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Reviews of vintage children's books both out-of-print and in-print.
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This post is for you locals out there... Last year, something amazing happened. San Antonio got its own book festival. And not just a little, puny, insignificant book festival. A real live, highly organized, amazingly entertaining one. Headed up Katy Flato (the most efficient organizer and one of the most generous people I know) and the San Antonio Public Library Foundation (yup, San Antonio has a private charitable organization that augments our public library system's budget... raising more that 35 million dollars in the past three decades), year two is turning out to be even more fun with more things to do for anyone and everyone who loves the written word. And its all FREE!
The San Antonio Book Festival takes over our bright red and amazing Central Library, the lovely Southwest School of Art, and the street in between on Saturday, April 5 for book signings, conversation, lectures, readings, and activities for kids. This all day event features food trucks, live music, and more books and writers than you can possibly fathom (or at least fit into two city blocks). Poetry. Fiction. Nonfiction. It has it all!
Everyone's favorite morning show veteran Jane Pauley is headlining and National Book Award winner Barry Lopez (one of our authors) is just one of more than 90 talents who will participate in this incredible display of literary prowess. The lineup of authors is stellar. I'm particularly stoked about Philip Meyer, the author of the epic Texas novel, The Son, who will be in conversation with Michael Fisher, the VP of Faculty and Student Affairs at Trinity University and head of editorial board where I work.
This festival is exactly why San Antonio has been getting a good wrap as an amazing place to live, because we support the literary arts and come out full force when people create awesome things. The day is being capped off this year by the debut of San Antonio's Literary Death Match, a show described by the Los Angeles Times as the “most entertaining reading series ever.” The smack down takes place at The Charline McCombs Empire Theatre and is the only part of the festival that you actually need a ticket for, available here.
If you make it out, (which if you live in San Antonio you should because if you don't you are totally lame, and I mean TOTALLY lame), be sure to stop by and say hi at the Trinity University Press booth, where I'll be shilling our wares and talking about books all day, or until my voice gives out. A special treat for all you vintage book lovers. A trip to Central Library is not complete without a visit to the basement for a shopping spree at the BookCellar, a used book shop that sells record LPs,
withdrawn library books, new and used reads, and more. All run by volunteers and open every day, year round. The kids section is HUGE, and I spent many an hour there back during my stay-at-home mommy years. Ahhhh, memories of all the books I discovered down there. (I bought my first James Flora there!)
Anyway, be there or be totally square.
Read along on Facebook, tumblr, Twitter, Etsy and Graphic Novels My Kid Loves.
Crash Bang BoomPeter Spier ~ Doubleday and Co., 1972
It's been a great spring break here in Texas. A visit with my sister. The premiere of the incredible Cosmos series. (If you aren't watching this with your kids, they are really missing out.) Beautiful weather... even though every time it seems like spring is here, old mother climate change has other plans. On this bright and beautiful nearly spring day, I just thought I'd peek in and share with you another gem by one of my all time faves, Peter Spier.
Similar in theme to Goggle Growl Grunt!
, Crash! Bang! Boom!
is a visual extravaganza of sound. BLUBBA-BLUBBA-BLUB... the sound a glass of liquid makes when a child blows into it through a straw. The RAT TAT TAT TAT TAT of a stick taping along a picket fence. The WHOOOOOOOOO of a tornado.
Or more dated sounds like the CRRRUNCH of an ice tray makes. The SCREEEEEETCH chalk makes on a black board. The hacking cough made my Daddy (UGH-UGH-UGH) when he smokes that awful pipe. The fake death by popgun, OH! AH! The FUDDA-FUDDA-FUDDA-FUDDA of a classroom reel-to-reel. It's a time machine of a good time, all illustrated with Spier's delectably detailed drawings. Never gets old...
Also by:The Fox Went Out On a Chilly EveningThe Star-Spangled BannerNoah's ArkPeter Spier's ChristmasGobble Growl GruntRainBored -- Nothing To Do!Peter Spier's Little Bible StorybooksOh, Were They Ever Happy!
-------------------------------------------------------------------------- Read along on Facebook, tumblr, Twitter, Etsy and Graphic Novels My Kid Loves.
In an effort to visit this spot at least once a week, I want to share with you one of my favorite library finds. This past Thanksgiving, I contemplated whether or not my eight-year-old son was ready to partake in the listening of "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" (commonly called "Alice's Restaurant"), a Streetman family tradition since the beginning of time. I forgot to actually get the old record player cranked up, but regardless, seeing as I found this fabulous semi-nonfiction book in the children's section of the library where I work, the decision has been made. He's definitely ready!
