Fulfilling the roles of author, illustrator and publisher as well as printer and bookseller, Althea Braithwaite, who has died aged 80, wrote more than 200 titles and created a distinctive brand of children’s books.
Lively, uncondescending and information rich, these non-fiction books covered familiar subjects such as fire engines and nature, but it was Althea’s Talk It Over series, later updated and reissued as Talking It Through, that gave the list its
individual feel. Based on her premise that everyone copes better with the unexpected if they know something about it beforehand – and well-researched, with Althea taking notice of the opinions of both children and subject specialists – the books were
designed to help children navigate new or difficult situations.
As an author-illustrator, Althea – who published many books under her first name only – found her greatest success with Desmond the Dinosaur, a charming character whose experiences were told in titles including Desmond and the Monsters (1975) and
Desmond and the Stranger 1979), as well as through more “issue” based topics including starting school, going to the vet and feeling lonely. Desmond’s universal appeal was confirmed by the adaption of some of the stories for TV, and several books
were reissued 30 years after their original publication.
Braithwaite was born in Pinner, Middlesex, the younger daughter of Rosemary (nee Harris) and Francis Braithwaite. Her father’s postings as an air vice-marshal in the RAF meant the family moved frequently and Althea’s earliest schooling was in Malta.
There she first became absorbed in nature, which was to be a source of inspiration in her work.
Returning to the UK when she was nine, she went to school in London before joining her sister, Gillian, at Felixstowe college, a girls’ boarding school in Suffolk, in 1951. She hated the lack of privacy and was not a natural conformist, but holidays in
Southwold, with great freedom to explore, were a consolation.
At 16, Althea left school and went to join her parents in Singapore, but her father was killed in a flying accident soon afterwards. Althea had hoped to study photography but there was no funding. Instead, she did a secretarial course while also
developing her interest in painting.
In 1960 she moved to Cambridge and picked up administrative work for Cambridge Consultants, an agency placing bright graduates in industry jobs. When the firm bought up a building complete with a printing company in financial difficulties, Althea was
offered the chance to run it. She knew nothing about printing but was sure she could learn.
Althea quickly turned Polyhedron into a viable business. She found she had a good eye for design and began to think about creating her own books. Encouraged by her husband, Mike Graham-Cameron, whom she had married in 1964, Althea wrote and illustrated
some stories, which were the original drafts for the Desmond the Dinosaur titles....