Getting to Know Barbara Firth

Barbara Firth illustrated children’s picture books for over thirty years, working with seminal children’s authors including Martin Waddell and David Lloyd. Her illustrations, notably for the Little Bear series, shaped bedtime rituals for families around the world...
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Lady Loudly, the self-important goose, is one of the main characters in the Great Escapes series. “I’m very important. It’s time I told the world!” is Lady Loudly’s refrain.

There were about fifty white and gray pet geese on the farm we lived on when I…

Barbara’s best-known illustrations were probably for Martin Waddell’s Little Bear series. The first instalment, published by Walker in 1988, was Can’t You Sleep Little Bear? Little Bear is afraid of the dark and can’t get to sleep. Big Bear is there to show him there’s nothing to be afraid of. Children’s author, David Lloyd, says it was “as perfect a picture-book as anyone could hope to make.”

Can't You Sleep, Little Bear?: Martin Waddell, Barbara Firth: love this book!

Barbara was born on the 20th September 1928 and grew up in Cheshire, Yorkshire. She came from a family of farmers and blacksmiths, but demonstrated artistic aptitude even as a child. “I’ve always drawn plants and animals from a very young age.” – Barbara Firth

Barbara was born on the September 1928 and grew up in Cheshire, Yorkshire. She came from a family of farmers and blacksmiths, but demonstrated artistic aptitude even as a child. “I’ve always drawn plants and animals from a very young age.

Barbara spent her childhood exploring the surrounding Yorkshire countryside, sketching flowers and especially the horses on her uncle’s farm. Barbara delighted in her lack of formal art training: “I have been very lucky, as my career in drawing is also my favourite hobby.” (Painting: “Vale of Pickering” by William Turner)

Barbara spent her childhood exploring the surrounding Yorkshire countryside, sketching flowers and especially the horses on her uncle’s farm. Barbara delighted in her lack of formal art training: “I have been very lucky, as my career in drawing is also my favourite hobby.” (Painting: “Vale of Pickering” by William Turner)

Amelia Edwards and Barbara Firth eventually left Marshall Cavendish Books to join Sebastian Walker, founder of Walker Books.  David Lloyd, a Walker author, described the era as “the glorious picture book years.” Barbara’s potential was quickly spotted.

Amelia Edwards and Barbara Firth eventually left Marshall Cavendish Books to join Sebastian Walker, founder of Walker Books. David Lloyd, a Walker author, described the era as “the glorious picture book years.” Barbara’s potential was quickly spotted.

The lettering of the original cover of Can’t You Sleep Little Bear was hand painted by Liz Wood here at Walker Books. Beautiful!

We just unearthed the real Barbara Firth artwork for Can't You Sleep, Little Bear?) 25 years old this year!

Barbara’s first project at Walker was illustrating David Lloyd’s Great Escapes, a series of animal stories. “My style started to get more lively: now I can be too exuberant, but once I’d found it was acceptable to draw in that way, there was no holding me. It worked, didn’t it?” – Barbara Firth

Barbara’s first project at Walker was illustrating David Lloyd’s Great Escapes, a series of animal stories. “My style started to get more lively: now I can be too exuberant, but once I’d found it was acceptable to draw in that way, there was no holding me. It worked, didn’t it?” – Barbara Firth

Waldo is another character in the Great Escapes series. He has the misfortune to be accidentally fired from a cannon. Waldo was based on Barbara’s pet by the same name. Later, Waldo would inspire her illustrations of Harry Tortoise for Martin Waddell. At the time of writing, Waldo is alive at over one hundred years old!

Waldo is another character in the Great Escapes series. He has the misfortune to be accidentally fired from a cannon. Waldo was based on Barbara’s pet by the same name. Later, Waldo would inspire her illustrations of Harry Tortoise for Martin Waddell. At the time of writing, Waldo is alive at over one hundred years old!

Barbara illustrated books by other authors, such as Charles Causley and Jonathan London, but returned again and again to stories by Martin Waddell. Admiration was mutual. On submitting any manuscript, Martin would ask the publisher hopefully, “Could this be Barbara?”

Barbara illustrated books by other authors, such as Charles Causley and Jonathan London, but returned again and again to stories by Martin Waddell. Admiration was mutual. On submitting any manuscript, Martin would ask the publisher hopefully, “Could this be Barbara?”

Sam Vole and His Brothers (Walker, 1992) is about a vole who wants to be left in peace. But, after a time, won’t Sam get lonely? Another text by Martin Waddell.

Sam Vole and His Brothers (Walker, is about a vole who wants to be left in peace. But, after a time, won’t Sam get lonely? Another text by Martin Waddell.

Barbara trained in pattern-cutting at the London College of Fashion. College alumni include the shoe designer, Jimmy Choo!!

Barbara trained in pattern-cutting at the London College of Fashion. College alumni include the shoe designer, Jimmy Choo!

In the 1970's, Barbara worked in production for Marshall Cavendish Books. It was at Marshall Cavendish that Barbara met Amelia Edwards, one of the founders and the first creative director of the children’s publisher, Walker Books.

In the Barbara worked in production for Marshall Cavendish Books. It was at Marshall Cavendish that Barbara met Amelia Edwards, one of the founders and the first creative director of the children’s publisher, Walker Books.

In the ‘80s, Amelia Edwards commissioned Barbara to illustrate non-fiction for Walker Books. Barbara illustrated Margaret Lane’s The Spider (1982), an introduction to several species of spider. This one isn’t for arachnophobes!

In the Amelia Edwards commissioned Barbara to illustrate non-fiction for Walker Books. Barbara illustrated Margaret Lane’s The Spider an introduction to several species of spider. This one isn’t for arachnophobes!

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