As most of you kids born to the baby boomer generation know "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" is a song/ spoken word extravaganza written by Arlo Guthrie (son of famed folk singer Woody and a hippy-era legend in his own right) that was eventually made into a full length feature film staring Arlo himself. The story told within the song is loosely based on true events that happened to Arlo surrounding a Thanksgiving feast at his friend Alice's church/house in 1965 and involves a rather complicated case of arrest due to littering.
This song is called "Alice's Restaurant." It's about Alice, and the restaurant, but "Alice's Restaurant" is not the name of the restaurant, that's just the name of the song. That's why I call the song "Alice's Restaurant."
For those of you who have never heard the song before, it is freaking HILARIOUS and smartly political. Radio stations used to play the full 19 minute track every Thanksgiving when I was little (do they still do that?), so it was always a tradition in my house to sing along and recite as many of the lines as you could remember. It wasn't until high school that my sisters and I scored our own LP version of it and could listen whenever we wanted. (The B-side of which carries one on my all-time favorite songs ever, "The Motorcycle Song". Look it up. Best three minutes of your life.)
The basic premise is that Arlo and his buddy go visit Alice for Thanksgiving and arrive at her house (which is an old church) only to find that Alice has a habit of letting the garbage pile up. In a friendly gesture, the two load the "half-a-ton" of garbage into their "red VW microbus with the shovels and rakes and implements of destruction" on top and take it to the dump only to discover that the dump is closed on Thanksgiving.
We'd never heard of a dump closed on Thanksgiving before, and with tears in our eyes, we drove off into the sunset lookin' for another place to put the garbage. We didn't find one 'til we came to a side road, and off the side of the side road was a fifteen-foot cliff, and at the bottom of the cliff was another pile of garbage. And we decided that one big pile was better than two little piles, and rather than bring that one up, we decided to throw ours down. This unfortunate event leads to an arrest and turns into one of the greatest songs sung by anyone, ever. It is a story about friendship. Kinda. More really about the Vietnam draft. It is anti-war and pro-people. It stars the unforgettable Officer Obie and a cast of other characters that entertain, educate, and delight.
This song is one of those things in the world that reminds you how awesome people can be.
So let's just say that I was beyond the moon psyched to discover a book version of this ditty existed. I couldn't find anything on the illustrator (unless he is or was related to one of the greatest toy designers OF ALL TIME... Lite Bright, Mouse Trap, Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots and THE INCH WORM? Yes? No? Anyone? Anyone?) Regardless of who he was, the simple black and yellow illustrations are perfect for the tale. Whimsical and completely silly in a way over the top way.
Anywho... the existence of this book is way, way, way super cool in my book. If for some reason you've never heard of "Alice's Restaurant" (and aren't particularly prissy), take a seat on the "group W bench" and listen up and.... you're welcome.
Hello kids. Feels weird and strange to have been away from the interwebs for so long. (Though you can always visit me daily on Instagram if you just ask.) Happy new year and all that. I've been posting some over on my other blog
, but mainly I've been working and taking care of family. Just wanted to share a little yellowed paperback that's been getting some love around these parts.
One day Gia and her friends were on their way to the circus......when they found an old dog with a hurt paw."Go on without me," said Gia. "I'll stay with this poor old dog."Ever so carefully, Gia took the dog home and bandaged his paw."Thanks," said the dog, and gave Gia a hundred dollars.
Can you guess what she does with it?
Also by:MacGoose's GroceryHere Comes the Cat!Monkey Face
Sorry I missed Friday guys! Too much going on. Even still... I am here now with the winners of the truncated four days of the Great Holiday Give!
The winner of the day four prize of the New York Review Children's Collection two-fer is Sy Pie.
The winner of the day three prize of The World is Round is Fierce Nauga.
The winner of the day two prize of the Cranberryport books is Mary Making.
The winner of the day one prize of Little Boy Brown is Sasha Dewitt.
To make up for my lack of a give on Friday, I have selected another winner at random from the fours days of entries to win a vintage surprise package from my personal collection. The winner of that secret bit of awesome is... Andrea!
Congrats winners. Please send me your mailing address to webe(at)soon(dot)com, and I will get your prizes out ASAP! Happy Hanukkah and Happy Thanksgiving all!
Day four of the Great Holiday Give is here and we have two delightful reprints up for grabs, donated by the incomparable New York Review Children's Collection
. Seriously, you could just buy off their list and be done with the holidays. But I digress! So, who didn't love Pat the Bunny
as a child? Well, it seems that the author Dorothy Kunhardt did a slew of other books including the two we are going to give away here! Now Open the Box
, (later re-illustrated by P.J. Miller and published as Little Peewee
) and Junket is Nice,
packaged up in the red-spined, signature look that makes NYRCC so classy and glam!
