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Reviews of vintage children's books both out-of-print and in-print.
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Encounters With the Invisible World: Being Ten Tales of Ghosts, Witches, and the Devil Himself in New EnglandMarilynne K. Roach ~ Thomas Y. Crowell, 1977
Having been at this since '07, there aren't very many unfound mysteries for me anymore when it comes to children's books. Every once in a while I come across something I haven't seen before or am reunited with a book I forgot I even knew. But as far as having books from my childhood that I remember but can't remember the name of, those days of tracking down leads and recalling small details are over. Only one mystery has eluded me and kept me up at night, and it was only vaguely a book memory. It was the memory of a book I never actually read. All I remembered was that when I was little I'd see something on TV, like an after-school special or a Saturday morning-type program. The show was about a little girl getting locked in a library overnight and meeting storybook characters that came to life. I also remembered it having to do something with an animated bookworm. There were a handful of books and each had its only little animated featurette that went along with it. The story in particular that stuck with me was about a family that gets haunted by a ghost in a shed in the back of their house.
I've long Googled keywords trying to find out the name of the book, to no avail. I assumed our reunion was simply not meant to be. Fortunately, the internet grows more and more robust by the day, and about a month ago my random Googling paid off.
Ends up what I'd remembered was an episode of the Saturday morning show CBS Library
that featured animated or live-action versions of storybooks. The episode in question was called The Incredible Book Escape
. A little girl, played by Quinn Cummings
, does indeed get locked in a library and one of the characters she meets is a ghost voiced by the late actor, George Cobel
, a character actor who at one point had his own TV show, but I remember mainly as a guest star on random game shows during the 70s and 80s. I had misremembered the book worm, though he did appear on another episode of CBS Library starring 80s icon, Keith Coogan
More Googling reunited me with the actual animated video clip.
Moments like these are when I am able to fully appreciate the awesomeness of the internet.
The story is actually from a book entitled Encounters with the Invisible World: Being Ten Tales of Ghosts, Witches, & the Devil Himself in New England
written and illustrated by apparent Salem witch scholar, Marilynne K. Roach
. One more quick trip to the internet and three days later, the book is in my hand and I feel as if my literary life has, at last, come full circle.
There was once a peddler who arrived with his pack of goods at a remote farmhouse in the Green Mountains of Vermont just as dusk was falling. He asked if he might pass the night there since it was a six-hour walk to the nearest inn. The farmer and his sons agreed and acted very glad to have him. In fact they were so glad that before the sun came up again, they had murdered the peddler, robbed him, and buried the body under the dirt floor of the shed behind the kitchen.
They got away with it too.
How awesome a beginning is that!?! The story goes on that years later, a new family moves into the house and is haunted by the ghost of the peddler who meddles them endlessly until they finally discover his remains and give him a proper Christian burial. The rest of the stories in the book are pretty rad, too, like "The Orchard Murder", "The Temporary Death of Molly Swett" and "The Hooks of Heaven". Many a recent night has been spent reading these stories aloud and scaring the crap out of my son.
Goodness, how I love reconnecting with childhood willies. Apparently, I'm not the only one
who remembers this bit so fondly...--------------------------------------------------
Just checking in after a great vacation and my birthday! Back this week with a special post on a childhood book holy grail I finally was reunited with a while back, but in the meantime.... Out of Print finally has a baby line: Goodnight Moon, The Little Prince... and who is ready for a The Day the Cow Sneezed onesie!?! Soooo incredibly awesome, (though don't tell anyone, I've been prone to making bootleg vintage kids' book t-shirts for personal use over the years. My son might be the only person in the world with Beast of Monsieur Racine and Little Peep t-shirts to call his own. Tee hee.)
Hope you kids are having a great summer!
I wanted to thank Tomi Ungerer for agreeing to the interview. He recorded the interview while home in Ireland, and I'm so grateful he took the time to answer. If you haven't read it yet, it starts here and goes for three posts. And if you are lucky enough to live where the movie about his life is playing, make sure and get out to see it... Far Out Isn't Far Enough. It's genius!
In case you were wondering, the winner of Fog Island is Tera! (Email me your info at webe(at)soon(dot)com and congrats!)
Continued from here...TOMI:
: You have a new children's book out, Fog Island
, about Ireland. Can you tell us about it?
In a way, it’s a very different book altogether. I always have to do something different... I would say that about all my picture books, most of them. I've done other books completely different... the romantic trend, if you wanna put it that way. I just wanted to do a children’s book that was not just actions and craziness, no social satire or anything... there’s none of that in my new book. This book is really more about atmosphere and emotions. Of course, I was heavily inspired by Ireland. Where we live, like the stonework in there is exactly the kind of stonework we have here. I was able finally to take my time to really develop my skies, you know, like not just any skies... when I look at one of my skies in this book I feel home, because this is my home. Ireland is my home. And we've been living here in Ireland for 35 years now, and I am thankful to the Irish people, to Ireland as a country, and it’s my way of saying thank you. Very emotionally so, very emotionally so. I've really found my place, my…how do you call this, my zuhause in German, my place where I was able to settle.
VKBMKLs: You’ve lived all over the world but settled in Ireland and stayed there. What is it about this place that has kept you there as an artist? TOMI:
Well, it was after 30 years in New York, at least several years in Canada while I wrote the book Far Out Isn't Far Enough
…I have to say too, I can say that I write just about as much as I draw. This is mostly a written book, but the situation there was really so…you have to read it. But my wife and I, we decided to create a family. We came to Ireland. We fell in love with it. We didn't question…we came back and she was eight months pregnant and we came back with six suitcases and that was that. You know I always think that one has to give destiny a destination, and when something presents itself, just take a chance. Just do it. And it’s a challenge as well, as I said, how boring life would be without challenge.
