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Mock Caldecott, 2014: Manhattan, Kansas edition

Just back from our Mock Caldecott, held today at the Manhattan [Kansas] Public Library, and again organized by KSU’s Children’s and Adolescent Literature Community (special thanks to Allison Kuehne and Becca Rowe!). In anticipation of the Caldecott Awards (held in January), we spent a few hours looking at and discussing what may or may not be the best American picture books of year.  That is, we try to look at the best, but we can’t always get everything we need in time.  (For example, omitted this year were Sergio Ruzzier’s A Letter for Leo and Mark Newgarden and Megan Montague Cash’s Bow-Wow’s Nightmare Neighbors — both books that I expect other Mock Caldecott groups, and the Caldecott Committee itself, are looking at.)  The process is imperfect, but it’s still fun to spend the afternoon looking at picture books, and debating their merits!

The Winner:

Marla Frazee, The Farmer and the Clown 

Marla Frazee, The Farmer and the Clown (2014)

Wordless tale of an unlikely friendship. In well-designed, dynamic layouts, Frazee‘s book tells the story of a young clown who falls off the train of a traveling circus, and gets adopted by a farmer.  The friendship that develops between the unlikely pair touched our group this afternoon, as did the unexpected resolution of the tale.  (I don’t want to give anything away here….)

The Honor Books:

We had quite a few honor books.  Here they are, in the order of how many votes they received.

Dan Santat, The Adventures of Beekle, The Unimaginary Friend (2014)Dan Santat, The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend

Where do imaginary friends come from? And what if some imaginary friends fail to get imagined by children? In answer to both questions, Dan Santat has Beekle — an imaginary friend — set off in search of a young human who will befriend him. A book that bears a bit of influence from Shaun Tan (especially The Lost Thing), The Adventures of Beekle is already in Emily’s Library.  (Coming later this week: a new installment in my attempt to build for my niece the “ideal” children’s library.)

The next two books were tied with the same number of votes each.

Kadir Nelson, Baby Bear (2014)Kadir Nelson, Baby Bear

In his hyperreal artistic style, Nelson paints an animal story that is at once an adventure of a lost bear trying to get home, and a philosophical meditation on how we find our place in the world. It’s a different kind of book for Nelson (I don’t think he’s done other animal books), and he does it very well.  Sustained by its striking artwork and compelling child surrogate (baby bear, of course!), this beautiful book is also already in Emily’s Library.

Mike Curato, Little Elliot, Big CityMike Curato, Little Elliot, Big City

With illustrations that really draw you in, Curato‘s tale of a small cupcake-loving polka-dotted elephant (Elliot) has heart. I think, too, that its treatment of the central character’s height will resonate with younger readers: to be a child is to exist in a world designed for giants, where everything is too large, too long, or out of reach. Curato captures that experience well. It’s sweet without being pat — and that’s a delicate balance to achieve.  It’s a future addition to Emily’s Library.  (I hadn’t seen it until today.)

J. Patrick Lewis and Gary Kelley, Harlem Hellfighters (2014)J. Patrick Lewis and Gary Kelley, Harlem Hellfighters

Also a book I encountered for the first time this afternoon, Harlem Hellfighters was my top pick of the 25 we looked at today. In spare, poetic text, and striking images, the book tells the story of the most decorated African American combat unit to serve in the First World War.  With a great use of comics layout, and words both suggestive and specific, it does the impossible job of conveying historical detail and nuance all within the confines of a picture book.  It shows how the same group of people who were being lynched here in the U.S. were serving abroad with valor and distinction — juxtaposing their European heroism with American lynchings. And, though it has a strong moral message, Lewis and Kelley convey that without moralizing. Probably not a book for the youngest readers, Harlem Hellfighters should be required reading for American children of 7 and up in the Ferguson Era. (I don’t know if we have a term for the legal murder of people of color, as practiced in contemporary America — so, I’m using “Ferguson Era” as shorthand.)

Kate Samworth, Aviary Wonders, Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual (2014)Kate Samworth, Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual

This one — the last of our Honor Books — blew me away, and was also on my short list. I’d read about it before today, but had never actually seen it.  In the guise of a catalogue for the (fictional) Aviary Wonders Inc., Samworth teaches us about anatomy, flight, and extinction. With a dark sense of humor and design evocative of both contemporary catalogues and nineteenth-century science, Aviary Wonders Inc. tells the sad story of our loss of biodiversity. In offering instructions for how to make birds, Samworth commemorates those species that humans have destroyed. If this sounds impossible to you, then all I can say is check it out. It sounds impossible to me, too — only because I’ve read Samworth’s book can I report that it’s not only possible but a remarkable achievement.  One of the year’s best picture books.

What are your favorite picture books from 2014?  (Though the Caldecott recognizes excellence in American picture books, there’s no need to restrict yourself to ones from the U.S.)

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Imagination & Survival: 2 Picture Books from Australia

Shaun Tan’s Rules of Summer (2013) is only one of the great Australian children’s books of the past couple of years. Here are two more. Neither appears to have found a publishing home in the U.S., U.K., or Canada. So, attention publishers of North America and Great Britain! Bring out these two books in your countries:

  • Elise Hurst’s Imagine a City (Scholastic Australia, 2014)
  • Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood’s The Treasure Box (Penguin Group Australia, 2013)
Elise Hurst, Imagine a City (2014) Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood, The Treasure Box (2013)

Elise Hurst’s Imagine a City invites readers to a “world without edges,” where anthropomorphic animals and people coexist, the subjects of paintings reach beyond their frames, buses are giant flying fish, and bears ride bicycles. The art makes the book feel that is both very contemporary and classic. Her pen-and-ink drawings feel like they’ve time-traveled from another era — Edward Ardizzone, E. H. Shepard, or maybe Winsor McCay. The visual motifs (especially the flying fish) recall Shaun Tan and David Wiesner. It’s as if she’s brought her sketchbook into a parallel, surreal world, and this book collects sketches of what she saw during her travels.