To win your very own brand spanking new copies of these two superfab books
, simply comment on this post before midnight CT on Sunday, November 24
. A winner for this give (and the other four daily gives) will be selected at random and the winners will be announced Monday the 25th.
Make sure you check back on Monday's post to find out if you're a winner!Day One Great Holiday Give: Little Boy BrownDay Two Great Holiday Give: Cranberryport BooksDay Three Great Holiday Give: The World Is Round
Happy Thursday kids!
Today's give is the brand new edition of The World is Round
by Gertrude Stein, illustrated by Clement Hurd, a book that was first brought to my attention years ago by my favorite blogger, Ariel Winter
. In this 75th anniversary edition (that is pretty hefty and swank, BTW), Harper Design includes a foreword by Thacher Hurd (Clement's son) and an afterword by Edith Thacher Hurd (children's book author and Clement's wife). Very nice edition of a fabulous book.
To win your very own brand spanking new copy of this, the only children's book by a literary legend
, simply comment on this post before midnight CT on Sunday, November 24
. A winner for this give (and the other four daily gives) will be selected at random and the winners will be announced Monday the 25th.
Make sure you check back on Monday's post to find out if you're a winner!Day One Great Holiday Give: Little Boy BrownDay Two Great Holiday Give: Cranberryport BooksDay Four Great Holiday Give: New York Review Children's Collection Two-fer
Happy humpday all!
The always awesome Purple House Press is offering up the next selection in the Great Holiday Give. Today's winner will receive all three titles of the recently reprinted and much-beloved Cranberryport series by Harry and Wende Devlin: Cranberry Christmas, Cranberry Thanksgiving, and Cranberry Halloween. This couple are also the authors of two of my all time favorite children's books from my childhood, How Fletcher Was Hatched and Old Black Witch.
So.... to win your very own brand spanking new copies of these totally timeless holiday favorites
, simply comment on this post before midnight CT on Sunday, November 24
. A winner for this give (and the other four daily gives) will be selected at random and the winners will be announced a week from today, Monday the 25th. Make sure you check back on Monday's post to find out if you're a winner!Day One Great Holiday Give: Little Boy BrownDay Three Great Holiday Give: The World is RoundDay Four Great Holiday Give: New York Review Children's Collection Two-fer
Happy Tuesday all!
Welcome one and all to the annual Great Holiday Give here at VKBMKLs. A giveaway for each day this week, so be sure and come back four more times. I've selected a few of my favorite vintage reprint titles for this year and a few publishers were kind enough to humor me with some donations. Plus, on Friday I have an extra surprise or two up my sleeve, so don't miss out! I've haven't been around as much lately meaning that I'm guessing there will be fewer entries than in past years, so be sure and throw your hat in the ring as the odds are gonna be always in your favor for sure!
That said, the first giveaway is my favorite reprint of the year, Little Boy Brown. I bought this book at an estate sale back in 2008, and immediately blogged about it because I fell so deeply and madly in love. Six years later, it's still in my top five discovered books ever, so I was over the moon this summer when I heard that Enchanted Lion was putting it back into print.
(Enchanted Lion did donate this book, but I would've purchased a copy to giveaway myself if they had not obliged. It's THAT FABULOUS!!!!)
So.... to win your very own brand spanking new copy of this timeless children's tale, simple comment on this post before midnight CT on Sunday, November 24. A winner for this give (and the other four daily gives) will be selected at random and the winners will be announced a week from today, Monday the 25th. Make sure you check back on Monday's post to find out if you're a winner!
The goose, she is getting fat, so be sure and enter as you'll have one less present to purchase.
Day Two Great Holiday Give: Cranberryport Books
Day Three Great Holiday Give: The World is Round
Day Four Great Holiday Give: New York Review Children's Collection Two-fer
Good luck and happy everything!
Hi all... Just some pre-warning. Monday, November 18 marks the start of my annual Great Holiday Give
. A giveaway every day for a week including brand spanking new copies of fabulous vintage reprints. Participating publishers include Enchanted Lion
, Purple House Press
and more! Don't miss it!!!!
Let the holidays begin friends!
As I've been warning for some time, I've decided to taking my blogging in another direction. If you've been reading me from the beginning, you know that I launched this blog a million years ago when my son was a baby. It started as a way to connect with other people about all the wonderful books I was finding for and sharing with my son. It ended up that I wasn't the only mom looking for the vintage awesomeness of an old book. Loads of like-minded folks were looking for past picture books to share with their kids. Illustrators were looking for inspiration from the past. And TONS of people were just randomly Googling the key words they could remember about a book they loved long ago and lost. (Hi there!)
