When Jean and Gareth Adamson set about creating a new children’s book in the late 1950s, they came up with a simple but novel idea: to write about ‘real’ children and the experiences they go through.
The couple had visited a children’s bookshop in Newcastle to see what was already on the shelves and had found lots of characters like Andy Pandy, Noddy and Thomas the Tank Engine. There were also plenty of stories about dragons and witches – but none about ‘real life’ kids.
– Jean Adamson
And so Topsy and Tim were born. ‘We decided on twins because in other books I’d read, boys had all the fun,’ says Jean. ‘I wanted the characters to be equal.’ Twins also allowed for different opinions and reactions to situations – and ensured that the books would appeal equally to girls and boys.
Gareth and Jean, who had both trained in book illustration at Goldsmiths College, went on to create dozens of Topsy and Tim stories that guided young readers through their first experiences, such as going to the dentist, starting school, a new brother or sister, learning to swim or getting chickenpox.
‘I would do the basic subject research and layout and sketch out the bare bones of the plot,’ explains Jean, who is still involved with the books today. ‘Gareth would then take over and produce a beautifully crafted storyline. I would then do the illustrations. We made a very good team.’
Jean and Gareth had three children who loved and influenced the books. The couple were fascinated by their reactions to different events like rain, thunder or lightning, which were often not what they expected. When the Adamsons went to a safari park, for example, a tiger licked the window of their car. Instead of being afraid, the children were delighted. This was reflected in Topsy and Tim go the Safari Park. Over the years, the books have kept up with the times. When families started going on foreign holidays, for example, Topsy and Tim went on an aeroplane. Latterly the pair have been ‘going green’, an idea that Jean points out she initially had 13 years ago. ‘We were ahead of the market!’ she laughs. Topsy and Tim went digital this year and now star in their very own iPhone app. In Topsy & Tim Go To School, children can create an avatar of themselves and role play their first day, from packing their bag and finding their own peg to making friends and taking part in classroom activities. Topsy and Tim is a veritable publishing phenomenon – over 130 titles have been published so far and more than 21 million copies have been sold. Two books and four sticker books were launched in 2010 and sales are rising year on year. The trusty twins look set to carry on guiding children through new experiences for a long time yet.
Article by Veronica Peerless