Elise Hurst, Imagine a City (2014)

Elise Hurst, Imagine a City (2014)

Hurst’s book suggests that books allow us to imagine worlds, and Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood’s The Treasure Box also finds hope in books. In watercolors, ink, and collage, Blackwood illuminates Wild’s tale of a boy, displaced by war and sustained by the memory of a red book. The story begins, “When the enemy bombed the library, everything burned.” Next page: “Charred paper, frail as butterflies, fluttered in the wind. People caught the words and cupped them in their hands.” The only surviving book is one that Peter’s father had checked out of the library — his favorite book because it’s “about our people, about us.” He puts it in a box, and they take it with them as they flee the advancing armies. To say more risks spoiling the experience of those who’ve not read it. So, instead, I’ll simply note that it’s an eloquent defense of why, in the dangerous times in which we live, people need books.

Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood, The Treasure Box (2013)

Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood, The Treasure Box (2013)

Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood, The Treasure Box (2013)

Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King's The Duck and the Darklings (2014)There are many other beautiful books I saw in Geelong and Melbourne,* including one that Erica Hateley showed me: Glenda Millard and Stephen Michael King’s The Duck and the Darklings (2014). Unfortunately, I neglected to pick up a copy of this book. But I did at least want to give it a mention here — both to remind myself to get it, and to call it to your attention.

UPDATE, 11 July, 10:20 am: Since several non-Australians have asked, you can buy Australian books via Fishpond.com.  I bought a copy of Shaun Tan’s The Rules of Summer from Fishpond in November 2013, months before its US release.

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* I was there last week for two conferences: ACLAR and Literature and Affect.

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The Art and Wisdom of Kadir Nelson

“I think a lot of people choose their professions out of fear….. But I’ve found that the opposite is true. If you choose something you love, you can become a master of it.”

— Kadir Nelson, Kansas State University, 12 Apr. 2014

Kadir Nelson, 12 April 2014As an admirer of Kadir Nelson’s work, I was thrilled to meet him and to hear him speak today.  So, let me start by saying this: if you’ve an interest in art, portraiture, children’s literature, invite Kadir Nelson to speak.  You won’t be disappointed. Not all artists (poets, novelists, etc.) are good at talking about their work.  But Nelson is.

Working without notes and with many illustrations, he took us on a journey from a three-year-old Kadir trying to draw a self-portrait, right up to the inspiration for his latest book, Baby Bear (2014). Happily, Nelson’s mother saved his artwork, offering glimpses of the artist as a child, and then young man. He was always drawing. And, as he noted, “As I grew older, I began to improve because I was drawing every day.” Nelson’s dedication to his craft offers further evidence for Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hours” rule — i.e., that you have to work at something for 10,000 hours to become proficient at it.

Kadir Nelson, We Are the Ship (cover)Versatile, prolific and immensely talented, he’s had an extraordinary career so far. Since you’re reading this on my blog, you probably know him as the award-winning creator of many children’s books: Ellington Is Not a Street (2004), Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom (2006), Henry’s Freedom Box: A Story from the Underground Railroad (2007), We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball (2008), Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans (2011), Nelson Mandela (2013), or — his latest — Baby Bear (2014).

But you may not know that Nelson’s art also appears on U.S. postage stamps, magazine covers, album covers — including the latest Drake album. Indeed, he also may be the only children’s author to count Drake, Spike Lee, Will Smith and the late Michael Jackson among his fans.  Indeed, his art not only hangs in galleries, but is in the private collections of Shaquille O’Neal, Venus Williams, Sharon Stone, and Stephen Spielberg.

Kadir Nelson, Drake's Nothing Was the Same

As he told us today, his first job after graduating from the Pratt Institute was designing storyboards to help Debbie Allen pitch Amistad to Stephen Spielberg. While that may suggest that Nelson lives a charmed existence, it’s actually an example of him following his effort, and pursuing opportunities — because you never know where your business card will land, which person you meet may lead to a job. Addressing any students who might not be taking full advantage of their education (tempted away from their studies by the relatively unstructured time of college), he said, “I would urge you to not waste your time, to be purposeful in what you’re doing. Because you never know how that’s going to impact your life.”

He realized early on that he would only be happy if he pursued his love for creating art. Initially, Nelson thought he would study architecture. He’d heard all about “starving artists,” he said, and “I’m allergic to starving.” A career as an architect seemed a better bet.  However, he soon discovered that his heart wasn’t in it. Even though he was at Pratt on an architecture scholarship (and would have to give it up if he changed his subject of study), he decided to switch his major from architecture to painting. He knew, he said, “even if I had to starve, I would be happy.”  As he observed, “I think a lot of people choose their professions out of fear…. But I’ve found that the opposite is true. If you choose something you love, you can become a master of it.”

