From The Times, May 2, 1940
Mr. Leslie Brooke, who died at his home in Hampstead yesterday, at the age of 77, was an interesting and attractive personality rather than a great artist, but his work was thorough and delicate, and as an illustrator he had imagination, or at least fancy, and charm. Though he produced a few oil paintings, it was a water-colourist and portrait draughtsman and, above all, as an illustrator of children's books that he was best known. Among books illustrated by Brooke are the stories of Mrs. Molesworth and the Nonsense Songs of Edward Lear, but perhaps his most popular work was done in "Johnny Crow's Garden" and Johnny Crow's Party". He was a graceful draughtsman, in sentiment approximating to the "men of the sixties" - Fred Walker and Walter Crane in particular. Never entirely without private means, he was a man of wide interests, ranging from fine printed books to gardening, and easy circumstances and interests combined kept him, no doubt, from fulfilling his early promise as an artist. Leonard Leslie Brooke was born at Birkenhead in 1862, being the second son of Leonard D. Brooke. He was educated at Birkenhead School and the Royal Academy Schools, where he won prizes. While travelling in Italy he had a serious illness, which left his permanently deaf, but keenly interested in what was going on about him. In 1894 he married Sybil Diana, daughter of the Rev. Stopford Brooke, who was his cousin. His eldest son was killed in 1918 while serving in the Royal Air Force.
Brooke, (Leonard) Leslie (1862–1940), children's writer and illustrator, was born on 24 September 1862 in Birkenhead, near Liverpool, the second of the three children of Leonard Brooke (1825–1885), manufacturer, and his wife Rhoda (1829/30–1915), daughter of Henry Leslie Prentice of Caledon, co. Tyrone. His parents were both Irish. At Birkenhead School Leslie attracted the attention of the headmaster with his drawing. Severe typhoid contracted during a trip to Italy caused partial deafness that made Brooke decide to attend Birkenhead Art School (1880–82) instead of a university. He went on to study in London at St John's Wood Art School (1882–4) and the Royal Academy Art School (1884–8; Armitage medal 1888). Afterwards he began to illustrate books and book covers. When in 1891 he followed Walter Crane as illustrator of Mrs Molesworth's annual children's story-book (for Macmillan) his future blossomed.
On 28 June 1894 Brooke married his cousin Sybil Diana (1870–1957), the daughter of the Revd Stopford Augustus Brooke. Leonard Stopford was born a year later. Brooke produced The Nursery Rhyme Book for Warne, with an introduction and notes by Andrew Lang. It was released for Christmas 1897, ‘illustrated by L. Leslie Brooke’, the name he chose for publication. The illustrations are full of his trademarks, amusing details and visual puns, the puns often for adults as in ‘This little piggy went to market’ with humorous newspaper and book titles and a reference to Circe. Edward Lear's Nonsense Songs followed. Published in two volumes, The Pelican Chorus (1899) and The Jumblies (1900), they were eventually combined in 1900.
In September 1899 the family had moved to the village of Harwell near Oxford for Sybil's health. When Brooke decided to write and illustrate a picture-book, Sybil suggested Johnny Crow's garden, a game first begun by his father for his brother Henry and him and carried on by Brooke with his own son, Leonard: the book became a classic. In April 1903 a second son, Henry Brooke, was born, and Johnny Crow's Garden (1903) was dedicated to Brooke's father and both boys. The book has humorous verses and details in each picture. Expressive faces and postures are augmented by subtle touches, again, with some designed to appeal to adults; on the Stork's ‘Philosophic Talk’ page, one of the books is ‘Confuseus’, while another is ‘Ludovicus Carrollus de Jabberwockibus’.
Brooke next turned to fairy-tales for Warne. The Story of the Three Little Pigs and Tom Thumb appeared separately, then together in 1904. In 1905 The Golden Goose and The Three Bears, with its puns (‘Tom Bruin's school days’, ‘The bear truth’), followed; all four were published in one volume, Golden Goose Book (1905), considered among his best. Meanwhile, Johnny Crow's Garden gained in popularity, and using leftover original rhymes along with old favourites and new creations, Brooke produced a sequel, Johnny Crow's Party (1907). Successful again, it assured his reputation. In 1908 the Brookes moved to a house in St John's Wood, London, where he continued to work.
The First World War temporarily halted Brooke's output. His mother died in 1915, and on 25 September 1918 his son Leonard was killed in action. The family moved to Cumnor near Oxford in 1921, building a house. In 1920 another major Brooke work, illustrated nursery rhymes, was published as Ring o' Roses (1922), containing his last illustrations of that decade.
A Roundabout Turn by Robert H. Charles (1930) and Johnny Crow's New Party (1935) were his last books. Brooke died on 1 May 1940 in the London home, 28 Hollycroft Avenue, Hampstead, to which he and Sybil Brooke had moved in 1933.
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