Way back then, I was a stay-at-home mom on hiatus from working, and had way more time and energy to funnel into this labor of love. Now, I'm back working in publishing, and though I still do love the thrill of finding a treasure here and there and sharing it on the other blog, my son's literary passions sit elsewhere. He hasn't yet become the voracious reader I had hoped for but he still loves books, but more appropriately, graphic novels or anything of the cartoon variety. He adores any story told in images as drawing is his number one passion. More than anywhere else nowadays, you'll find us in the graphic novel section at Half Price Books digging to find the handful of things age-appropriate for an eight-year-old who loves animals, anime, and Doctor Who.
So here I am, starting a new blog when I should be doing a million and one other things.
Welcome, Graphic Novels My Kid Loves
, banner by the Ben, fabulous creator of Zita the Spacegirl
I hope you'll come visit me over there, and know that I'll still be here, posting on new things I find.
For example, the annual Great Holiday Give is ready to go for the start of the November, so tune in to win!
Happy reading kids, and, as always, thanks for riding along!
Kay Thompson ~ Hilary Knight ~ Simon and Schuster, 1969
Forgive me as I've posted on this book before, and it's hardly an undiscovered treasure, but I felt like now was the appropriate time in my son's book reading career to fully appreciate Eloise. When I posted on it back in 2008
, my son was a toddler, and though he loved Eloise dearly, I don't remember that he did it with the same amount of vigor and understanding that he embraces her with now.
"Kleenex makes a very good hat"
Often people ask me what my favorite children's book is and I compile lists in my head or tell people the favorites that I think will most match their tastes. But, unequivocally, if someone were to ask me what my all-time favorite children's book is and/or was, it will always, always, ALWAYS be, forever and always until the end of time... Eloise
The copy we have in our collection now, it not my true childhood copy. My two sisters and I read our original copy so vigorously in our little kid years that by the time I got to elementary school it had long since fallen apart and been lost. Later, when I was around ten years old, my mother took me to the local bookshop and told me I could get anything I wanted. Instead of buying one of the Narnia books, The Wizard of Oz
or a Cynthia Voight title, I opted for an upgrade of Eloise
. So many of the books in our family library were hand-me-downs from my sisters or shared books, that I remember being so enamored with having a brand new Eloise
that was all my own. This copy followed me through high school, to my dorm room at college and to my first apartment in Williamsburg, Virginia, and my second apartment at 404 West 51st Street in New York...eventually finding its way to my son's bookshelf.
When I was young and my mother would take us on trips to New York, we would load in a cab and go on mecca to The Plaza for ONLY one reason. That is where Eloise lived.
I could spend hours looking at that book, even in high school, getting lost in the illustrations, chuckling over the hidden treasures tucked within each. It is an absooooolutely PERFECT book, from beginning to end in both words and pictures. I could go on and on about images and moments I love in this book. The foldout elevator sequence where Eloise movements in the text are mapped out exactly in a dotted arrow line.
How all of her imaginary scenarios are inked out in a red (pink?), sometimes so faint, it almost seems like they are not there at all.
Weenie (the dog that looks like a cat), Skipperdee (the turtle that loves strawberry leaves), and Nanny (the beer loving boxing fan)! Each and every character, a dream.
My son always loved it as a wee one, but for several years it has sat untouched on the back of his bookshelf (that, BTW, is so overloaded, each shelf is two or three books deep, and once things get lost in the back row, they are often never heard from again.) A few weeks ago, it managed to squirt itself back up to the front row, and I read it to him at bedtime, and the giggling commenced. And when I say giggling, I really mean chortling, belly laughing, screaming and screeching hysterically. So for the past few weeks, it feels like Eloise makes her way to the top of the read pile each and every night. My husband is now convinced that Eloise is psychotic... as evidenced by the pictures below, and whenever he states this fact aloud, it just makes my son howl all the more. (The gin, the nailing of the chair to the floor, the sawing of the doll in half, the bizarre role playing... literally, I could go on and on.) My son thinks the fact everything Eloise owns is wrecked is outrageously awesome.
I have come to the conclusion that Kay Thompson, Hillary Knight and my son are cut from the same cloth, and, in fact, share the exact same sense of humor. He finds the oddest lines to be so massively funny that he has trouble breathing at least five times in a read through.
My son's favorite passage?
While I'm brushing my teeth there is this pigeon
who is always hanging around our bathroom window
and he does absolutely nothing but coo
He is fat and grisly and I holler at him
It slays him each and every time. Go figure.
This book. Always, always, always and forever in my heart.
Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler ~ Richard E. Martin ~ Follett, 1967
I still can't resist a book by the Slepian-Seidler-Martin trio, as wild and wonderful as they are. This one is perfect for the toddler set as it is filled with odd pairings and silly sounds.Where is your ear?Can it hear...Quiet sounds...shhhh?Loud sounds....BOOM!Wet sounds...splash?Even sounds that are silly like hum-a-dum-dilly?