Kadir Nelson, Baby Bear (2014)Most of his work has been devoted to telling the African American story. “Not only is that my story, but it’s a good story — it’s very juicy,” he said — adding, wryly, “There’s a lot of drama.” But his latest book pursues a philosophical strain that echoes the moments of advice he offered today. I had read Baby Bear as a tale about a child (represented as a bear) finding his way home, gently being guided in the right direction by the other animals. However, Nelson explained, the bear’s search for home is more a metaphor “for finding your own true, authentic self.” In this sense (and this is my observation), the book is more Crockett Johnson‘s The Emperor’s Gifts (1965) than Martin Waddell and Barbara Firth’s Let’s Go Home, Little Bear (1995).

But, of course, the best children’s books operate on multiple levels. The philosophical resonances may elude my niece (who will be getting her very own signed copy of the book!), but the journey resonates with readers of all ages. Nelson’s narrative art keeps us turning the pages. The vivid paintings draw us in, make us feel, make us think. And then we come back to the book and read it again.

Thanks to Kansas State University’s Children’s and Adolescent Literature Community (ChaLC) for organizing this, to all the sponsors for funding it, and to Kadir Nelson for coming!

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Mock Caldecott 2013: Manhattan, Kansas Edition

Time again for the Mock Caldecott Awards, at which we convene not to mock Caldecott-winners, but to predict what the winners will be.  This year, we’re of course predicting the 2014 awards, which will be announced next month. A big thanks to Kansas State University’s Children’s and Adolescent Literature Community (especially Allison Kuehne and Melissa Hammond) for organizing this event, and to the Manhattan Public Library for hosting it.

The Winner:

Aaron Becker, Journey (2013)Aaron Becker, Journey

An homage to Crockett Johnson‘s Harold and the Purple Crayon and (as some of my colleagues pointed out today) to David Wiesner‘s work, Aaron Becker‘s Journey invites us to travel along the line of our imaginations, transporting us into a world of Miyazaki-esque wonder.  According to our votes, it was the winner by a good margin.  My own opinion is that I’d be surprised if the Caldecott committee failed to grant this at the very least an Honor.

The Honor Books:

Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, The Day the Crayons QuitOliver Jeffers, The Day the Crayons Quit (text by Drew Daywalt).

As one of our group observed today, the Caldecott is about telling a story through pictures, and in this book the tools of art are our narrators.  They write letters of protest to their owner, citing misuse (often overuse), and seek redress.  Spoiler alert: By the end of the tale, the child artist hears their grievances, and finds a new way of using color in his work.  Like the above book, Jeffers and Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit is also a meditation on the artist’s process.  Only this one is funnier.

Molly Idle, Flora and the FlamingoMolly Idle, Flora and the Flamingo

With beautifully expressive drawings, a line as smooth as Al Hirschfeld’s, and a magnificent use of white space, Molly Idle‘s Flora and the Flamingo offers much to admire.  Flora, a little girl whose physique does not suggest “ballet,” aspires to that sort of physical grace. With the help of the flamingo, the two dance a sublime, gently comic, duet.  Lifting the flaps (on the pages on which they appear) allows the reader to better “see” the movements of both girl and bird.  I’d read nearly all of our finalists prior to the Mock Caldecott conversations, but today was my introduction to Idle’s work. I look forward to reading more of it.

Should’ve Been Contenders!

Peter Brown, Mr. Tiger Goes WildAs is always the case, there were many great books that don’t get the votes.  Peter Brown‘s Mr. Tiger Goes Wild came in fourth in our voting.  It’s an hilarious, well-designed story of the need to, well, go a little wild every now and then.  (I read it is a kind of a riff on Where the Wild Things Are.)  Our other finalists were Melissa Sweet‘s Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 (text by Michelle Markel), Jon Klassen‘s The Dark (text by Lemony Snicket), and Eliza Wheeler‘s Miss Maple’s Seeds.

I really wanted to see Bob Staake‘s Bluebird, Frank Viva‘s A Long Way Away, and David Wiesner‘s Mr. Wuffles among the contenders, but none of these garnered a majority’s worth of votes.  Nor, sadly, did Lizi Boyd‘s Inside Outside, and, ah, I could go on.  But I won’t.

There were many beautiful picture books published in the U.S. in 2013.  As my colleague Joe Sutliff Sanders observed, this has been a great year for book design.  I’m paraphrasing him — but that was the gist of his comment.  And he’s right.

People reading picture books, at the Mock Caldecott, Manhattan, KS, 7 Dec. 2013

What are your favorite picture books from 2013? Which one do you think deserves the Caldecott Medal?

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The Purple Crayon’s Legacy, Part II: Picture Books

In the 58 years since its publication, Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon has appeared in 14 languages, and inspired many artists.  This blog (which takes its name from a line in the book) presented The Purple Crayon’s Legacy, Part I: Comics & Cartoons… nearly three years ago.  It is at last time for Part II: Picture Books.

Anthony Browne, Bear Hunt (1979)

Anthony Browne, Bear Hunt (1979)

As Harold does, Bear goes for a walk. As Harold does, Bear carries something to write with (a pencil instead of a crayon). And, as is the case with Harold, what Bear draws becomes real.  It’s true that, graphically, this is a very different book. Browne’s jungle scenes — all in color — recalls those of Henri Rousseau. Also, where Harold both creates and solves his problems, Bear’s problems — two hunters who want to shoot him — are not imagined. Fortunately, his pencil proves more powerful than their guns. I’m tempted to say that, in the book, the power to imagine a better reality trumps the power to kill. However, Browne handles this story with such a light touch that, while it may suggest such morals, that’s not the focus.

