So - what (for me) is so special about John Kenney?
1) The variety of styles that he was master of
Probably Kenney saw himself primarily as an artist specialising in equestrian scenes in his native Leicestershire.
2) The magical partnership that made the History series (s.561) so successful
Kenney teamed up with L du Garde Peach in 1956 to produce the first History book: 'Alfred the Great'.
3) The mood and atmosphere of the 'History' books.
It's hard to choose, but I think it's the sombre pictures that most capture my imagination. The isolation and desolation of the defeated King John, the grim starkness of the battlefield where Warwick the Kingmaker met his end, the moody melancholy of the muddy road to Yorkshire ...
4) The joy of story-telling through pictures - especially through the facial expressions of characters.
At times it's this body-language which often carries 'the plot' more confidently than the text itself.
5) The use of colour
It's always worth trying to get the oldest copies you can of the earliest books - when the colour-reproduction was most true to Kenney's artwork. The soft blue hues of Alfred the Great, for example, give a far-away quality to the tale - and make me think of early films in colour.
6) Tootles the Taxi
Who remembers Tootles as a Taxi as a child and doesn't love this book? Kenney makes it look easy - but the blend of cute anthropomorphism and realistic street scene isn't easy to achieve. Kenney, having honed this style on Tootles, went on to illustrate a number of the classic 'Railway Series books' ('Thomas the Tank Engine' books) for the Reverend W Awdry.
Tootles the Taxi is among the all-time best-loved of all books produced by Wills & Hepworth. For this reason, it was the book chosen to be re-issued in facsimile as a farewell memento for staff in 1999, when the Loughborough works were finally closed down.
Some of the images from the History series books are among my earliest and most vivid memories from childhood. I looked at the pictures for a long time. Of course I did. The pictures were crammed with detail, they were colourful and engaging. They demanded that I 'read' them as I read the text - and in this way they etched themselves on my memory. It was the pictures that hooked me in to the story. First the pictures, then the story, leading imperceptibly to an interest in history itself.
Judging from the number of people who have, over the years, told me that their love of history, choice of degree subject or even career was influenced by these books, I was far from alone.