It continues on page after page. Does it hear a mouse's tear? A dog playing cowboy. A bird who found a chocolate worm. Can you hear...A lollipop cry? The laugh of a fly? A pie say goodbye?
All aptly illustrated with Martin's always mildly whack-a-doodle drawings and culminating in a party for everyone
. By the way, any book that features a dog playing cowboy is OK in my book. Brilliant!
I just got an e-mail today from HarperCollins letting me know that a facsimile edition of Gertrude Stein’s only children’s book, The World is Round, is due out in October. If you've never read Ariel Winter's write up on it on his blog We Too Were Children, you are in for a treat! He includes wonderful photos of the original limited edition released at publication. Just fabulous!
Anyways, illustrated by Clement Hurd, the beloved illustrator of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny, this edition is being released to coincide with the 75th anniversary of its publication.
From the publisher:
Written in Stein’s unique prose style, The World is Round tells the story of a young girl named Rose, who contemplates who, what, and, why she is, often expressing herself through rhyme and song. Although published as a children’s story, the book is a literary work for adults, too, as Stein focuses on themes of individualism and personal identity. As with many of her writings, Stein plays with words and language throughout the book, incorporating her most famous line, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” several times in the story. The book also features:
- a foreword by Clement Hurd’s son
- numerous correspondence between Stein and Hurd during their collaboration on this work
- an essay by Edith Thacher Hurd, Clement Hurd’s wife, entitled “The World Is Not Flat,” which tells the behind-the-scenes story of the making of the book
I, for one, can NOT Wait!
Back for one final post, again, help me in welcoming my good friend, fellow old book collector, and Etsy purveyor
of all things vintage modern and awesome, Thingummery
Dare Wright, Random House, 1961
It’s pretty hard to talk about Dare Wright’s Lonely Doll series without talking about Dare Wright. This isn't generally the case with children’s book authors. Though I’m always curious to read biographies of my favorites, I don’t actually need to know about the personal life of William Stieg or Margaret Wise Brown to appreciate their work. Dare Wright is a different story, because her stories—about a pretty, narcissistic doll and her surrogate family of Steiff stuffies—are so oddly beautiful, so unsettling and also share an uncanny resemblance to Wright’s own deeply unsettling, very sad life.
You can read the 2004 biography The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll
by Jean Nathan for all the chilling details; I read the excerpt in Vanity Fair
and then immediately bought the book, but I've never read the whole thing. It’s just too sad. The nutshell is that in 1917, Dare’s parents divorced when she was just three. Her father, a theater critic, moved from their home in Cleveland to NYC with her beloved older brother, leaving Dare alone to contend with her overbearing mother Edith, a society portrait painter. Oh, and Edith just happens to be the name of the titular Lonely Doll, who just happens to look exactly like Dare.
According to the biography, the mother-daughter relationship was very intense, very strange, and much has been made of the fact that as adults they shared the same bed and that Dare never married and quite possibly remained a virgin her whole life. It’s all very Grey Gardens/What Ever Happened to Baby Jane type stuff. After Dare finished high school, they moved to NYC, where she struggled as an actress, succeeded as a high fashion model, but ultimately preferred to work behind the camera, as a fashion photographer and then as the author/creator of the books that would become her life’s work. Today
, those books enjoy an illustrious cult following: A New York Times article
from a few years ago name-checks all sorts of literary/fashion/music icons who admire her, including Kim Gordon, Anna Sui, Steve Meisel and David LaChapelle.
There are ten books in the Lonely Doll series, three of which were reissued in the late 1990s by Houghton Mifflin (including the first) but I’m writing up The Lonely Doll Learns a Lesson
because I scored the first edition at a library sale a few years ago. To sum up the first book, which was published in 1957 and introduces the characters—and the controversy surrounding them—Edith is a despairing doll living alone in a grand NYC mansion until one day two stuffed bears inexplicably arrive on the scene. Stern Mr. Bear becomes a father figure; his presumed son Little Bear becomes her brother and best friend. Like most kids, they get into all sorts of mischief. Single dad Mr. Bear grimly puts up with it until Edith one day plays dress-up with her never-seen, never-mentioned owner’s makeup and gowns without permission, so he puts her over his knee and spanks her bottom. He also threatens to abandon her, which is more distressing to Edith than the corporal punishment (hmm… father and brother abandoning little girl… sounds familiar, right?).
But it’s the spanking that disturbs (and/or titillates) a lot of readers, and it recurs in other books in the series. Which is why many adults find her stories too creepy to share with their kids, though I don’t think kids find them creepy at all (mine don’t). Adults see sadomasochistic subtext where kids only see an interesting anachronism—a misbehaving little girl getting spanked instead of being put in time out or having her iPad privileges revoked.
