John Theodore Eardley Kenney (1911–72) is well known for his work as an Illustrator of children’s books, which include some of the Revd W Awdry’s Thomas the Tank Engine series, as well as titles for Ladybird. From his earliest childhood, however, he was obsessed with horses, and he became a considerable sporting artist.
Kenney was born and educated in Leicester, doing his artistic training at the Leicester School of Art. After he left, he worked as a commercial artist. During his war service with the 44th Searchlight Regiment and the 121st Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, he made a collection of action drawings which are now in the collection of the Royal Army Museum.
After the war, he started working in the field of children’s book illustration, completing thirty one titles for Ladybird Books, including Florence Nightingale, King Alfred the Great and Queen Elizabeth. When the first illustrator of the Thomas the Tank engine series, Cecil Dalby, died, John T Kenney was invited to take over by the Revd W Awdry. He illustrated the series until his failing eyesight forced him to hand over to Peter and Gunvor Edwards.
His love of horses never left him (his first memory was drawing a hunting scene on the wallpaper of his nursery), and he followed hounds by car, armed with his sketchbook. The two books he authored were pony tales. Both were part of Edmund Ward’s Truth in a Tale series (for which he also illustrated a title for Malcolm Saville: Small Creatures). The Grey Pony and The Shetland Pony are both charming stories. He illustrated some equine non fiction, including R S Summerhays’ The Young Rider’s Guide to the Horse World, and J F Kelly’s Dealing with Horses.
Ill health dogged him throughout his life, and his failing eyesight eventually forced him to retire.
Finding the books
The Grey Pony is reasonably easy to find and not generally expensive. The Shetland Pony is harder to find but not impossible.
Links and sources
Stella Walker: British Sporting Art in the Twentieth Century, Sportsman’s Press, 1989
Biographical detail (not referenced)
Wikipedia on John T Kenny (again without references)
John T Kenney and the Railway series
Bibliography: pony books only
The Grey Pony, Edmund Ward, Leicester, 1954, illus the author. 62 pp.
No 9 in the Truth in a Tale series
The Shetland Pony, Edmund Ward, London, 1954, illus the author. 64 pp.