VKBMKLs: Being in the business of vintage children’s books, I've noticed that people’s feelings towards them are very much tied up in memory and loss. Do you have a particular childhood book or image or memory that has haunted you? TOMI:
Well, too many, actually, too many. My father died when I was three and a half. Then came the Nazis, then we had to move, then came the actual war, which I mean we were in the last bridgehead for three months, really surrounded in the middle of the battle fields, and then the French came back. It was not really nice. And over all this, I’m very, very thankful for all the things that happened to me because they shaped me and they shaped my opinions which have stuck to me all my life. Frankly, we've seen enough war to hate it. Not to hate it but to loathe it. I hate
hate. So all those elements have definitely shaped me in every way, so I've done my autobiography in several volumes, and one is Tomi: A NaziChildhood.
For four years, we were under the boots of the Nazis, but that’s another story.
I must say that nearly every one of my children’s book is autobiographical. If the Mellopses went spelunking it was because I did some spelunking, and I've always been really taken with mineralogy and geology and so on. But if you take Otto
, this is really about my experience in the war. And when I did Otto
, I didn't have to check on how Sherman tanks looks, or an MG42. I know every weapon. I held them. And my God, by the age of 14, me, my mother and sisters were to dig trenches, can you imagine that? And then of course as I was saying before, like No Kiss for Mother
is totally autobiographical. I could go on but I would have to take every book piece by piece.
VKBMKLs: Is there one story you've always wanted to tell but haven’t come around to yet? TOMI:
Too many. As you know, especially all my latest books are really engagée.
is about the third war. Flix
about cats and dogs, you know, about hatred, about getting along. Making Friends
, about a little black boy coming into a white neighborhood. Blue Cloud
is about the civil war. It goes on like this. I think the last one, which was Zloty
, really that’s just about everything. But still... there’s still some books I would like to do, a summation, really. I would like to do a book about hunger and thirst. I have a story already but I haven’t got the ending, you see, that’s the problem. And really some serious issues, I’m in the war, I've done prosecution, whatever, but I think you cannot start early enough to give children awareness, awareness of what hurts. What is bad is what hurts. And to be aware that this world is pretty ugly, but that everybody stands a chance to make it. Everybody stands a chance, they have been given a sense of endurance and courage, and curiosity, of course.
But I really think I tried very hard because I've been working with the French Ministry of Education, and I’m still in Europe in council, but I must say that many of my efforts have remained fruitless. For instance, we have a concentration camp in Alsace, still with the gas chambers and all this, and I always say every teacher should take the children there, six or seven years old, to show them what a concentration camp was, or can be. And I've been very active, just two years ago I did a poster for the teaching of the show and it was a big Swastika and a general’s hand grabbing two Jewish children. This poster was sent to every classroom in France. And to my knowledge, not one teacher put up this poster because they would all say it was an outrage. They would say, "We cannot terrify the little children!" But excuse me. When a child at the age of six is being taken away to a concentration camp, that is a reality and that’s more than scary. It’s even disgusting. People avoid talking about those things, and this is a kind of cowardice right there, and I don’t buy it. And I’m still fighting it, and I will fight it to the end of the days, with my last line and my last drawings.
Our children were brought up like this and when we are adults we can’t remember as children. I remember Luca, my son, was seven years old, so I bought him a little piece of barb and I’d set this barbed wire on the shelf, as a reminder. Children must be made aware of what has happened and what can happen. That’s one thing that could actually serve as a title to this interview. There’s one thing I can tell you for sure—there’s no such thing as a sheltering sky.
Continued from yesterday...
VKBMKLs: What sort of books do you collect? And does your collection include books for children? What are some of your favorites?
Well you see, I didn't go to college, and I hardly finished high school, so I totally educated myself with reading... with books. I had a huge library here, which I've given to my hometown, to my museum in Strasbourg. It is a visual library, which touches everything. I’m lucky enough to be totally trilingual, so I write in French, German, and English; books have absolutely shaped me. Of course, I collected a lot of children’s books, but the nucleus of my children’s book collection is quite rare. Old Victorian books. I was brought up with my mother’s and my father’s books that they had as children. German fairy tale books, etc. I would say the most marked of the titles would be the Struwwelpeter,
an edition of 1862 or something like that. Then Max and Moritz
by Wilhelm Busch. He’s a great poet as well and Max and Moritz
was turned into a comic strip in America later, which was Katzenjammer Kids
. Those were really, really great influences. But as I already said, I never can repeat the same style and do the same books, except in a series, you know. Like the Mellops had to remain the Mellops, but whenever I start a new children’s book, I just take off anew. I have to find a new style, a new way of expressing myself. I don’t mind letting myself be influenced. Not that I copy, but just let myself be influenced by other stories, by other illustrators. Like for instance when I did the German book of songs, Das Grosse Liederbuch
[The Great Songbook
]... my god, this huge best seller! Those drawings are totally romantic, and my influences there were people like Caspar Friedrich and all the German Romantics like [Gerhard] Richter.VKBMKL: Out of all the bookshops you’ve known in your life, do you have one you loved the most and why?TOMI:
Well, absolutely right away it was The Strand Bookshop. Don’t forget I lived 30 years in New York. It was nearly my second home. I used to go there with Maurice Sendak all the time. I would say that in the Strasbourg library at least half of the books came from Strand Bookshop. In every possible form... medical books, various editions... and the prices in those days! I found a copy of La Femme 100 Têtes
by Max Ernst, copy limited to number two for 50 cents and all that. It was marvelous.VKBMKL: Somewhere I read that you are a toy collector. Can you tell us about your collection? How large and what sorts of things does it include?
My wife gave me once a little… made by [George] Carette in Nuremberg, made I’ll say about 1890, a metal boat. I fell in love with this boat and started collecting all the toys. This has turned into a major, major collection which I've given to my hometown, over 6,000 pieces. It was not a specialized collection. It was just toys in general. Most collectors are always looking for the new piece; I liked always toys which had already been played with. A lot of them repaired. Sometimes toys I was never even able to find like the double decker bus. I built it myself out of tin, and it could easily pass for the real thing.