Jon Agee, The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau (1988)

Jon Agee, The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau

Felix Clousseau’s art looks ordinary, but it’s not.  His painting of a duck actually quacks. However, “that was only half of it,” observes Agee’s narrator as the duck leaves the painting.  This is one of the book’s sly jokes (if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…), which include comic names of rival painters (such as Felicien CaffayOllay), several Magritte references, and the pun on the final page. No, I won’t give away the ending. Read it yourself.

Chris Van Allsburg, Bad Day at Riverbend (1995)

Chris Van Allsburg, Bad Day at Riverbend (1995)

In his Caldecott acceptance speech for Jumanji (1981), Chris Van Allsburg actually thanked “Harold, and his purple crayon.” He has elsewhere spoken of the book as the one he “remember[s] most clearly” from his childhood. Van Allsburg loved its theme of “the ability to create things with your imagination,” which, he says, is “a fairly elusive idea, but [the book] presents it so succinctly through these simple drawings that it registers very clearly.”

May of Van Allsburg’s books traverse (or blur) the line between imaginary and real, but Bad Day at Riverbend seems the most explicit homage to Johnson’s book. Rendered in coloring-book style, the people of Riverbend face a “greasy slime” that sticks aggressively to whatever it assaults. We readers recognize the “slime” as crayon scribbles, which (spoiler alert!) the book’s ending reveals to be true.  The townspeople are … the victims of a child with a crayon.

Thacher Hurd, Art Dog (1996)

Thacher Hurd, Art Dog (1996)

As Harold does, Art Dog creates art that changes physical realities. He also has his artistic adventures at night, beneath the moonlight. On one of the pages, he paints a somewhat goofy purple (with green spots) bird who reminds me of Harold’s drawings. Above the bird, on the wall, he has painted falling stars reminiscent of the one that Harold rides home in Harold’s Trip to the Sky (1957).

Some years ago, I wrote to Thacher Hurd to ask whether he or his parents (Clement Hurd and Edith Thacher Hurd) had known Johnson or Ruth Krauss. He said that they may have, though he had no memories of them. During our very brief email correspondence, I said “I’ve often thought that Harold would get along very well with Art Dog.” He responded, “Yes, I did put in a subtle aside to Harold and the Purple Crayon in Art Dog. I love that book, and loved it as a kid.”

Régis Faller, Voyage de Polo (2002: English translation: The Adventures of Polo, 2006) and its many sequels

Régis Faller, Le voyage de Polo (2002)

Wordless (save for the occasional sound effect), Faller’s Polo books have an associative narrative logic that’s evocative of the Harold stories’ structure.  In Voyage de Polo (The Adventures of Polo), he opens the door of his island tree home, walks over to a tightrope, and then starts carefully to make his way along it — shades of Harold’s tightrope act in Harold’s Circus (1959). The tightrope suddenly becomes stairs, which Polo then climbs — reminiscent of the stairs in Harold’s Fairy Tale (1957).  Beyond those direct visual allusions (or, at least, they feel like allusions), the story’s art manages to link each panel to the next, and then to the next.  You don’t quite know where Polo is going, but he’s traveling with a purpose, and fun to accompany for the duration of his journey.  More than anything else, the chain of associations most strongly reminds me of Harold’s stories.

Delphine Durand, Bob & Cie., (2004; English translation: Bob & Co., 2006)

Durand, Bob & Cie (2004): cover

A small book that begins with “a blank page” and then waits for “the story” to get underway, Durand’s Bob & Cie. (Bob & Co.) pursues the metaphysical implications of Harold’s predicament. Except, in this story, it’s Bob’s predicament. It’s hard to summarize. By turns whimsical and profound, Durand’s absurdist metafiction is about faith, narrative, the universe, beginnings and endings. It’s one of my all-time favorite books. Someday, I’d like to write (a blog post? an essay?) about Durand’s work.  Her sensibility and sense of humor appeal to me.

Patrick McDonnell, Art (2006)

The creator of the comic strip Mutts creates a story about a boy named Art who creates lots of art.  This conceit inspires many puns on the name, and, well, lots of art (and Art).  About a third of the way in, the book moves explicitly to Harold’s territory, when Art draws a house and then stands on the doorway in order to draw the roof.

from Patrick McDonnell, Art (2006)

Deborah Freedman, Scribble (2007)

Deborah Freedman, Scribble (2007)

When Emma insults her younger sister Lucie’s drawing of a kitty (“It looks like a scribble”), Lucie defends herself: “It’s a special scribble-kitty!” In retaliation, she scribbles all over Emma’s drawing of the Princess Aurora. Emma storms off.  Then Scribble, Lucie, and the sisters’ real cat step into the drawings — which is the moment that the book enters Harold’s realm. It’s telling that only the younger sister crosses the boundary from real to imaginary worlds. Perhaps Freedman is suggesting that only the youngest children — Lucie, Harold — can make that leap, and fully believe it.  Freedman’s second book, Blue Chicken (2011), also plays with the boundary between art and life.  But, this time, a chicken is the artist.

