Lucy Mangan writing in The Guardian, Monday 1 June 2009
Guardian writer Lucy Mangan browses in the children's section at the Puffin Books archive in Rugby, Warwickshire. Photograph: Andrew Fox/Andrew Fox
The other day I mentioned to my sister that I was planning to visit Penshurst Place in Kent for the first time. "Oh yes," she said. "Dad and I went there once." Without me! Can you believe the favouritism?
"And where was I," I asked, on learning that their jaunts were weekly.
"Where do you think you were?" she said. "You were at home. Reading. We told you we were going every time and you never broke eye contact with Enid Blyton. Sometimes you'd wave goodbye as you turned a page."
I have racked my brains but I still do not remember them going. And now here, neatly stored on miles of shelving in the Penguin archive, are the reasons. Puffins. Not the excitable avian inhabitants of the Hebrides, but the books. Penguin invited me to spend the day here after an article I wrote hinted that it would be my Xanadu. These books are my memories. My entire childhood is on these shelves.
So it has been for young readers ever since Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin paperbacks, put Noel Carrington, an editor from another firm who had noticed the dearth of non-fiction books for young people, in charge of filling this void. In 1940, the first Puffin Picture Books were published: slim volumes, twice the width of adult Penguins, but still sixpence each, in keeping with Lane's affordability policy. Archivist Sue Osbourne has retrieved some early titles for me: The Book of Armour, Historical Houses of Great Britain, Village and Town, The Story of the USA. Although the text is dense by modern standards, it is not sombre and the pictures are still vivid. The books are lovely to look at and hold. It is at times like this that I want to stab the internet and all its unmarshalled facts through their black, black hearts.
But it was fiction that became the real business of Puffin. High up, I can see the red-and-white bands of the first Puffins, published in 1941 by the original editor, Eleanor Graham, who had to work hard to convince publishers - and authors - to let her sell their work in mere paperback form. She began with five books that included Barbara Euphan Todd's Worzel Gummidge and Mrs Molesworth's The Cuckoo Clock. Eve Garnett's The Family from One End Street was published the following year, its cover decorated with author illustrations as sweet and strong as the book itself; they are used to this day.