Now, there were many elements. The graphic element. I like to make things. I like to invent things. And the mechanisms in there are truly, some of them, so ingenious, it’s an inspiration to me. A lot of them, since they were broken, I had to open them up and repair them and fix them. I’m quite good at faking patinas, you know. You could rarely tell that they were ever tampered with. I really made them work, and I can say, too, that I played with them, like with my steam engines, and…the piston would be missing, and I’d have my little lathe, you know like hobby makers, these kinds of things. A lot of those toys I sometimes put in my children’s books. Like if you take Papa Snap
, there is this big boat that’s sinking, while the big locomotive in the railroad station that’s a huge... three foot long… it’s a steam engine, so it’s all part of my inspiration. And then where I don’t need it anymore I just dump it or give it away. Now most of its in Strausbourg or in storage and I’m still finding the time to find the budget for another museum.
I'll be putting part two of my Tomi Ungerer interview
up on the blog later today, but I wanted to also mention that I have a copy of Tomi's latest for children, Fog Island,
to giveaway to one lucky reader. All you have to do to be entered to win is comment on this post before midnight CT on Sunday, July 7. A winner will be randomly selected and announced the following morning.
The book received a starred review in Publishers Weekly
. "Any new book from Ungerer is cause for celebration, and this one offers a particularly enticing blend of mystery and magic. . .It's the kind of classic adventure that allows children to triumph over convention and common sense, threaded with peculiar imagery and unknowable mysteries that linger in the imagination."
I'll second that... Good luck kids and have a fabulous Tuesday!
I've been holding onto this interview like a precious, secret jewel, waiting for the right moment to present. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am quite possibly Tomi Ungerer's number one admirer when it comes to his work for children. The French illustrator has written more than 140 books, some for children -- some definitely NOT for children, but all full of wildly imaginative ideas and illustrations. With the new documentary of his life in theaters (Far Out Isn't Far Enough) and the release of a brand spanking new book for children (Fog Island) he's making the rounds (he'll be on NPR's Fresh Air later today), so I figured now was as good a time as any to share my little secret. Last year, Tomi was kind enough to sit down and answer some of the questions I've been dying to ask him over the years.
So without further anything, please enjoy the VKBMKLs interview with Tomi Ungerer, told in three parts over three days. Very fine. Very fine indeed.
VKBMKL: The Mellops Go Flying was your first book for children. With the reissue of the Mellops books by Phaidon, do you remember where the idea for the pig characters first came from?
TOMI: Well, I don’t really remember, I know I was just drawing a lot of pigs because in English I thought that we could do a lot of things with pigs like pigmy, Pygmalion, and so on, and I started doing those little characters, and then it turned into a book. When I came in ‘56 to America, there was a trunk of drawings, I already had a book about the Mellops, but it was too cruel to be published. They were caught by a butcher to be turned into sausages and things like that. But Ursula Nordstrom [publisher of Harper & Row] liked the pig family, she told me to conceive of another story and I just set to work. As for the name “Mellops”, well, in school we gave our teachers other names, I remember it was a name we gave to our history teacher. But where the word came from, I can’t remember. We must have been drunk and having some fun or something like that, you know. There was no harm getting drunk in high school in those days, so anyway, that started with the Mellops.
VKBMKLs: In the case of The Beast of Monsieur Racine, there are all sorts of hidden, mad things going on within the pictures. Murdering hobos, bleeding pipes, bodies stuffed in trunks, and a faceless self-portrait. What exactly were you thinking when you cooked up that story?
TOMI: I’ve always been literally a lover of the absurd. I think the absurd gives a new dimension to reality and even to common sense. And life, you know, on an everyday basis, isabsurd, or may turn out to be absurd. There’s no reality without absurdity. And I think this should be shown to the children especially, if it enables them to make fun of the adults. The children are still free. They have a free imagination. They have the innocence it takes to be free. I think this should be encouraged, actually. Especially as my children’s books developed, I started putting more and more details, a lot of them being perfectly subversive. Children love jokes. Children love to make fun of things, and not only this, I would say that the more details you have, the more it develops a sense of curiosity. Knowledge would be
in-existent without curiosity. So a child must always kind of look—what is the next detail, and most of the details are sometimes absurd. Well there’s one detail in Monsieur Racine where the hobo goes around with a bag and an extra bleeding foot in his satchel. People ask me what’s going on here, and I say, ‘This hobo does a lot of walking, just like if you have a car you have an extra tire. So the hobo needs an extra foot.’ But I must say that I made up that answer as the question was given to me, when I drew it I
didn't think about it, I just let my imagination flow.
VKBMKL: I was wondering how having a child changed your writing and drawing for children, and in particular how having a girl for a child changed your perspective on the world?
TOMI: None whatsoever. As I said, as a child what I went through with my mother’s affection, with my sister’s affection being all over me, you know with kisses and this and that, I really had my dosage of all that, and I must say that I didn’t have much physical contact with my daughter or my sons, even as babies. Mothers can allow themselves to something like this, I mean I have no time for these kind of things, so…I mean, not that I was distant, but I’ve seen so many of my friends who completely flipped over their daughter, I mean making themselves ridiculous, and I don’t think that’s very healthy at all. I think children should be treated as equals, and just simply be respected. They should be listened to, children have opinions, children have a sense of humor, and I know children…an adult should always be ready to answer the curious child. And this is to one of the reason I put so many details, so the children ask questions. And so this involves the parents, to give them an answer. Questioning is so important, but we don’t question children enough either. We should ask children questions all the time. Sometimes difficult ones to see what their answers are. It is what I do now in the French magazine called Philosophie Magazine, I answer children’s questions. But I tell you that it’s a wonderful challenge, a wonderful challenge.
Continued here...All photos courtesy of www.tomiungerer.com.
Books by Tomi Ungerer:The HatThe Mellops Strike OilCrictorSeeds and More SeedsThe Three RobbersZarelda's OgreChristmas Eve at the Mellops'I Am Papa Snap and These Are My Favorite No Such StoriesThe Beast of Monsieur RavineEmileAllumetteBook of Various OwlsRufusAdelaideMoon ManOttoFlixBeastly Boys and Ghastly GirlsOrlando the Brave VultureNo Kiss For MotherThe Donkey RideMellops Go SpelunkingThe Great Songbook
I received a catalog in the mail this week from the always awesome Enchanted Lion Books
. Upon casually flipping through the pages, I was delighted to come across Little Boy Brown
, a lost beauty I've long championed here on VKBMKLs. This is one of my top five favorite vintage children's books EVER. Quirky, strange and savagely sentimental. All my fave components to a good book.