In The Lonely Doll Learns a Lesson
, Edith doesn't get spanked for her bad behavior—she gets measles. The story begins with Edith enamored of a new kitten and Little Bear feeling very left out. Self-centered Edith is totally oblivious to her brother/BFF’s feelings until Mr. Bear has to give her one of his lectures. She agrees to make more of an effort to include Little Bear but they still keep bickering because Edith is so obsessed with the cat. Finally, Mr. Bear has to send her off to bed and then comfort poor Little Bear, who wishes he had a dog.
The next morning Edith wakes up feeling crummy. The doctor is sent for and when it’s discovered she has measles, she has to stay in bed and find ways to pass the time (I love the photo where she’s reading Now We Are Six
Little Bear pays her an illicit visit, right after the kitten has gotten all tangled in Edith’s hair. Little Bear decides to rectify matters by roughly cutting off Edith’s golden locks. She freaks out. Mr. Bear rushes to see what the fuss is about, and then does the only thing he can do—he finishes the job, giving Edith quite a cunning bob.
The next day, Edith is feeling better and regretful about her bad behavior. She goes to apologize to Little Bear and finds that now he has the measles too. She hatches a plan with Mr. Bear to buy him a puppy as a gesture of kindness and forgiveness, and all ends in happiness and harmony.
So are Dare Wright’s books compelling if you don’t know her backstory? I definitely think so. For one thing, her photographs are beautiful (especially if you have a taste for midcentury interiors and vintage New York City). But her most impressive artistic achievement is creating a hermetically sealed world inhabited by a doll and two bears. A world that’s convincing the way a really good episode of The Twilight Zone is convincing: something doesn't feel quite right but you don’t find out what it is until the end. With the Lonely Doll books, you don’t ever have to find out—unless you choose to read about Dare’s real life.
Atomics for the MillionsDr. Maxwell Leigh Eidinoff - Hyman Ruchlis - Maurice Sendak - McGraw-Hill, 1947
Recently, I've been thinking about Peter Sieruta. I was cleaning up my side bar the other day and saw his site listed in my blog roll and nostalgically took a click.
Peter and I both started blogging about children's books in 2007, just a few months apart, and back then, he was one of only a few on the landscape. Reading his blog always made me feel smart, or rather always made me feel like my blog was authored by an airhead, but by reading his blog, Collecting Children's Books, it would make me smarter. I was a dabbler, but he... HE was someone who really knew what he was talking about. He was a writer for Horn Book, and his opinion was respected and his knowledge about the subject of children's books, bottomless. He was the real thing. He was in the middle of writing a book with Seven Impossible Things and Fuse Eight. His posts were knowledgeable and heartfelt, and often made me cry with their generosity of spirit about seemingly little things that mattered a whole lot.
Peter died tragically and unexpectedly over a year ago. His dear little blog sits untouched since May 13, 2012. I'm not much of a social butterfly when it comes to the internet, and in all those years, I never reached out to him beyond a few random comments on posts I loved. If I could talk to him now, I would tell him how I always respected him from afar. I would tell him what a great writer he is. How I wished I knew as much as he did about everything.
As I started sorting through his blog pages again, I came across a post he did
on the first book Maurice Sendak illustrated, Atomics for the Millions,
illustrated when Maurice was only 19 as a favor to one of his teachers. The next day I checked the shelves at my office, and of course, it was there. Pulling it from the shelf felt precious and wonderful. The weight of it in my hand. The way the cloth cover felt on my fingertips. The cracking spine and pencil-made notes in the margins left by students long ago. I stood marveling at the illustrations, such a wonder, looking back on this early hint of a life so well-illustrated. Smiling at the connection I felt, like so many others, with Maurice Sendak because of the books he illustrated that I've loved. Smiling about how this little moment among the stacks was brought about by a stranger who always seemed like a dear friend because of the love of books we shared.
I was thinking of cleaning Collecting Children's Books
off my side bar, but only for a second, then thought better of it. I'll probably keep returning to it as there is always something new to discover. If you've never read Peter's blog before, start here
and enjoy. If you discover a wonder or two there, something that reminds or delights, remember that it is readers like Peter who truly make books come alive. Through his love for children's literature, Peter took the best of the boy and translated it into one hell of man. It we could all keep the best of childhood alive in our hearts like that, the world would be a better place indeed.
