In 1913, Edith Midgley's friends and family signed her autograph book but many left more than a signature and uplifting message.
They illustrated their notes with intricately-drawn pictures and sketches of birds and flowers and caricatures of favourite toys. Since her death aged 89 in 1986, Midgley's (later Cook) family has kept the autograph book safe, taking it from her home in Christchurch to Auckland where it has most recently been wrapped in a Wallace Cotton Bag and tucked away.
Now, more than a century after Midgley collected signatures, the book itself and the drawings in it have led to a unique limited edition children's book. Midgley's granddaughter and award-winning publisher Julie "Mrs Dazz" Dalzell has written The Moon and the Room with illustrations by her tattoo artist son, Patrick Dalzell Fay.
Written in rhyme, The Moon and the Room is about a little girl who shares her room with a collection of weird and wonderful friends: Little Blue Tod, Finickity Pickity, Louis the Fish, Heffa the Lump, Teddy Bear, Robert the Robot, Molly the Dolly and Zena the chair who goes everywhere. Together, they keep the little girl safe from Lucy the Rocket.
Dalzell Fay's watercolour drawings were directly inspired by those in his great-grandmother's autograph book, bringing an old-world allure to The Moon and the Room. Dalzell, who founded Cuisine magazine, says they agreed they didn't want a "children's book brightness" to the colours used.
There was only ever one "dispute" when she wanted more words on a page, but Dalzell Fay wanted a bigger illustration of Heffa the Lamp: "He said, 'cut the words'; I said 'make your drawing smaller' but we worked it out," she says, smiling. "I'm very pleased with what we have achieved."
As well as the illustrations, Dalzell thought the book's binding should reflect the feel of the autograph book so worked with boutique designer Smith & Peach as well as printers and binders Design Bind on sewn bindings and a more crafted look. They aimed for a book that felt nice to hold; was made to be read aloud and would make adults as well as children smile and want to read on.
"But we broke the cardinal rule of children's books by not having a picture on the cover."
Instead there is textured yellow lettering which, along with curved edges, gives the book a crafted look and feel. Now 300 copies, all signed, have been produced and, delighted with the finished book, Dalzell is thinking about a possible sequel.
It's an unexpected move from her original plan which was to have copies of the autograph book made for her nieces but costs proved prohibitive. It might have ended there, with the book remaining a keepsake for one lucky family member, but talks with friends Marama Warren, an artist, bookmaker and teacher, and script editor Alannah O'Sullivan prompted Dalzell to start daily writing.
She sent a new verse to Warren who suggested she turn them into a handmade book. Once Dalzell edited the verses, she visited classes at Te Huruhi Primary on Waikehe Island and Ponsonby Primary to read to pupils.
Their feedback about what they enjoyed most, and drawings of what they thought the characters might look like, proved invaluable. Dalzell says she chose not to reveal what the little girl looks like — readers see her back — to encourage readers to use their imaginations just as her grandmother's friends did when they drew in the autograph book 104 years ago.
The Moon and the Room
by Mrs Dazz
(Julie Dalzell Publishing, $45)