Looks like they will be reissuing it just in time for Christmas, November 2013, and I couldn't be more thrilled. It's good to have the children on my holiday list already crossed off. Getting a head start!
It also happens to be the last week of school here in Texas.
Third grade, here we come!
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The Runaway Giant
Adelaide Holl ~ Mamoru Funai ~ William Morrow, 1967
I just back from Book Expo America, which was like old home week. So much fun seeing so many good friends. Plus, I got to meet Mo Willems (who is a fricking ROCK STAR) and the absolutely incredible Jarrett Krosoczka who writes and illustrates the wildly popular Lunch Lady graphic novel series. We love his books at this house, plus Jarrett has a truly inspiring story that makes you love him even more. (If you haven't listened to the piece NPR did on him recently, check it out. Fabulous!)
But I am not here to talk about all that. I'm only mentioning it because is was flaming hot in NYC last week, and it's pretty dang hot down here in Texas. I thought a white weather story might cool things down a bit.
One winter day when snow covered the ground
like frosting on a birthday cake
Brown Bear curled warm in his rocky cave,
dreaming of sweet wild honey.
Rabbit huddled snug in his hollow log,
dreaming of green grasses and clover.
Crow drowsed in a thorn-berry bush
thinking of ripe, golden kernels of corn.
All at once, from a high tree
there came a loud chattering.
It was squirrel calling down to the others
in a quick, frightened voice.
"Danger! Danger!" he screamed.
"Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!"
Heaven only knows what lies ahead. This small band of animals takes on an unknown enemy in the dead of winter who, with each confrontation, grows smaller and smaller. I won't give away who the unknown enemy is, but let's just say the animals feel mighty proud in their defeat even if the true victor is Mother Nature herself. Wonderful pencil drawings with delicate color and dear, sweet animals.
Also by:One Kitten for KimSir Kevin of DevonThe Rain Puddle
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Gorilla Anthony Browne ~ Alfred A. Knopf, 1983
As some of you know, last year I began working for a university press housed in a university library, and one of my favorite things to do on my lunch break is peruse the children's books section. And because it is a university library, most of the books are pretty old. It almost seems that they don't buy children's books anymore and haven't since the 1980s. Anywho, school just let out for the summer, and the library has become suddenly empty, which makes for peaceful browsing whenever I get the chance. It was on one such recent perusal that I stumbled across this book.
Previously, I'd been anti anything 80s, preferring to stick to titles from that time period that I knew and loved as a child. It's only recently that I've begun to appreciate the style of children's literature in that era and see the beauty in the books, not just for their nostalgia factor. I love the drab cynicism of the one grownup shown here (so 80s) and how he's the exact opposite of the main character.
Hannah loved gorillas. She read books about gorillas, she watched gorillas on television, and she drew pictures of gorillas. But she had never seen a real gorilla. Her father didn't have time to take her to see one at the zoo. He didn't have time for anything. He went to work every day before Hannah went to school, and in the evening he worked at home. When Hannah asked him a question, he would say, "Not now, I'm busy. Maybe tomorrow."
In magical splendor, when the girl is gifted a toy gorilla, the beast grows in the night, and takes her to the zoo (where she laments the caged primates), takes her to the movies (to see Super Gorilla, of course), takes her for a wonderful meal (bananas), and for a dance on the lawn. It's a fabulous night, and Hannah is sad but thankful when she wakes to find the gorilla just a toy again.
The end is a weeper, so I won't give the surprise sweetness away. The illustrations are precise and fun to look at, and the story a total fairy tale. Just marvelous!
Sorry, I missed loving this book way back when.--------------------------------------------------
Someone in my house recently turned eight, and as you all know, almost the only time I buy previously unused books are for the holidays and birthdays. Those occasions are when I buy brand spanking new reads so my son's shelves aren't filled with tomes inscribed "I hope you love this book as much as I did when I was little. Love Uncle Rufus, Christmas 1968."
What filled his birthday coffers aside from Minecraft Legos and The Game of Life you might ask? Well, one of the big non-book presents was still sorta book related. The fabulous Ben Hatke
did this super-awesome Doctor Who commission for a totally psyched birthday boy. Doctor Who is my son's favorite thing of the moment, so getting Ben to bring his own imagination to the world of the Doctor was a special treat. My son flipped when he saw it! If you haven't gotten your kids' Ben's Zita the Space Girl graphic novels (Zita the Spacegirl
and Legends of Zita
), don't waste another minute. Totally rad...
is my personal, current favorite everything when it comes to kids' books, but a book that includes his awesomeness and Lemony Snicket? Forget about it! The Dark
was the first book I bought for the birthday list. It reminds me a bit of my all time favorite vintage kids' book, Switch on the Night
, which just makes me love it even more.
Also included in the birthday haul was a book I've been wanting to get for a while, and it finally floated to the top of the heap, the Newberry Award-winning The One and Only Ivan,
inspired life of the famous mall gorilla. I can't wait for him to read it!
Next up, the the fourth book in the Brixton Brothers series, Danger Goes Berserk
. We love the Brixton Bros, a superbly done update on the Hardy Boys theme, though as read alouds, they can get kind of annoying. Author Mac Barnett writes his books in short chapters, and has an uncanny knack for ending each one with a nail-biting cliffhanger. It doesn't matter how many chapters you read, they will never be enough and each reading session ends in a whine-fest. Soooo good they are. Plus, this one is about a surf gang, and who doesn't love a surf gang!?!
Of course, there were more volumes of Captain Underpants in Spanish, more of the boy's current preferred read alone books Big Nate
, the DK Doctor Who: Character Encyclopedia,
and lots of vintage goodness likely to be covered here at a later date.
Sadly for my ego, the big book winner this birthday didn't come from me. Thingummery
's daughters gifted him El Asunto Tornasol
, and three reads later, I'm now on the lookout for more Tintin in Spanish.
It never ends does it?