It’s a wonderful thing to go to an estate sale and find a Tomi Ungerer book you didn't even know existed, especially one illustrated at what might be considered the apex of his children’s book illustrating career. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
was published in 1969, around the same time period as some of my favorites: Moon Man, Zarelda’s Ogre, The Hat, The Beast of Monsieur Racine
… But unlike those masterworks, Ungerer didn't write The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
; he left that to Barbara Hazen, better known as Barbara Shook Hazen, a midcentury magazine editor turned prolific children’s book author, who has over 80 titles to her credit. Of those many titles, I’m only familiar with two: The Knight Who Was Afraid of the Dark
, an old favorite at my house, and Mr. Ed, The Talking Horse
(yes, that Mr. Ed, and if you’re interested, I've got a copy for sale at my etsy shop
No offense to Ms. Hazen (who I believe is still living and working in NYC), but this book is really about the pictures, which should come as no surprise to Ungerer fans. Based on a poem by Goethe—though best known in its Mickey Mouse incarnation—Hazen’s version of the tale of a ne’er-do-well apprentice who unleashes powers he cannot possibly control is a bit overworked and wordy for my taste (my kids think I’m being a snob). Probably anyone’s prose would seem colorless next to these illustrations, which are classic Ungerer: trippy, witty and always with a deep, dark underbelly. Full of cockeyed references to previous books, disembodied body parts and loopy creatures. Kind of like Highlights magazine’s “Hidden Pictures” reimagined by a very sinister mind. The broom alone is terrifying.
The story line doesn't waver much from the classic telling of the tale. We meet a “wise old wizard” who lived in a castle “high above the River Rhine.”
The cellar was the sorcerer’s workshop. One side of the cellar was lined with shelves of musty, dusty, leather-bound books. By far the most important book of all was an enormous volume called Complete Magic Spells and Incantations... The book stood alone on the top shelf, where it was guarded day and night by an old green-eyed owl. The book was always locked, and the sorcerer always wore the key around his neck.
In the middle of the workshop was a water tub. Every day the tub had to be filled. Heavy buckets of water had to be brought all the way up the steep stone steps which led from the River Rhine.
Enter the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the hapless Humboldt, whose task it is to tote those heavy buckets of water every day. Humboldt aspires to wizardhood, but he’s a total slacker so the sorcerer really has to ride him. “An apprentice must work. An apprentice must learn. An apprentice must earn his magic powers,” he chides, before heading off to a wizard conclave and leaving Humboldt to hold down the fort.
After the sorcerer disappears in his trademark puff of blue smoke, Humboldt kvetches:
“It isn't fair. He has all the fun and I do all the dirty work. Why should I slave all day when the master could cast one magic spell and have all the chores done in an instant. Magic’s a much easier way, and much more fun, too!”
When Humboldt discovers his master has forgotten to take the key to his big book of magic, he immediately opens it and finds the spell that will make a broom “fulfill all the wishes of your will.”
The foolish boy calls out the spell and all hell breaks loose. The guardian owl awakens and knocks him off the ladder.
The ladder crashed and broke in two. But luckily Humboldt landed unhurt, cushioned by the sorcerer’s stuffed crocodile. Humboldt lay there stunned. At first nothing happened. Had he said the wrong magic words?
But you know what happens next. The animated broom stirs, and gets right down to business, filling the sorcerer’s tub with water from the Rhine. And “Humboldt kept on singing and dancing and the broom kept on hobbling and bobbling, and the water kept on rising in the tub.”
Things really start to spiral out of control; the cellar begins to flood and Humboldt can’t undo the spell.
The water was now waist high. The cat was climbing the furniture and the snakes were slithering up the draperies. Scared and soaked to the skin, Humboldt knew he had to do something to stop the broom. He grabbed the sorcerer’s axe.
He cuts the broom in two, which only results in…more brooms. Way more creepy-faced brooms.
By now the flood had reached the top shelf of the bookcase. Humboldt was swimming for his life, and trying to catch the magic book, bobbing always just out of reach.
And just in the nick of time, in his trademark blue puff of smoke, the sorcerer appears and banishes the broom army with a spell. Humboldt feebly begs forgiveness, but the sorcerer just puts him to work, cleaning up the mess of his making. And in a twist I don’t recall from the Fantasia version of the tale, the broom briefly awakens to whack him on the butt four times, “sending the sorcerer’s apprentice flying all the way down the steep stone steps to the River Rhine. AND THAT WAS THAT!”
Elissa Jane Karg ~ Silvermine Publishers, 1967 ~ Scholastic Book Services, 1968
Once upon a time in the 1960s, a teenage girl from Connecticut would take the train to NYC and hang out in Greenwich Village. You might envision several different outcomes to this scenario—she becomes a groupie or a folk singer or a folk singer’s groupie or maybe a style icon or a statistic—but probably not the one that actually transpired: Elissa Jane Karg, a self-described “cynical & skeptical junior at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, Connecticut” and “an angry & amused observer of my cool contemporaries” instead chronicled her experiences in a comic strip for her school newspaper, which was shortly thereafter published as a book by Scholastic.
She was just 16 years old.
