Leonard Leslie Brooke (1863-1940) Leslie Brooke had a deliciously light touch as an illustrator, and responded well to both his own texts and those of others. His book, Johnny Crow’s Garden (1903) has become a children’s classic. Leslie Brooke was born in Birkenhead, near Liverpool, on 24 September 1862, the son of an Irish rope and sail manufacturer. He drew from an early age, but was educated at Birkenhead School in order that he go to university. However, a three-month trip to Italy with an aunt in 1880 confirmed his determination to become an artist. (And this despite the fact that he contracted severe typhoid during the trip which left him with partial deafness.) He attended the Laird School of Art, Birkenhead (1880-82), and then went to London to study at St John’s Wood School of Art (1882-84) and the Royal Academy Schools (1884-88). While at the latter, he won the 1888 Armitage Prize for a figurative design in monochrome.
Working first as a painter of portraits, genre and landscapes, he established his reputation as an illustrator through his collaboration on several books with Mrs Molesworth (1887-1901). In September 1899, Brooke moved to the village of Harwell, near Oxford, for the sake of the health of his wife, Sybil. When he decided to write and illustrate a picture book, it was Sybil who suggested the subject of ‘Johnny Crow’s Garden’, a family game. Published in 1903 with that title, the book became a classic, a sequel following in 1907 (and again, belatedly, in 1935). Following the family’s move to St John’s Wood, in London, in 1908, Brooke worked on a series of volumes of nursery rhymes and fairy tales for Warne. In 1921, the Brookes left London to live in a house that they had built at Cumnor, near Oxford. Twelve years later, they returned to the capital and settled in Hampstead. Brooke died at his Hampstead home on 1 May 1940. Of his two sons, the elder, Leslie, was killed in the First World War, while the younger, Henry, became Conservative Home Secretary under Harold Macmillan and Sir Alec Douglas-Home, and then a life peer.
His work is represented in the collections of Manchester Art Gallery.