So, another year of reading is complete... each year moving us further and further away from the joys of childhood page-turning and into the amazing future of all the books in the world. Bittersweet life. I recently had the displeasure of packing up a heartbreaking number of my son's books into the attic, so when I saw this blog post
from on the Motherlode recently, I could absolutely relate.
If they could just stay little.--------------------------------------------------
A guest post today brought to you by VKBMKLs fan, Ben English. One of Margaret Wise Brown's earliest books (written under her pen name Juniper Sage) and illustrated by artist and former Clown College dean William Ballantine, I've never been lucky enough to score one for myself, so I'm happy to let Ben take the lead. Thanks, Ben, for taking the time to share this wonderful find with us. Welcome him!
The stamp on the inside of this book says ‘Glenside School Library, Muskegon Michigan’, so I guess my grandfather must have swiped it while he was either the band director or administrator there back in the day. Or, more likely, it was a discard and was picked up in a book sale. The first possibility sounds better.
Regardless, I've had this book for as long as I can remember and have always loved the pictures and simple text. Picture books about occupations have their own special place in the history of children’s literature, and this one, while not especially informative, is easily one of my favorites.
Fix it, fix it, where are the Fix-it Men? Down in the ground in a dark manhole, Or up in the air on a telephone pole. Fix it, fix it, here come the Fix-it Men.
That’s the first paragraph and it pretty much sums up the whole story. In wonderful mid-century style, the illustrations depict a variety of ‘fix-it’ men, including a telephone repair man, a wrecking truck man, a steam roller man, a carpenter man, and, of course, a Boss Man.
There’s something I've always been drawn to about the way that picture books depict the big city and the various workers that make it run. Boiling down the complexity of a real city into a simple form and portraying everyone as pretty much content to do their job seems like a perfect sentiment to be found in a 1940s picture book. I can get behind that simplification and the optimism it presents, naive as it may be.
As I said, I have always loved this book, but my appreciation for the simplicity of the designs and the charming approach to the subject matter has increased in recent years. (I wasn't even aware that $65 is about the cheapest price around for a used one these days). I’ll be hanging on to my heavily worn copy to share with my son in a year or two. Track it down through your local library’s Interlibrary Loan program, if you can!
Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler ~ Richard E. Martin ~ Follett, 1967
One of my son's all time favorite children's books is the unforgettable The Hungry Thing
. If you're familiar with that book and its sequel The Hungry Thing Returns
, then you won't think my family crazy when we excuse ourselves to go to the "mathboom". The combo of Slepian, Seidler and Martin produced a handful of books during the 60s and 70s, including this one, but sifting through entries online, I only found one historical reference to Jan
and Ann, but nothing on Richard. (I wonder if he and Charles E. Martin
were related?) Anyone who knows anything, feel free to chime in.
Published first in hardcover under the main character's first name, Bendemolena,
the story is of a wee little cat who loves the quiet.
There once was a cat named Bendemolena. She lived in a house on Cat Street, where cats and kittens lived all together. Brothers and sisters, cousins and friends were in and out and all about. What a noisy place it was! One day when Bendemolena was playing, she found a shiny pot. She put it on her head. Suddenly all the noise was gone.
She liked that quiet so much, she decided to go about her day with the pot over her ears. Ah yes. Peace and quiet can be a good thing, but a soundless life soon leads to misunderstanding.
When mother cat wants Bendemolena to tell her siblings its "time to put the fish on to bake" words are misconstrued as "put soap in the cake." "Fix my chair" turns into "ask in a bear." "Make something to drink." "Put a horse in the sink."
You get the idea! (Sort of has the same premise as another of my son's all time faves, Seven Uncles Come To Dinner.)
Good, silly, awesome fun as words get misheard and hilarity ensues. Fab!
Great-Grandfather in the Honey TreeSam and Zoa Swayne ~ Viking, 1949
I know nothing about this book except that I bought it at a book sale and read it to my son shortly thereafter, and he's asked to read it again every night since. Which is pretty impressive considering the book was written in 1949 and includes language like "Thee lay off thine incessant chopping tomorrow and go hunting" and "I know thee needs a new hominy barrel".
I originally picked up the book because the cover was so bright and bold, but probably never would have read to my son had it not just happened to have been the closest book available that night. His passion for it now is great, and when you search the title online, with the price it fetches, I imagine it has other fans as well.
The dust jacket says the author's grandfather used to tell him a load of tale tales, this one included. At some point, family members convinced him to get this story, in particularly, on paper with his wife doing the illustrations and the rest is history. The jacket also calls it "a story that's as American as apple pie" and says that "families will chuckle over it round the evening fire". Seriously? Got bless an era where the marketing copy includes the fact that it can be enjoying "while round the evening fire."
That said, the theme is not for the faint of heart or the vegan animal lover. The story follows a man and his wife, and an episode where one night she complains that they have not eaten meat in three days. So bright and early the next day, the man sets out with a horse, a stoneboat (which is basically a plank of wood that gets pulled behind the horse), a net and a gun with only one bullet. The odds of him catching much are slim... at least until he nets a flock of geese, falls into a honey tree, slaughters a bear just by shoving it, snares a fish with his shirt and a partridge with his button, fells a dear with a tree and a mess of wild turkeys with that aforementioned one bullet.
A veritable Rube Goldberg of slaughter, when he returns with his haul in tow, his wife squeals with delight then gets to work...
She cooled the partridge for their Sunday dinner. She dried the deer meat and smoked the bear's hams. She salted down the fish and preserved all the turkeys and wild geese, half cooked, in bear grease. She made feather dusters from the turkeys' tails. She made feather beds out of the goose feathers so that years afterward all her nine children slept on feather beds.
Whew. That's even exhausting to read, but a delight to share despite the animal body count. Not sure what draws you in, but this book has something that translates even to a seven-year-old boy of today.
My thoughts and prayers are with the family and colleagues of my old boss Peter Workman
tonight. He was a stand up guy and a publishing genius who always did what he thought was right, always loved what he did, and always always always championed the back list. He was tough but fair and has a sixth sense for knowing what worked and what didn't. In a world where more and more things are owned by fewer and fewer companies, he was an independent publisher in every sense of the word.