Allan Ahlberg & Bruce Ingman, The Pencil (2008)

Ahlberg and Ingman, The PencilA pencil (which appears itself to have been rendered in pencil) draws a boy, a dog, a cat, a house, a road, and a park.  As in Harold and the Purple Crayon, all things the pencil draws are real. The book departs from Johnson’s book when the pencil draws a paintbrush, who in turn colors everything the pencil draws. The decision to add color bends the narrative logic (how can a grey pencil draw color?), as does the decision to add an eraser (how can an eraser remove watercolors?). But the eraser proves a valuable antagonist. Just as the pencil draws enthusiastically, so the eraser embraces his function — threatening the world that pencil and paintbrush have created.  I wonder: what would have Harold done with an eraser?  He does cross things out (the witch in Harold’s Fairy Tale, the whole picture in A Picture for Harold’s Room), but he never erases.

Matteo Pericoli, Tommaso and the Missing Line (2008)

Pericoli, Tommaso and the Missing Line (2008)The line of the hill disappears from Tommaso’s drawing, which shows “a house on a hill, / a tall tree and some mountains. / And two people — / him and his grandma.”  So, of course, he goes off in search of it. On the right-hand page, Pericoli uses black ink for everything, except his character’s drawing and specific lines that Tommasso finds — those are all in orange. On the left-hand page, Pericoli places white text on an orange background. The orange at left makes each orange line at right “pop” out of the picture. Visually, it’s very effective.

Sure, Tommaso is also an artist, but, you ask, is there a more particular connection to Harold and the Purple Crayon?  There are several, first of which is that Tommaso does find his line — “as real as he always remembered it” — out in the world. So, as in Johnson’s book, art can become real.  Also, though Pericoli’s line is not as tight as Johnson’s, the pen-and-ink drawings on white pages evoke Johnson’s aesthetic sensibility.  Just as Harold’s purple line does, Tommaso’s orange line has as powerful a visual presence.

Any obvious (or not-so-obvious) books I’ve missed? I realize there are many other metafictional books (Scieszka and Smith’s The Stinky Cheese Man, Barbara Lehman’s The Red Book, to name but two) or aesthetically comparable books (Lehman, again, Newgarden and Cash’s Bow Wow series) or books about artists (Lionni’s Frederick, McClintock’s The Fantastic Drawings of Danielle). My list may be too narrow, but its idiosyncrasies will I hope inspire discussion.  So, let the discussion begin!

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(And, yes, I do plan further parts in this series — with luck, they’ll appear more swiftly than Part II!  Indeed, the blog has been quieter for this past month because, this summer, I’ve foolishly taken on more writing than I can cope with.  I’m struggling to keep my head [nearly] above water.)

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Annotating My Brother’s Book: Some initial thoughts on Sendak’s use of Blake’s pictorial language. A guest post by Mark Crosby

In his foreword to My Brother’s Book (2012), Stephen Greenblatt suggests that Shakespeare is the major influence on Maurice Sendak’s final competed work.  But Blake loomed much larger in Sendak’s visual imagination.  He collected rare Blake manuscripts, drawings, watercolors, illuminated books, and prints, read biographies of Blake, and studied his art and poetry.  In this series of annotations (below), Blake scholar Mark Crosby shows us how Blake illuminates Sendak’s My Brother’s Book.


In terms of the visual narrative trajectory, Sendak reconfigures aspects of Blake’s visual language to chart the transition from the realm of innocence to the harsh world of experience (a transition that is, for Blake, always marked by some form of loss).

Front Cover:

Sendak juxtaposes the beautiful, a woodland scene possibly atop a hill, with the sublime of a subterranean cavern or hollow beneath that looks out on a field of stars surrounding a red sphere. The vignette not only invokes Blake’s frequent juxtaposition of pastoral landscapes with the (subterranean) sublime, such as the title page of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, but also introduces the key visual motifs of stars and red sphere (sun?) that recur throughout Sendak’s book. Both motifs are conspicuous in Blake’s pictorial language.

William Blake, Title-page, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, copy H (1790-3)
Maurice Sendak, My Brother's Book (2012): cover
William Blake, Title-page, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, copy H (1790-3)
Maurice Sendak, My Brother’s Book (2012): cover

Blake deploys spheres of differing sizes throughout his pictorial work. In illuminated books such as The (First) Book of Urizen, they often represent the primordial (material) state of the titular Urizen, watched over by Los — the fallen form of Urthona, who in Blake’s mythopoetic system represents the imagination. (Many critics interpret Los as Blake’s poetic/pictorial avatar).

Plate 8, Song of Los, copy A (1795)
William Blake, Plate 11, The Book of Urizen, copy A (1794)
Blake, Plate 8, Song of Los, copy A (1795)
Blake, Plate 11, The Book of Urizen, copy A (1794)

In these instances, the spheres have a negative charge as they are objects of containment. In Blake’s longest illuminated book, Jerusalem, Blake uses spheres more positively as sources of light.

William Blake, Plate1, Song of Los (1795)
William Blake, Plate 97, Jerusalem (c. 1820)
Blake, Plate1, Song of Los, (1795)
Blake, Plate 97, Jerusalem (c. 1820)

Frontispiece:

Sendak’s depiction of two slumbering, clothed males in a pastoral setting under a radiating sun calls to mind Blake’s positive use of sphere imagery. The sleeping brothers, Jack and Guy, have a number of visual referents in Blake. When depicted in a pastoral setting, Blake’s sleeping figures are sometimes associated with animals (sheep, lions) such as Songs of Innocence, America A Prophecy and The Song of Los. In Blake’s visual language, these images represent the realm of innocence, where the ideals of play, spontaneity, and intimacy with nature haven’t yet been corrupted.  Sendak’s use of these Blakean motifs in the frontispiece similarly suggests that the slumbering brothers inhabit a pre-lapsarian realm, although they are clothed unlike many of Blake’s pre-lapsarian figures.

