Book Review: Street Children by B. S. Johnson and Julia Trevelyan Oman

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Let the street children through

In 1963, Julia Trevelyan Oman beginning making a name for herself as a set designer for BBC television, but was finding the job rather uninteresting.  Armed with a camera she took to the streets of the Clapham Junction and took candid photographs of the working-class and immigrant children that lived there.  She had the idea for a book, but didn’t know anyone that could write captions for it.  When she showed the pictures to Richard Sadler at Constable, he connected her with B. S. Johnson.  Little did she know what she was in for.

Oman wanted her book to be titled “Pavement Children.”  Johnson insisted on it being called Street Children.  Guess who won.  Not content with merely captioning the photographs in a standard, factual way, Johnson insisted that he knew exactly how each of the children felt because he too knew what it was like to grow up in the streets.  The results of his work are astounding.  Johnson enters the headspace of each child photographed and brings their inner thoughts to life.  Some are touching, some are hilarious, some are downright tragic.[1]

Since this title is way out of print I’ve taken the liberty of reproducing several pages from it here to illustrate Johnson’s knack for building a unique narrative from visuals and his sharp wit.  Click on any image for a larger view.

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Why is this book out of print?  Your guess is as good as mine.  While many of Johnson’s novels have been repackaged and republished over the years, his poems and various other collections remain difficult to track down, but yet continually reveal themselves to be well worth the effort involved.

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1. Information gathered and summarized from Like a Fiery Elephant, Jonathan Coe’s superb biography of B.S. Johnson.


Street_Children ★★★★☆
Street Children
By B.S. Johnson and Julia Trevelyan Oman
Hodder and Stoughton
1964
Hardcover
96 Pages
ISBN 9780340021200
$12.95


About Aaron Westerman

Aaron Westerman is the Manager of Web Architecture for a national human services organization. When he's not busy tearing sites apart and rebuilding them, he spends his ever shrinking free time trying to keep up with his twins, reading works of translated literature, and watching far too many Oscar nominated movies.