Wow. Does that fuel fantasies for kid comic artists (and their doting parents) all across the land, or what?
Well, Karg’s real-life narrative didn’t exactly continue on the trajectory you might expect from a kid artist prodigy. She didn’t go to RISD and end up a successful illustrator in NYC; she went to Oberlin and ended up in Detroit. She apparently fell in love and never looked back. She became an ardent Socialist, a union organizer, an auto worker, a mother and a nurse. As far as I can tell, she never published another book, except for co-authoring Stopping Sexual Harassment: a Handbook for Union and Workplace Activists
in 1980, which I’m guessing did not feature her finely-wrought, Edward Gorey–esque pen-and-ink drawings. She died in 2008, when she was in a bicycle accident on her way home from a Socialist meeting. From the little I’ve read about her, she sounds like a remarkable lady—a passionate activist and champion of women’s rights who was beloved by a lot of folks—which most definitely is what you’d expect of the singular sort of person who could create a book like this while still a mere chit of a girl.
How to Be a Nonconformist
is very much a time capsule, a cultural artifact from one of the more romanticized moments in recent(ish) history—one that frankly, you don’t see parodied nearly as often as it should be! In her “22 steps to nonconformity,” Karg manages to skewer tight pants, miniskirts, sandals, long hair on boys, short hair on girls, poor-mouthing, pop art, cockroaches, MGs, empty protests, goofy song lyrics and knee-jerk cynicism. Was this the beatnik brew from which punk rock sprang?
Karg’s peers may have viewed rebellion as a fashion statement, but Karg obviously walked the walk. The book may be a blast from the past, man, but the message is still relevant: If we’re all donning the same personae and calling ourselves nonconformists, doesn't that make us all…conformists?
I’m so glad to have stumbled upon this beat-up, yellowing ex-library book at a sale last year. I was sucked in by the cover art, but it’s the voice that’s so authentic—a worldly-wiseacre little sister. I put her in the pop-culture pantheon of all the subversive girls—Pippi Longstocking
and Harriet the Spy
and Winona Ryder in Heathers
and Lisa Simpson and Daria and everyone at Sassy
magazine—astute cultural observers who may not always flout authority outright but at least question it (in the drollest manner possible).
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.
Tommy's Camping Adventure
Gladys Saxon ~ Mel Crawford ~ Golden, 1962
I first read about this book on The Ward-I-Matic a few years back and have kept my eye out for it ever since. I love all things Mel Crawford, so I always keep my eye out, even if my boy has outgrown Little Golden Books for the most part. As a matter of fact, most of his gold-foiled titles are already tucked away in the attic, awaiting some grandchild far off in the future. But when I see a stack of Golden Books I can't help but check them out. Old habits die hard. So when I traveled a few towns over several weekends back and found this delightfully grubby used bookshop on a somehow derelict street corner in Seguin, I had to buy it, even if it ends up in the shop or attic eventually.
Tommy Miller and his family were camping in the big woods. My, it was fun! Tommy wanted only one thing--a special camp job he could do. Everybody else had a camp job.
Daddy has the campfire to maintain... Mommy (of course) the breakfast to cook. Big brother, fishing pole maintenance. Sister (sigh) the cleaning. Poor Tommy, what ever could he do!?! When Tommy whiles away the hours looking at trees and animals, he finds that his perceptive nature might be the very thing that saves the day and becomes the most important camp job of all.
A wee little story of a little person with a big responsibility. Today's Inspiration did a nice write up on the artistic life of Mel that's worth read if you are interested. What a guy!
The Story of Harmony Lane
I'm My Mommy - I'm My Daddy
The Chuckle Book
Sesame Street 1,2,3 Storybook
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Hello kids! Sorry I've been off so long, but my mother has been ill and came to live with us for a month or so. She's on the mend and home now, so I'm able to steal a few moments for me. It's been many weeks of reflection and soul searching, and but it's nice to have my office all to myself again.
That said, just wanted to let you know about a few things. Next week I'm going to be hosting some guest posts from my friend Thingummery
on a handful of really rad kids books she's found recently in her estate sale travels. Plus, I'll be back more regularly with awesome things like the above end papers from Hugh Lofting's Doctor Doolittle in the Moon
. Fabulous! Drawn & Quarterly has a new Astrid Lindgren
reprint out, Pippi Fixes Everything.
Far Out Isn't Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story is playing in NYC this weekend
. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
is out next weekend which is based (VERY) loosely on the brilliant followup to the actual book Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
called Pickles to Pittsburgh
And it's official, after all the books I've read to and supplied to my son, all he wants to do is draw and read graphic novels. My greatest dream and worst nightmare combined into one. Maybe Stephen King will someday show him that it's not necessary that all novels be read aloud by Mommy. :)