The House That Jack Built


Limited Edition of forty copies signed & numbered.  

Distinguished Book Award 2005    

Nursery rhymes are part of a rich oral tradition passed down from parent to child, long before books were printed expressly for children. The House That Jack Built is an accumulative rhyme, with a lively cast of characters, both human and animal, lending itself to art and drama in equal measure. I was privileged to be shown a selection of the 'Jacks' in the collection of the Toronto Reference Library, some 40 or so different editions produced over the years, including the wonderful book illustrated by Randolph Caldecott. It took a conscious effort to create illustrations that were completely my own, yet still in character with the rhyme. 

My original illustrations were drawn in pen & ink, printed from plates and individually hand-coloured with watercolours. The animals play their traditional roles, and the humans play theirs, seen against the age-old backdrop of an agricultural community. 

The design of the book allows a double page for each object or character, using diminishing text sizes to accommodate the verse as it grows longer.  Constructing the book with guards, so that each double page stands away from the spine when open, allows the pictures to be easily seen, yet maintains a neat book shape when closed.

Printed on Magnani mould-made paper, this book is the first to come off the old Craftsmen hand-operated platen press, purchased by De Walden Press in 2004. Combining modern technology and traditional methods, photopolymer plates were made of the artwork and text, making it possible to letterpress print both together. Interestingly, this mimics the old method of hand engraving metal plates with both text and illustrations, as can be seen in some of the early 19th century versions of this rhyme.

The book is hand bound in sage green goat leather, which has a beautiful two-toned grain. The title is gold blocked on the front cover, and a separate booklet of notes and observations on this ancient rhyme accompanies the book. I was unable to pinpoint the exact origins of the rhyme, but unearthed some interesting references to it. Book and booklet are housed in a slipcase, covered with a Japanese Chiyogami paper made from mulberry fibre.

Book: Twelve double pages of hand-coloured illustrations and text plus colophon.  Size: 23/8" high x 27/8" wide.
Booklet:  Eighteen pages including bibliography.  Size:  2" high x 23/4" wide.  
Book & Booklet sold together with slipcase, price CA$475.00 complete.

"Nursery Rhymes and Tales: Their Origin & History" by Henry Bett, Norwood Editions 1978, pub. Methuen & Co Ltd, London. First pub 1924

"Nursery Rhyme: Remnant of Popular Protest" by Albert M Stevens (Rhodes Scholar 1905-1908) Coronado Press 1968 

"The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes" Edited by Iona and Peter Opie, OUP England, 1952

"The Real Personages of Mother Goose", by K Elwes Thomas. Pub Lothrop, Lee & Shepard 1930

"The House That Jack Built", illustrated by Randolph Caldecott. G Routledge 1878, UK.

   © Janet Kellett 1996-2015   jan dot kellett at shaw dot ca