Barbara Jones is one of my favourite illustrators and this book has a bit of all her best subject matter – objects, animals, furniture and quirky things. But I got this for its design historical credentials first and illustrations second. It was published for the Scottish Committee of the Council of Industrial Design in 1947, in much the same format as those lovely contemporaneous Puffin Picture books.
1947 was the same year the SCOID committee organised the exhibition Enterprise Scotland at the Royal Scottish Museum. A sort of northern version of the Britain Can Make It exhibition held in the V&A the previous year. This book must have been part of the same design bandwagon that was crossing the nation in the name of good taste.
This or That is aimed, ostensibly, at teaching children about good design. You do wonder a bit at the fairly sophisticated level of text and theory in these mid-century children’s books. Form and function rhetoric wrapped up in a story about David and Shelia, ribbons around waste bins and nature versus the city. The latter point is made with two double page illustrated spreads of the bucolic countryside compared to a rat and bulldog infested city. There is even an ‘interactive’ page where you (the reader) pick items for a room and compare your taste to David and Shelia’s.
This or That a bit of a mess, editorially speaking. And feels like it was rushed off the press by a committee who probably needed to produce something. But visually speaking, Barbara Jones pulls it off. One supposes David (in his kilt) and Shelia are the two young’uns on the cover. Arguing (as children do) the aesthetic value of plywood versus mock-regency chairs.