Monday, 18 November 2013

Usborne Puzzle Adventures

With my recent house move I've discovered the collection of Puzzle Adventure books published by Usborne which my sister and I adored as children. I was reminded just how good the illustrations were and the quirky ingenuity of their plots.

In the 80s Usborne was the publisher of high-quality children's picture books. Their titles were populated by vibrant, humorous pen-and-ink pictures and often had a 'scrap book' feel with newspaper-style layouts. Amongst their series were the Puzzle Adventures. These described short, fantastical stories, invariably with children as protagonists. Every spread advanced the plot, but ended with a puzzle which often relied on careful examination of the illustration(s) to solve. Thus the drawings were key to both the riddles and the series' success.

These illustrations are still marvellous today. They are invariably brightly coloured, full of humorous detail and incidental jokes. The large, double page spread ones are quite stunning and the artists clearly went to town. They evoke often very British fantasy worlds full of crumbling castles, weird antiques shops or pirate hideouts.

Usborne is still publishing today, but some time in tbe 90s lost its preeminent position to Dorling Kindersley. DK were, I seem to recall, early adopters of the digital clipped-photograph approach to non-fiction children's books, which the public was eager to adopt. Today, the vintage Usborne books feel rather dated and a product of an analogue era. Their hand-made quality, however, ensures they have a magic that makes the DK approach seem rather sterile to my mind. The slightly bonkers environments the characters found in their pages fired my imagination and made me ready to embrace another company's analogue fantasy output: Games Workshop.


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