Kenneth Grahame (1859-1932) was born in Edinburgh but spent most of his childhood with relatives in Berkshire as his mother had died and his father, unable to cope with the children, had gone to live in France. This time in Berkshire gave Kenneth an abiding love of the countryside, especially the upper part of the River Thames.
Grahame’s first book was about paganism, a belief quite fashionable with certain writers at the end of the nineteenth century. His other love was children and writing success came in the 1890s with books about children. He wrote for children because he saw them as ‘the only really living people’. As well as writing, he was working for the Bank of England and was one of their youngest ever secretaries. He retired early – in 1907 – and The Wind in the Willows, was published in 1908. The book offers an image of an idealised society and the characters are recognisable as the familiar types of people we meet in our lives. There was a bit of the timorous Mole in Kenneth Grahame as he was too nervous to leave the Bank, and there was some of the outdoors Rat and the adventurous Toad in him too.
Grahame’s son, Alastair, nick-named Mouse, was the original audience for the stories that later became the book. After Alastair’s death when still a student at Oxford, Kenneth Grahame became a bit of a recluse and lived quietly by the Thames until he died in 1932.
The Wind in the Willows has never been out of print and is perhaps one of the best-loved children’s titles in English literature. Grahame’s wonderful imagination and quiet humour continue to touch children today.