The book world lost a prince today. The real genuine article.
Damn. The industry just got a whole lot less awesome.
October 19,1938 - April 7, 2013
Another guest post I've been lax in putting up is this little gem from favorite blogger and novelist (shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in the mystery category, no less), Ariel S. Winter. He is always a joy to get an e-mail from and if you haven't read this, this or this, get to it!!!
That said, have you guys seen Oz yet? We'll get there eventually, though I have to admit I've become CGI weary of late. Still, it has James Franco in it, so no matter. If you have a hankering for a bit of the Emerald City and don't want to do it in 3D, you can always turn back to the books. I never read the full novel when I was a girl, but I did have this edition, and I read it to pieces over and over again. So I was delighted to see these pictures again after so long. Welcome Ariel the Awesome, finder of wonderful things!
The Wizard of OZ
L. Frank Baum ~ Tom Sinnickson ~ Wonder Books, 1951
I've had this Wonder Books edition of The Wizard of Oz sitting on my desk for a year with plans to scan it. With the release of the movie Oz recently, I thought it was time to finally get it up online. I can't provide my usual level of scholarly detail, largely because not a whole lot of information popped up on illustrator Tom Sinnickson in my very basic searches.
He seems to have illustrated about ten juveniles, seven of which were for Wonder Books, and four of those were Raggedy Ann and Andy stories. I'm Learning to Share has a post with some of Sinnickson's magazine illustrations. The April 27, 1952 issue of The New York Times mentioned Sinnickson's The Wonder Book of Trains in a children's roundup that included two books illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, one of which was by Charlotte Zolotow, and the classic Little Golden Book The Seven Little Postman.
Of The Wonder Book of Trains, the Times said "it's not very original but it should reach a younger audience of train-fans than do most train books." It's hard to reconcile that dearth of information with these illustrations, which are so stunning, and in some instances strikingly original for a work that had already been visualized many times over by 1951, that I couldn't help breaking my self-imposed (as a Little Golden Books collector) rule to not pick up any Wonder Books. It makes me wonder why he didn't illustrate more fantastical children's books. Anyone with more info should chime in.
For Oz, the great and powerful, enjoy. I posted the whole book here.
Many I'm-so-sorries for my absence, but we've been in full-blown home renovation for the last month or so and it takes my almost-full attention to keep the part of the house that is in upheaval from spilling out all over the rest of our little world. (Not to mention, it's Thingummery's birthday this week, and I just had to steal her away from her family to take her out for beer and a picture show!)
I know you all love things of old, so check out the adorable wallpaper we uncovered behind the walls in our kitchen. My house was built in 1937, so I imagine this is the original wallpaper, and surprisingly, once you pull away the sheet-rock, it seems our entire house is made of cedar. Who knew?
Anyway, I'm just here to announce a few guest posts I've been hoarding in my inbox.
First, the lovely reader from Ireland Lucy Mitchell returns with this post of a John Burningham fave.
This isn't out of print, thankfully, but it does have a different cover now. The copy pictured here, owned by my parents-in-law, is a 1967 edition. It’s a beauty. Each lush and wonderful illustration is better than the last and the peaceful, knowing expressions on the fox’s face are just perfect.
Harquin is the only one of his siblings who ignores his father's sensible advice not to venture down to the valley below his home. Like Peter Rabbit before him, no warning is frightening enough.
You will be shot and eaten! You will be torn apart by dogs!
Nope, he has the optimism of youth. He is bored with playing on top of the hill. So he explores the valley, smells the flowers, steals the chickens, and is, inevitably, seen by a gamekeeper. As his father warned him, the people in the valley hadn't known there were foxes in the area, and never hunted there, but once Harquin was spotted that all changed. Not long after, the hunt is out in force.
As luck would have it, they are no match for Harquin, who cunningly (he was a fox, after all) leads them astray, and, after a nail biting chase, leaves the local toffs stranded, wet, and hatless, blaming everyone but themselves. And peace is returned to the top of the hill. At the end of the story, we discover that Harquin has cubs of his own now, one of whom is bored with playing on top of the hill. He wants to go down to the valley. (Of course.) The typography and title page (isn't it beautiful!?!) of this edition is designed by Jan Pienkowski (fabulous!) and, listed under other publications by Burningham are the earlier titles; Borka, Trubloff, Humbert, Cannonball Simp and ABC. Also tantalizingly mentioned are The John Burningham wall friezes – Birdland, Storyland and Lionland, but sadly, I have yet to find them on sale anywhere.
Also by:ABCBorkaCannonball SimpThe Snowgackern bähenJohn Patrick Norman McHennessy - the boy who was always late--------------------------------------------------
Robinson ~ Universe, 2013
What an exciting time it is to be a mother, especially one who loves to buy books, read books, and share books for, to, and with her child. Holding onto seven years old for another month, my son is still possessed by audio books (hometown boy Rick Riordan his
perennial go-to listen), is still obsessed with all things graphic novel (Amulet, Big Nate, Astrix with comics like Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield and Lil' Abner's Shmoo sprinkled in), still loves to pull out pictures books for me to read to him (tonight was Moon Man, An Anteater Named Arthur and One Monster After Another)... all while using his alone time to read chapter books in Spanish to himself (Big Nate El Grande and Captain Calzoncillos y el ataque de los inodores parlantes) and then cap off the night snuggled in his bed reading Harry Potter. Though the boy has always loved books, spending the first two years of his academic life reading primarily in a language he didn't understand majorly curbed his love of reading to himself there for a while, so I'm happy to see it finally catching on!
On the flip side, he's also discovered all sorts of less literary things like Dr. Who (the tenth doctor is his fave) and Pokemon (he's never owned a card, played the video game or seen the show, he just likes looking at the
characters in the Pokedex) and Where's Waldo (including finding on his own the disruption-inducing X-rated sketch
tucked among the images). Which leads me to my post today. An adult (though not that kind of "adult") version of Where's Waldo
, that's one part M. Sasek
and one part Eloise
with a wee bit of Martin Hanford (the randy) sprinkled in.