William Blake, America A Prophecy
Maurice Sendak, My Brother's Book (2012): frontispiece
Blake, America A Prophecy
Sendak, My Brother’s Book (2012): frontispiece
William Blake, The Song of Los
William Blake, Songs of Innocence
Blake, The Song of Los
Blake, Songs of Innocence

Sendak visually signals the end of innocence and the transition to experience in the next illustration, which compositionally draws on Blake’s depiction of himself in Milton (c. 1804-1811).  By modeling Jack’s pose after the figure of ‘William’, leaning backwards at the waist with his arms in a cruciform pose (a pose that Blake uses to denote sacrifice), Sendak is not only drawing parallels between ‘Jack’ and ‘William’ but also invoking what is a transformative moment in this particular illuminated book. In Milton, this illustration depicts a revelatory experience for the narrator that marks a transition from one perceptionary state to another, a complex and more visionary state involving the amelioration of the titular Milton into the poetic consciousness of Blake’s narrator.

William Blake, Plate 29, Milton copy B (1811)
Maurice Sendak, My Brother's Book (2012): "On a bleak midwinter's night" William Blake, Plate 33, Milton copy B (1811)
Blake, Plate 29, Milton copy B (1811)
Sendak, My Brother’s Book (2012), p. 9: “On a bleak midwinter’s night”
Blake, Plate 33, Milton copy B (1811)

Like Blake, Sendak also provides a counterpart to Jack’s cruciform pose with Guy’s mirrored pose on p. 15. On plate of 33 Milton, Blake provides a counterpart to the illustration of ‘William’, depicting ‘Robert,’ Blake’s brother, in a mirror pose. In both designs, stars are falling into their right feet. Compositionally, Sendak’s illustration on p. 15 seems also indebted to Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Children (1819-22/3).

Goya, Saturn Devouring His Children (1819-22)
Maurice Sendak, My Brother's Book (2012): "Into the lair of a bear"
Goya, Saturn Devouring His Children (1819-22)
Sendak, My Brother’s Book (2012), p. 15: “Into the lair of a bear”

Sendak’s use of these particular poses suggests similarities between Jack and Guy’s fraternal relationship and William and Robert’s. While Robert Blake died at 24, he became a source of creative inspiration for Blake. In 1788, a year after Robert’s death, Blake claimed that his brother visited him in a dream and gave him instructions for illuminated printing: the method he used to create his illuminated books. Sendak’s use of these specific poses hints at a similar creatively productive relationship between Sendak and his brother.

Page 11: Sendak’s depiction of Jack and Guy separated by a sublime landscape (tempestuous ocean, mountains of ice) invokes particular aspects of the narrative trajectory of Blake’s mythopoetic system.  For Blake, the fall comes through division, the splintering of a unified entity into enclosed selfhoods.  Once separated these selfhoods, which Blake calls ‘Zoas’, typically remain closed off from each other, perceiving existence through limited, subjective vision. Sendak’s depiction of one brother in profile, hands covering his face, while the other brother is frozen behind a wall of ice, suggests the negative impact of subjective perception or, as Blake would call it, single vision. Sendak also gestures to way that Blake conceived of the transition from youth (innocence) to adulthood (experience) as fundamentally about loss. The two brothers have lost each other, their perceptions of each other as well as, by implication, their innocence.

William Blake, America A Prophecy, copy E
Maurice Sendak, My Brother's Book (2012): "While Guy wheeled round in the steep air"
Blake, America A Prophecy copy E
Sendak, My Brother’s Book (2012), p. 13: “While Guy wheeled round in the steep air”

p. 13: For the composition of the central figure, Sendak draws on Blake’s frequent use of clothed (skin tight, all-in-one suits) or nude figures with arms raised, typically in an elevated cruciform pose (the symbol of Christological sacrifice), and appearing to ascend.  In ‘Laughing Song’, from Songs of Innocence Blake depicts a young boy, facing away, with arms raised. The title page of Visions of the Daughters of Albion has a nude figure facing forward with arms raised, while we see variations of this figure on the title pages of America and plate 2 of VDA, and Moses Indignant at the Gold Calf. With the possible exception of America, these figures inhabit or represent the realm of innocence. Sendak suggests that this brother has yet to make the transition to experience by depicting Jack in a pastoral setting.

William Blake, Songs of Innocence
William Blake, Visions of the Daughters of Albion, copy A (1793)
Blake, Songs of Innocence
Blake, Visions of the Daughters of Albion copy A (1793)
William Blake, Visions of the Daughters of Albion
William Blake, Moses Indignant at the Gold Calf (1799-1800)
Blake, Visions of the Daughters of Albion
Blake, Moses Indignant at the Gold Calf (1799-1800)

William Blake, Plate 14, The Book of Urizen, copy A (1794)pp. 19/23/29:  Sendak’s depiction of Guy diving ‘through time so vast’ on page 23 draws on Blake’s depiction of a muscular nude (possibly Los) diving into an abyss. There are numerous cosmic journeys in Blake’s poetic oeuvre, such as the narrator’s journey from caverns to the far reaches of the universe in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Milton’s journey from eternity to Blake’s cottage in Milton. In Blake’s design, the figure is holding onto rocks, which denote material existence.  Sendak’s depiction of figures partially obscured by horizontal lines on pp. 19/29 recalls Blake’s use of this technique in The Book of Urizen to suggest containment.

