If you pick up a copy of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach (1961) today it will likely be an edition illustrated with the wonderfully spastic drawings of Quentin Blake or pictures by a half dozen other artists who have taken a crack at the children’s classic over the last 50 years. When I was about 9 years old, my parents bought me a copy that was illustrated by an artist whose name I can no longer remember. Although that book was a treasured addition to my small bookshelf, I couldn’t help coveting an earlier edition of James and the Giant Peach found in my elementary school library. That edition had pictures that almost exactly matched those I created in my own head while reading the book. Four decades later I could still recreate in my head the pattern created by the seagulls as they lifted the giant peach into the air.
It’s ony recently that I decided to try to identify the illustrator and find out which edition of the book it was that had the great pictures. Turns out it was the first edition published by Knopf back in 1961. It’s fortunate that I didn’t own a first edition illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert when I was nine. In all likelihood I would probably have torn out the pictures and hung them on my wall. On the 50th anniversary of that first edition I’m going to do the next best thing (less destructive, too!) and post some of those illustrations here for all to enjoy.