Illustrated by celebrated mid-century architectural illustrator Robinson (born Werner Kruse) in the early 1960s, after Rizzoli re-released his book New York Line by Line
a few years back to much acclaim, they followed up that success by reissuing this a few days ago. Paris Line by Line
was send to us by the publisher a while back and has been perused for a month plus by everyone in the house, daddy included.
From the forward in the original edition..."Joie de vivre" are the key words of this old and yet so astonishingly young city. Nothing displays this better than the fine defense displayed in the clochard's retort to an impertinent stranger: "My bottle is not half empty, as you claim--it's half full!"Paris Line by Line
is a visual masterpiece. An intricately illustrated tour of Paris, each little line drawing holds all sorts of hidden treasures, making every read a new celebration. Notre-Dame with its stone gargoyles and kings. The Paris Opera in cutaway. The city by night. Mod hipsters.
Though it would be impossible to bottle up all the romance of Paris and house it in book form, this one comes pretty damn close.
Large and wonderful. Perfect.
My good buddy Thingummery is going to be taking over the blog this week, highlighting a few choice picks she had sitting around the house. She's awesome BTW, if you haven't figured that out already. Her blog is all about a life spent collecting and estate saling and thrifting, and her Etsy shop has all kinds of cool books for young and old like (young) The Adventures of K'ton Ton and (old) The Altogether in the Altogether Unbelievable Streaker's Handbook. So, welcome her....
Antonio Frasconi ~ Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1958
Everyone is familiar with the circular, repetitive nursery rhyme "The House that Jack Built," but perhaps not with this dual-language version illustrated by the woodcut artist Antonio Frasconi, who died last month at the age of 93. You can read all about his remarkable life in the New York Times obituary here
. But to sum up quickly: Frasconi was born in Argentina to Italian parents in 1919, but he grew up in Uruguay, where he went into the printer’s trade at the age of 12 after dropping out of art school. Before long, he was creating political cartoons and making posters mocking Hitler and Franco.
Frasconi moved to the States in 1945 on a scholarship from the Art Students League, and had an exhibition up at the Brooklyn Museum within the year. He went on to illustrate more than a hundred books—including this one, which was shortlisted for the Caldecott in 1958—as well as album covers, greeting cards, etc.
But his most celebrated work, which can be found in museums from the Met to the Smithsonian, was political. Subjects included the war in Vietnam, the shootings at Kent State. His best-known piece, The Disappeared, was ten years in the making—a series of wood-cut portraits of people who were tortured and killed under the dictatorship in Uruguay during the 1970s and ’80s.
The House that Jack Built
doesn't tackle any of those weighty themes, but it’s as bright and graphic and wonderful an example of midcentury illustration and the painstaking art of the woodcut as one could hope to find. Believe me, I’m constantly on the lookout for more, but not very optimistic that I will be successful.
Google the Frasconi Kaleidoscope in Woodcuts
, an exceedingly rare accordion book published in 1968. It is to die for, the vintage-kid-book score of a lifetime, for sure.
Also by:Overhead the Sun
Thingummery is back today. Read her blog. Shop her Etsy shop. Give her the love, will ya? Yay Bruna!!!!!
Ah, the things you find in your local Goodwill. Like this, for example—a Hebrew translation of Dick Bruna’s Snow White, which was originally published in 1966 by Follet. This version was published by Tehran-based Padideh, I’m not sure when but if we were to judge a book by its (ragged) cover and condition, I’m guessing it’s from around the same time.
Anyway, when it comes to the oeuvre of the Man Behind Miffy, language is secondary—Bruna’s simple lines, pared-down shapes and primary colors communicate the story line quite nicely without it.
That’s what I especially love about his Snow White—the bleak, slightly convoluted fairy tale is distilled to its essence: happy princess, frowny queen, the huntsman, sad princess, the dwarves’ cottage, the surprised dwarves, happy princess and happy dwarves, very frowny queen, the apple offered, the glass coffin, the prince, the end!
I’ve been reading up on the beatific Bruna, now in his 80s and apparently still leading an idyllic life of bicycles and cafes in Utrecht, and it seems he cites Matisse as his major artistic influence, which I kind of get, but you can be sure I’ll be thinking about it when I hit the Matisse exhibit (hopefully!) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art next month.
And while we're on Bruna. Thingummery had one more shorty she wanted to share...
A day in the life of a little European boy: Up bright and early in the morgen, doff those funny blue PJs, a vigorous shower with the loofah mitt, breakfast, fun with beautifully designed European toys, a game of football with your mates and don your wellies for a little kite flying.
Nice life, nice little board book, compliments of Mr. Bruna.
Thingummery is back again. Read her blog. Shop her Etsy shop. Yeehaw! illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone ~ Dean & Son, London, 1976
February is rodeo month here in San Antonio
, so I’ll tip my ten-gallon hat to it by highlighting this gorgeous book celebrating cowpokes, little dogies, chuckwagons, stampedes, roundups and batwing chaps.
I snapped this up at a library sale at our local Jewish Center several years ago, and I haven’t laid eyes on another copy since. It appears to be pretty rare, though maybe not so rare in the UK, where it was published.
Whenever I think of Brits and cowboys, I think of some dear friends who hail from County Durham. Back in the ’70s, they ran a country-western bar in as bucolic and picture-perfect a Northern English village as you could possibly imagine—which always seemed a crazy combination: cowboys and English folk? But not really when you think about it, I guess—the appeal of the cowboy is universal. Cowboys (and cowgirls, of course) are one of the reasons I live in Texas! One of the reasons I named my daughter Dale! One of the reasons I’m looking forward to watching the XTreme Bulls finals from a suite at the Stock Show & Rodeo next week.
So this book reaffirmed my love for cowboys but more important introduced me to the Johnstones, twin sisters who became renowned children’s book illustrators, best known for illustrating Dodie Smith’s 101Dalmatians
(scroll to the end of the post for a shot of my Book Club Edition published by Viking in 1957—the pink dust jacket alone is fabulous!).
