For more than 50 years Rodney Peppé, who has died aged 88, conjured up a wonderful world through the children’s books that he wrote and illustrated, together with the toys, models and automata that he made. In that world, daydreaming pigs dance, mice
travel in time, and at the turn of a handle characters come to life. Two of these creations became stars for children’s television, Huxley Pig (Central TV, 1989, 1990) and Angelmouse (BBC, 1999).
Inspired by the painted and embellished wood models and sculptures of the British artist Sam Smith, as well as by Victorian toys, Rodney carefully crafted colourful toys and automata that displayed a playful charm and engaging, gentle wit, free from any
dark undercurrents. A substantial collection of these, together with his book illustrations and archive, are now housed at Falmouth Art Gallery.
He authored more than 80 children’s books, including The Mice and the Clockwork Bus (1986), which was to become part of the national curriculum for seven-year-olds.
This was the fourth in his Mice books series (1981-93), about a little rodent family that built their own idiosyncratic house prior to embarking on a series of adventures in various quirkily distinctive craft. Unique to his method of working were the
complex models that Rodney made to draw from and which helped inform his illustrations. These were fashioned with recycled objects at their centre, such as a desert boot serving as a home, a solar topi as a bus, or a kettle as a ship. With these models
he was at his most innovative, pointing the way to the use of found objects and recycled material that would become mainstream a decade or more later.
His Huxley Pig picture books (1989-91) ran alongside the stopmotion animation series narrated by Martin Jarvis, about a plump and charming little porker who embarked on a series of imagined adventures with his friends. Among this group was his side-kick,
“that rotten rodent” Horace, an indeterminate creature with prominent front teeth resembling a gopher. Of all the characters that Rodney created, Huxley was closest to his heart and, as both a star of page and screen, one of the most popular.
Born in Eastbourne, East Sussex, Rodney and his twin brother, Mark, were six months old when their parents returned to India. There their father, Lionel, co-managed the estates near Birdpur in the north of the country, which had been in the Peppé family
since 1849. With the outbreak of the second world war Lionel joined the Royal Indian Navy and, in 1942, the boys returned to their maternal grandparents’ home in Eastbourne with their mother, Vivienne (nee Parry), to start at St Bede’s school. This
was the feeder school for St Edward’s, Oxford, which Rodney attended before studying fine art and wood engraving at Eastbourne School of Art and gaining a national diploma in design. His training was interrupted by a couple of years of national service
in Malaya, before he started at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, London, where, in 1959, he attained their illustration diploma in two years rather than three...
WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR:
All self-illustrated juveniles:
The Alphabet Book, Four Winds, 1968.
Circus Numbers: A Counting Book, Delacorte, 1969.
The House That Jack Built, Delacorte, 1970.
Hey Riddle Diddle, Holt, 1971.
Simple Simon, Holt, 1972.
Cat and Mouse, Holt, 1973.
Odd One Out, Viking, 1974.
Humpty Dumpty, Viking, 1975.
Picture Stories, Puffin, 1976.
Rodney Peppe's Puzzle Book, Viking, 1977.
(Re-teller and illustrator, from the version by Joseph
Jacobs) Three Little Pigs, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books (New
York, NY), 1979.
Rodney Peppe's Moving Toys, Sterling (New York, NY), 1980.
The Mice Who Lived in a Shoe, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books
(New York, NY), 1981.
Run Rabbit, Run!, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1982.
The Kettleship Pirates, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books (New
Little Dolls, Methuen (London, England), 1983.
The Mice and the Flying Basket, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard
Books (New York, NY), 1985.
The Mice and the Clockwork Bus, Viking Kestrel (New York,
Thumbprint Circus, Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1988.
Here Comes Huxley Pig, Warne (New York, NY), 1989.
Huxley Pig's Aeroplane, Warne (New York, NY), 1989.
Huxley Pig the Clown, Warne (New York, NY), 1989.
The Animal Directory: A First Counting Book, Bedrick/Blackie
(New York), 1990.
Huxley Pig's Model Car, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1990.
The ABC Index, Peter Bedrick Books (New York, NY), 1991.
The Mice on the Moon, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1993.
(Author and illustrator) The Magic Toy Box, Candlewick
Press (Cambridge, MA), 1996.
Automata and Mechanical Toys, 2002;
Toys and Models, 2003.