The Famous Five covers through the years, part 2: 1990s-2018

Last time I started at the beginning with Eileen Soper, and on to Betty Maxey and the TV tie-in covers. Now we have the 90s covers and the dreaded modern ones.

My era of Famous Fives

Technically in my era as they were published after I was born, Knight moved on from Maxey and had covers by Andrew Lloyd Jones. I didn’t have any of those but I did have the some of the next Knights with the embossed gold lettering on the front. A few are credited to Graham Reynolds but the rest are uncredited.

Knight 1987 / Knight 1987 / Knight 1991 / Knight 1991

Both series are very of their time with the jeans and baggy jumpers. No pullovers or galoshes in sight.

related post⇒ My childhood books part 1

Likewise, I didn’t have any of the very bright Award paperbacks that started with Five Go to Billycock Hill, or any of the yellow-bordered Award hardbacks but I had some of the Hodders that followed.

Award 1992 / Award 1992 / Award 1993 / Award 1993

I always think the brightly coloured ones looks very tropical, and also very 80s despite coming out in the early 90s.

The next Hodder paperbacks had The Famous Five written down the right hand side of each cover. The children are very 90s with jeans and jumpers. Up to Five on a Hike Together there were two of these for each book – one uncredited (in 1994) and one by David Barnett (in 1995). After that there was just one David Barnett cover per book.

Hodder 1994 / Hodder 1995 / Hodder 1994 / Hodder 1995

I’ve noticed a few errors and anomalies amongst these versions. There’s at least one with the entirely wrong blurb on the back. Even more strangely two consecutive books (Five Go Adventuring Again and Five on a Hike Together) repeat their illustrations in both versions.

In 1994 Five Fall Into Adventure incorrectly features the Five on a raft (artwork by the uncredited artist) and Hodder just reused the image for the correct book the next year. Then in 1995 David Barnett drew the Five boating in Five Fall Into Adventure, and for some reason Hodder then used it a second time despite it not fitting for Five on a Hike Together. It’s very strange as all the other covers from these two series fit in with the plots and locations of the books.

Hodder 1994 / Hodder 1995 / Hodder 1994 / Hodder 1995

I recognise the 90s series photo covers (as mentioned in my last post) but I must have completed my collection before these came out.

The truly modern

I’m not saying all the covers up to this point were wonderful, but they were mostly reasonably inoffensive. You could definitely tell which were 70s and which were 80s or 90s thanks to the style and fashions but the children looked like human beings at least.

In 2001 we got a series of brightly-coloured covers by Richard Jones featuring children with odd facial expressions. There weren’t any new covers then for nine years, until some more strange faces appeared in 2010, this time by Adrian Chesterman. Both of these sets seem like they were created on computers – I’ve found Adrian Chesterman’s website which indicates he is a digital artist. Looking at the full images he created they look much better than the book covers. At full-scale you can see an incredible amount of detail down to individual hairs, blades of grass and textures on clothing, while shrunk onto the books they look a bit flat and lifeless.

Hodder 2001 / Hodder 2010 / Hodder 2001 / Hodder 2010

After the 70th anniversary series featuring famous artists (more on that below) Laura Ellen Anderson did a new covers for each book in 2017. Her depiction of the Five is strange to say the least. They have skinny, angular limbs, very large eyes and wear the exact same clothes whether it’s day, night, summer or winter. What’s worse is some of the covers have nothing to do with the book’s contents. Five On a Treasure Island has them in shorts and dresses in George’s boat, fine. Five Go Adventuring Again, set during an extremely cold snowy winter has them in the same shorts and dresses in the middle of a lush woodland.

Also in 2017 the first three books got hardbacks with repeated motifs; ships for Five on a Treasure Island (makes sense), anchors for Five Go Adventuring Again (not so much sense) and aeroplanes for Five Run Away Together (would have worked better for Five Go to Billycock Hill). I suspect these are an attempt to cash in on the classics market as I’ve seen lots of books like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Peter Pan as well as grown-up classics like The Picture of Dorian Gray and so on being published in that style.

All Hodder 2017

Famous illustrators

2012 was 70 years since the first Famous Five book was published so there were, I think, 5 new editions released with covers by famous illustrators. Those were Five on a Treasure Island by Quentin Blake (famous for working with Roald Dahl), Five Go Adventuring Again by Helen Oxenbury (We’re Going on a Bear Hunt), Five Run Away Together by Emma Chichester Clark (Blue Kangaroo), Five Go to Smuggler’s Top by Oliver Jeffers (The Day the Crayons Quit) and Five Go Off in a Caravan by Chris Riddell (Goth Girl).

All Hodder 2012

Three years later, Hodder continued with famous illustrators. There were Five on Kirrin Island Again by Shirley Hughes (Alfie and Annie Rose), Five Go Off to Camp by David Tazzyman (Circus of Thieves), Five Get Into Trouble by Polly Dunbar (Tilly and Friends), Five Fall Into Adventure by Babette Cole (Dr Dog) and Five on a Hike Together by Tony Ross (My Little Princess). All the illustrators so far have their name on the cover.

All Hodder 2015

related post⇒ Books for babies: the lead-up to Blyton

After that the illustrators names are no longer on the cover, instead they say The world’s best-loved storyteller at the bottom and the same font/title style but with a white background. I have also seen one or two of the above books repeated with this style – though only online so I don’t know if they were ever actually published or just mocked up.