Maurice Sendak, My Brother's Book (2012): "Guy slipped dutifully into the maw of the great bear"
William Blake, Plate 4, The Book of Urizen, copy A (1794)
Sendak, My Brother’s Book (2012), p. 23: “Guy slipped dutifully into the maw of the great bear”
Blake, Plates 14 and 4, The Book of Urizen, copy A (1794)

p. 31: Sendak returns to the pastoral in this design, with the slumbering brothers in poses that compositionally echo the frontispiece as well as Blake’s numerous slumbering figures. The brothers are clothed again, in what appear to be flowing semi-transparent robes that draw on Blake’s regular use of diaphanous or semi-transparent robes in his illuminated books and watercolour designs, including his illustrations to Milton.  While Sendak sets the brothers in a pastoral realm, this seems to be a different from that depicted in the frontispiece and may relate to Blake’s illustration on plate 19 of Jerusalem: a realm of soft delusions that numbs creative agency.

William Blake, Mirth (1816-1820)
Blake, Plate 19, Jerusalem, copy E (c. 1820)
Blake, Mirth (1816-1820)
Blake, Plate 19, Jerusalem, copy E (c. 1820)

All Blake images are from the William Blake Archive. All Sendak images are from his My Brother’s Book (Michael di Capua/HarperCollins, 2012).


Mark Crosby is co-author, with Robert N. Essick, of the first critical edition of William Blake’s Genesis manuscript (University of California Press, 2012) and is co-editor of Re-envisioning Blake (Palgrave, 2012). He is Assistant Professor of English at Kansas State University, and the bibliographer and associate editor for the William Blake Archive, the largest and most comprehensive free to access digital repository of Blake’s works on the web.

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Antonio Frasconi (1919-2013)

Frasconi

Antonio Frasconi, woodcut artist and children’s-book illustrator, died on January 9th at the age of 93. I heard about it this morning, but I’ve yet to find a full obituary (apart from this brief notice by Joey of Purchase College). So, I’m writing a few words.

He was born in Buenos Aires, to Franco Frasconi (a chef) and the former Armida Carbonia (a restaurateur), both of whom had emigrated from Italy during World War I.  Young Antonio grew up in Montevideo, where, by age 12, he had become a printmaker’s apprentice and, by his teens, was seeing his satirical cartoons appear in local newspapers.

In the 1940s, he began working in woodcuts, producing work which won him a scholarship from the Art Students League in New York.  To study there, he emigrated to the United States in 1945.  By 1948, he had his first exhibit — at the Weyhe Gallery, also in New York.

But the reason I know about him are his beautiful illustrations for children’s books. He married fellow artist Leona Pierce in 1951, and the birth of their first son, Pablo, in 1952, inspired him to create work for young people. As Frasconi noted in a 1994 Horn Book interview, “the happiness he brought, both as an inspiration and as an audience for my work, made me think in terms of using my work as part of his education.”  Frasconi observed that, with his accented English, his own reading to Pablo was different than his wife’s reading to Pablo. He went to the library, looking for bilingual books, and, finding none, decided to create his own.

The result was the groundbreaking and beautiful See and Say: A Picturebook in Four Languages (Harcourt, 1955). It presents a series of objects, each named in in English (printed in black), in Italian (blue), French (red), and Spanish (green).  Illustrated in bright woodcut prints, the book is a great “first words” book for young children, and language education for any age. Though not the first children’s book Frasconi illustrated, it was the first one he both wrote and illustrated, and I highly recommend it. Used copies are not too hard to find, but this book (attention, New York Review Children’s Collection!) really ought to be brought back into print.

Antonio Frasconi, from See and Say (1955)

Antonio Frasconi, from See and Say (1955)

The images above come from The Ward-o-Matic‘s post on See and Say.  Visit the site to see more.

Back in 2000, I spoke with Mr. Frasconi because he was a very close friend of Crockett Johnson. Both men leaned left, had artistic influences that extended beyond children’s books, and held each other’s work in high regard. Indeed, Antonio’s political leanings inspired him to move — along with his family (Leona, Pablo, and Miguel) — to Village Creek, a planned integrated community that is directly adjacent to Rowayton, Connecticut, where Johnson and his wife Ruth Krauss lived.  That was in 1957.  The family met Johnson and Krauss soon after moving there, and quickly became friends.

photo of Antonio FrasconiThere were regular spaghetti dinners at Ruth and Dave’s house (Crockett Johnson’s real first name was “Dave,” and friends called him “Dave”).  Antonio illustrated Ruth’s The Cantilever Rainbow (1965), her greatest avant-garde children’s book.  When the Berkeley Free Speech Movement (1964-1965) got television coverage, Dave phoned Antonio so that he could come over and see it (at that time the Frasconis didn’t have a TV). So, the family went over and watched the protests. When Dave started serious painting, the Frasconis were among the first people he showed them to. As Miguel Frasconi recalled, Dave was “so excited,” as he explained to Antonio “the geometric properties of these pictures — like he had discovered something totally new.” At the time, Miguel thought: “this is an adult, and he’s as excited as a little kid.”

While my own brief acquaintance (one interview, really) with Antonio Frasconi and his family derived from work on my biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss (2012), Frasconi’s work is well worth getting to know in its own right.  He illustrated and designed over 100 books, including collections of poetry by Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman, and Pablo Neruda. He created Los Desparecidos (The Disappeared, 1984), a powerful collection of woodcuts that tells the story of those tortured, imprisoned, or killed under the Uruguayan dictatorship.  He created art for children’s books.  He was a great teacher, artist, and humanitarian.