Courtesy of Wikipedia, here’s the nutshell biography: Born in 1928 to a mother who was a successful costume designer and portrait painter, the twins studied art at home and in school. Anne focused on period costumes; Janet on animals. They never married and lived with their mother all of their lives, collaborating on more than a hundred books, including some stunning classic fairy tale collections—and a Greek myth collection I will forever be pursuing—for the London publishing house Dean & Son. In 1979, just three years after this cowboy book was published by Dean, Janet died in a kitchen fire. Anne was devastated but managed to continue working, for the first time illustrating books on her own, until her own death in 1998.
What a legacy they've left us vintage children’s book lovers (seriously, if you’re not familiar with their work, Google around because it is so purdy). The text in Cowboys isn’t anything special; the publisher didn't even bother crediting it. This book is all about the art—even if you’re not a Western art buff, you've got to appreciate these illustrations.
I got so caught up in life last week that I never got to finish out with Thingummery's guest posting. Read her blog. Shop her Etsy shop. And imagine spreading your patagium and taking flight!!! Happy Saturday then!
Tony Palazzo ~ The Junior Literary Guild and the Viking Press, 1951
I’m going to make a sweeping statement without trying to confirm its accuracy: I don’t think there have been a lot of children’s books about flying squirrels. Okay, if there are other flying squirrel books out there, I can’t imagine they’re half as marvelous as this one, written and illustrated by Tony Palazzo in 1951. Palazzo appears to have been a pretty prolific illustrator in the ’40s and ’50s (Google around for copies of Susie the Cat,
which looks awesome—I’m definitely going to be on the hunt for it for my two cat-fancying kids). I love the way he plays with type, making it zig-zag across the page like a scampering squirrel. And his two-color illustrations are singular and totally beguiling, to my eye, anyway.
And speaking of eyes: Consider the giant liquid ojos
of the title squirrel—these are the saucer eyes of an anime character! It’s on account of Federico’s eyes, and his game smile, that this book has been in heavy rotation at my house for the past four or so years. The little dude is irresistible.
So we meet Federico, who is a very industrious, very confident flying squirrel. He shouts down a woodpecker squatter trying to move into his hole, feverishly collects nuts and still manages to find time to cavort with his flying squirrel posse:Federico didn’t work all the time,
for he knew that all work and no play makes a mighty dull day. As soon as his chores were finished, he got up a razzle-dazzle, try-and-catch-me game of flying tag with the neighborhood flying squirrels.
Federico clearly has a pretty perfect life, but he’s a teensy bit bored and always on the lookout for a new adventure, which he finally gets in the form of a neighbor boy named Billy.
Billy was holding some walnuts in his hand. He was rattling them and calling to Federico Federico thought, “This is what I’ve been waiting for.”
Before you know it, Federico and Billy are BFFs, while “Billy’s Cat” and “Billy’s Cat’s Kitten” look on benignly, their hunting instincts apparently vanquished by Federico’s ridiculous cuteness. Everything is peachy till one morning when Federico is awakened by a clamor too early in the morning for his taste:
There was a commotion high up in the tree! There was a commotion far down on the ground! Federico’s eyes got wider and wider. He was goggle-eyed at what he saw!
Which was Billy’s Cat’s Kitten stuck up in a tree, and too frightened to come down. As capable as any fireman, no-nonsense Federico is immediately on the case. He leads the silly kitten down to safety, chattering instructions “in squirrel-chat the kitten could understand” and is proclaimed a hero by Billy.
“You should have a medal, like a brave soldier, Frederico,” said Billy. “And from now on you shall have all the walnuts and peanuts you can store away in your nest up there!” Federico was very proud.
The only bummer about this book is that my edition—and I suspect a lot of vintage editions—is missing a page in the back that featured a flying squirrel pattern that you could cut out and assemble and then fly like a paper airplane. I didn't even know until I stumbled across an intact edition online. Dang! But then I can’t really begrudge the original owner his/her fun, can I?--------------------------------------------------
Janette Rainwater ~ John Martin Gilbert ~ Golden Books, 1966
Happy Sunday kids! What did I miss? It's been a busy week, but that's no excuse for not at least coming to say hi! Still, if I can make it once a week, I'm all the better for it. So without further ado... meet the dragon in the wagon and the duck in the truck and the knight with a kite, etc, etc....
For scans of the full book, see the always-missed Golden Gems
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The Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden
Mary Chase ~ Don Bolognese ~ Borzoi, 1968
I have no memory of knowing this book as a child (unlike this rabid fan), but I've certainly enjoyed it as a read aloud to the boy for a number of nights. And it was most definitely the sort of book that I would have loved as a young one. I found it on the library shelves and picked it up based solely on the awesomeness of the cover. Little did I know it was a collector's item and a little-known cult classic. The aforementioned rabid fan does a better job of telling the author's history (Tony-winning playwright and screenwriter of Harvey) and replaying that Knopf republished the book in the early 2000s (under the name The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House), so I'll stick with my own impressions of the story.
Let's just say if garden gnomes never freaked you out before, they will now.
Maureen is a troubled child. Known for being a bit of a bully and all-around wretch.
Maureen Swanson was known among the other children in her neighborhood as a hard slapper, a shouter, a loud laugher, a liar, a trickster, a stay-after-schooler. Whenever they saw her coming they cried out, "Here comes the Old Stinky," and ran away.
Known for being kept after class and having to write "I must not start fights on the school ground" on the blackboard, she is everyone's least favorite brat. But one day she sneaks onto the grounds of the neighborhood haunted house and meets a leprechaun.
Now there are two kinds of people in the world who behave in two different ways when something unexpected happens. Most people take a step backward. A few step forward with a clenched fist.
Maureen was one of these.
This pretty much sums up Maureen's reaction to just about everything that happens in this book. It ends up she is trespassing on ghost-ridden soil and angers the spirits of a gaggle of seven of sisters who live inside their portraits and can transform into pigeons and cause a whole mess of trouble. Things really ramp up when menacing Maureen steals something from the sisters, and things spiral out from there.
The illustrations are sparse but excellent and help to bring this killer spooky story to life. There are lessons here in taking responsibility and learning the virtues of lending a helping hand, but mainly it is a juiced-up ghost story involving lots of time travel and mystery. Full of all sorts of awesome.