is A Apple Pie, first published in London in 1886. Its popularity has not diminished over time. It continues to be published in 2021.
The first written reference to the apple pie ABC’s was in 1671, in a religious work with letters A through G. From the 17th to the 19th Centuries, the phrases attached to the letters underwent several revisions, and various versions were printed in America and Europe. Greenaway’s A Apple Pie uses an original version and is illustrated in her unique style. On the cover, three charming little girls, dressed in 18th century dresses, wear mob caps and ruffles. They carry three large very rosy apples. Behind sugar and flour canisters a fourth little girl holds a rolling pin.
Kate Greenaway was the daughter of John and Elizabeth Greenaway, both important influences on Greenaway and her artistic choices. Her father was a wood engraver and draughtsman who was commissioned to do book illustrations. He knew the publishers and illustrators of his time. Her mother was a talented seamstress and ran a successful dress shop. Although Greenaway had siblings, she was extremely shy and withdrawn, and she spent much of her time alone, playing with dolls and reading books. However, her imagination thrived. The family occasionally suffered financial difficulties and as a result they moved a lot. “I had such a very happy time when I was a child, and curiously, was so very much happier than my brother and sister, with exactly the same surroundings. I suppose my imaginary life made me one long continuous joy filled everything with a strange wonder and beauty.”
Her mother’s family lived in Rolleston, Nottinghamshire, and the family went there in the summer. Greenaway particularly liked the small village far away from the more frenzied world of London. She loved the villager’s old-fashioned clothing with embroidered smocks, their pinafores and bonnets, and the magic she found in the gardens and flowers in the country. These were her source of inspiration for the children’s clothes she depicted in her illustrations. “B BIT IT” depicts two little girls in vintage clothing who have been spinning hoops. They look on as a curly haired little boy, wearing a broad brimmed straw hat with a purple flower, bites into a pieces of apple pie. He holds a plate with more pie. Is he going to offer some to the girls? Greenaway spent many years in art school she never mastered perspective or anatomy. Thus, the children are not placed in a continuous background. Separated in the distance, a little dog sit in front of a dog house with a bit of picket fence.
To help children memorize their ABC’s, Greenaway illustrates the individual letters with images of what children might do for a piece of apple pie. The answers C Cut It, D Dealt It, E Eat It, F Fight for It, G Got It, H Had It, and “I INSPECT IT.” In early versions the capital letters I and J, and U and V, were omitted because they looked the same when written. Greenaway’s version adds “I INSPECTED IT.” A young girl inspects the enormous apple pie that has one large slice missing. In the distance two little girls look on in awe. One of them holds on to her kitten. Another girl seems uninterested.
In “J JUMPED FOR IT” some boys and girls watch a boy in a blue suit and straw hat jump over a fence. Variously dressed boys and girls are in line to take their turn jumping for a slice of apple pie. Perhaps the two girls sitting to the right have jumped already and are waiting for the others. The older girl sits and rests, with a cat on a leash. The image of an apple pie is suspended above, perhaps a vision of what everyone is hoping for.
Greenaway’s style immediately caught the public attention. Her earliest work was in 1871, designing greeting cards as a freelance artist for Marcus Ward & Co. The greeting card industry began to flourish in 1865, and her early Valentine cards sold 25,000 copies in weeks. Because her mother was a successful seamstress, Greenaway was familiar with fabrics and millenary. She designed and sewed dresses for her models. The style of clothing in her cards and books became the favored style for children’s clothing, even though it was in the hundred-year-old Regency style. Liberty of London, a well-known London department store, created a line of children’s clothing based on Greenaway’s illustrations. Greenaway remembered her first long dress and that she started to cry.
Children K Knelt for IT, L Longed for It, M Mourned for It, and then a young boy in a long coat “N Nodded for It.” Two boys are dressed for a colder season in long coats, and a little girl at the far left wears a blue coat with a cape. Greenaway shows seasonal options for children’s wear. The girls hats have become quite fanciful with wide brims and large flowers. Greenaway includes a wooden horse pull toy. The apple pie behind the children is guarded by two boys playing at soldier with toy rifles.
A 1671 version of the A for Apple was titled The Tragic Death of A, Apple Pye Who was Cut in Pieces and eat by Twenty-five Gentlemen with whom All Little People Ought to be Very Well acquainted. This version was republished in London by Catnach in Seven Dials Press which he established in 1812. The title may give the impression the work might be macabre, the ABCs are much like Greenaway’s, but lack her charm and wit.
The children then O Opened It, P Peeped in It, Q Quartered it, R Ran for It, “S Sang for It before an older girl “T Took It.” In her flowered dress, she seized the apple pie and left a crowd of children running after her. Those before and after Greenaway came up with new ideas for some of the letters of the alphabet, but all found the final letters difficult to deal with. Greenway does not choose to end the tale on an unhappy note. She created her own satisfying ending for UVWXYZ.
Beverly Hall Smith was a professor of art history for 40 years. Since retiring with her husband Kurt to Chestertown six years ago, she has taught art history classes at WC-ALL and Chesapeake College’s Institute for Adult Learning. She is also an artist whose work is sometimes in exhibitions at Chestertown RiverArts and she paints sets for the Garfield Center for the Arts.