Apart from Michael Foreman the rest of this bunch seem less famous. I’ve not heard of any of them, and I’ve had a hard time identifying what they would be ‘known for’. They are Five Have a Wonderful Time by Steve Antony (Mr Panda), Five Go Down to the Sea by Alex T Smith (Claude the Dog), Five Go to Mystery Moor by Peter Bailey (various works including Phillip Pullman and E Nesbit), Five Have Plenty of Fun by Sara Ogilvie (again various bits and pieces including Julia Donaldson) and Five on a Secret Trail by Michael Foreman (War Boy). The other books in the series didn’t get new covers!

All Hodder 2016

I haven’t included these in the modern category because Quentin Blake, Babette Cole and Shirley Hughes amongst others have been around forever and are familiar from my childhood.

I think some of these covers are great and other less so. Some of the show off the artists’ unique style while still being in-keeping with the tone and content of the books.

I like Quentin Blake and Babette Cole normally – I feel strange reading any Roald Dahl books with other illustrators for example – but for me they just don’t suit the Famous Five books. David Tazzyman’s works might look great on a modern, irreverent or humorous kids’ book but again I don’t find it fitting for the Famous Five.

I had a few random thoughts when I looked through these covers, like – It’s a pity Five Go Off in a Caravan doesn’t have a scenic background like the others. Also, I always wonder why Block looks so much like a head waiter. He’s holding people hostage, not serving them dinner! I can’t decide if I like the cover for Five Have a Wonderful Time. It’s very striking and quite different from any of the others, but does it work for the series?

Five on a Treasure Island Specials

Jumping away from the chronology and going back to the start Five on a Treasure Island has had way more covers than any other book. Here are the ones I didn’t include in part one, from a wide variety of publishers some with stranger designs than others!

Longmans 1977 / John Murray 1979 / Fabbri 1992 / Karo 2004 / Paperview 2005

And there you have it; examples of pretty much every style of Famous Five cover from the past 70 years.

Some of them are wonderful and others rather lacking. Don’t just a book by its cover is probably good advice here – the books inside are wonderful no matter what they stick on the cover. The other important thing is that they are still in print and selling well.

What will be next, I wonder? What would you like to see?

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10 Responses to The Famous Five covers through the years, part 2: 1990s-2018

  1. drake richards says:

    everything beyond Soper is dire. I particularly loathe Blake and his jagged scrawl.The go to man for every lazy publisher who thinks he appeals to ‘Youf’


  2. chrissie777 says:

    The 2017 covers look plain awful to me. I guess I’m spoiled with the Eileen A. Soper covers which are much more artful. The 2017 illustrations could have been drawn by a 4th grader. I expect a bit more when I spend money on a book.


  3. Dale Vincero Brisbane, Australia says:

    I have noticed that the Eileen A. Soper drawing on the front cover of “Five Have a Wonderful Time”, variously depicts George looking through the binoculars; sometimes she is looking towards the right, and other times, the drawing is mirror image, and she is looking towards the left.


  4. ConfusedGirlTales says:

    Hi I have recently reviewed the Famous Five. Since you are a big Enid Blyton fan like me I would be happy if you check you my post and give some feedback.


    • fiona says:

      It’s nice to read such a positive review of the Famous Five books. I liked the idea that they are ‘evergreen’ books that’s a great way of describing how they have held their appeal through the years. I also like how you described the Five as ‘very hungry people’ – that’s so true! I hope you enjoy the Malory Towers books as well, they’re some of my favourites.


      • ConfusedGirlTales says:

        Thank you so much for your feedback. I am so glad that you replied. I am enjoying Malory Towers very much. I have read till book 5. I will be reading the last one the next week and I literally feel that I am going to cry while reading the last book because I am extremely sad about the fact that it is going to end.


        • fiona says:

          I always get sad at the end of book six, knowing the series is about to be over.


        • It’s great that you like the Enid Blyton tales. I read your own blog, and appreciated your enthusiasm. The only thing you didn’t do was explain why you prefer Enid Blyton to, say, Roald Dahl.

          The Blyton books do sort of create their own world, a magical never-never land (because even in the 1950s England was never like that: middle-class families couldn’t afford to employ cooks and housemaids, and didn’t live next door to the Aristocracy, as in ‘Mystery of the Disappearing Cat’; and didn’t own their own island, or their own ruined castle, like Uncle Quentin!)

          The great thing about Enid Blyton is perhaps that she never knew when to stop writing, so when you finish the Mallory Towers series there are still another 300-odd books to go!


  5. Julie McIvor says:

    I really want help in choosing the very best copies for a set of Famous Five that are illustrated inside with Eileen Soper”s illustrations. I grew up with the Knight paperbacks that included Betty Maxeys illustrations. I have been able to make up a set after spending a lot of money! My Mum got rid of my childhood ones because she thought I read them too much! 🙂
    Anyway, I never had a full set of the old illustrated ones and would now like a full set of at least the “very closest” to the originals. I have been looking at reviews where people say chapters are missing or pictures are missing etc. and don’t know if there is truth in this. Please share the best advice you have. Thanks so much! I want to get the best possible. I bought a set that were awful published in 2004, and don’t want to make a similar mistake!


    • fiona says:

      Hi Julie, I totally understand your desire for the originals! In order to get the original text and all the illustrations you really have to buy the earliest editions you can find.
      By the 70s the children are wearing jeans and other changes have crept into the text.
      Saying that all my collection are Hodder&Stoughton hardbacks and I know a few are later impressions of the first edition and yet are missing a few illustrations. There wouldn’t be any chapters missing for the Famous Five in any edition but that issue does affect a couple of series like The Wishing Chair.
      You can generally pick up early editions on eBay at not too extortionate prices but you are probably looking at at least £10-15 per copy and that may or may not include a dust jacket.


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