Thanks for sharing your recollections with me.  And rest in peace, Mr. Frasconi.

Works Consulted:

“Antonio Frasconi.” The Annex Galleries. <http://www.annexgalleries.com/artists/biography/739/Frasconi/Antonio>

“Antonio Frasconi.” Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center. Web. 13 Jan. 2013.

 “Antonio Frasconi (Uruguay).” North Dakota Museum of Art. <http://www.ndmoa.com/Exhibitions/PastEx/Disappeared/Frasconi/index.html>

Goldenberg, Carol. “An interview with Antonio Frasconi.” The Horn Book Magazine Nov.-Dec. 1994: 693+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 13 Jan. 2013.

Nel, Philip. Telephone interview with Antonio Frasconi. 12 Oct. 2000.

—.  Telephone interview with Miguel Frasconi. 2 Dec. 2007.

—.  Telephone interview with Pablo Frasconi. 28 Nov. 2007.

Sources for images: Facebook post from Miguel FrasconiWard-o-Matic blog post on See and Say, and “Artist and Professor Antonio Frasconi, 1919-2013” (at Jane Public Thinking).

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Mock Caldecott 2012: Manhattan, Kansas Edition

With thanks to the Children’s and Adolescent Literature Community (ChALC) for organizing the event and the Manhattan Public Library (especially Melendra Sanders) for hosting it, we held a Mock Caldecott at this afternoon. We weren’t able to get all of the books we wanted to look at, and we likely overlooked other Caldecott contenders.  But, based on what we did get to review, here are the top choices of our group (composed of undergraduates, graduate students, children’s lit faculty, and members of the community).

The Winner:

I.C. Springman, More (illus. Brian Lies, 2012)Brian Lies, More (text by I.C. Springman).

The people voting for this one felt that Lies‘ artwork makes this book work.  The brief text offers only indicators of quantity (“a few,” “lots,” “too much”); the illustrations of all the items the magpie gathers result in an increasingly full nest.  While there’s clearly some didactic intent (the magpie hoards too much), the pictures convey the accretion of stuff in a way that’s playful and fun.  The book strives to teach us to want less, but never does it feel like it’s preaching at us.

The Honor Books:

Jon Klassen, This Is Not My HatJon Klassen, This Is Not My Hat.

This book won praise for the dynamic relationship between the pictures and words.  The small fish thinks that the large fish (from whom he stole the hat) will never catch him,  but the illustrations contradict him.  If the premise (hat thievery!) recalls last year’s excellent I Want My Hat Back, Klassen‘s new chapeau-centric book holds its own and, in some senses, may be even better than his 2011 effort.  It’s no sequel to the other book, but a completely new work, complete with hat-based humor.

Julie Fogliano, And Then It's Spring (illus. by Erin Stead)Erin Stead, And Then It’s Spring (text by Julie Fogliano).

People enjoyed the very detailed illustrations, which offered the eye many places to look.  Each of the animals in the pictures (none of which were named in the text) had its own distinct personality, and were fun to follow from page to page.  As is true of the other two books, the text here is very brief; Stead‘s pictures carry the day, telling us of those days just before spring, when everything looks brown.  Great balance between artwork and words.

There were many others that didn’t quite make the cut.  For example, Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Green, Karina Wolf’s The Insomniacs (a particular favorite of mine), Maurie J. Manning’s Eisner-esque Laundry Day, Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s Extra Yarn all made the finals.  And we were sorry to discover that the artist behind Up Above and Down Below, Paloma Valdivia, lives and works in Chile.  (The Caldecott goes to American illustrators.)  Many of us loved that book, but… it was ineligible due to the nationality of its artist.

So. What are your favorite picture books from 2012? And which do you think will win the Caldecott Medal?

Related links:

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Avant-Garde Children’s Books; or, What I Learned in Sweden Last Week

There are a lot of modernist children’s books, and a fair few directly influenced by the historical avant-garde — and, yes, I am sharing images, below.  I learned about these books (and a great deal more) last week at Children’s Literature and the European Avant-Garde, a conference at Linköpings University, in Norrköping, Sweden.  You would think that the author of a book with two chapters on the intersection between the avant-garde and children’s literature might be better acquainted with this body of work.  But I wasn’t.  As I listened to the international group of scholars speak, I often found myself thinking: Wow! Why didn’t I know this artist’s work?

  1. One answer was well, Phil, because you’re an American, and so unfamiliar with the Icelandic avant-garde or Hungarian modernism.
  2. But another, and equally important answer, was that this is the nature of specialized research: people uncover material that others do not, hidden in archives, long forgotten, … or from another field and never yet considered in this context.  This is one reason we go to conferences.
  3. Finally, there is very little written on children’s literature and the avant-garde.  It’s safe to say that this conference gathered together the largest group of people investigating this subject.

For your enjoyment, here is some of the art.  Following that, brief reflections on the conference itself.


Salvador Bartolozzi
Salvador Bartolozzi's Pinocho Boxeador (1929)
The conference program took its cover image from Pinocho Boxeador (1929), one of 48 booklets featuring Pinocho (based on Collodi’s character, Pinocchio).  As Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer told us, the artist was Salvador Bartolozzi (1882-1950), an anti-Fascist poster designer who fled Spain in 1939.  For more images, see 50 Watts‘ post on Bartolozzi’s Pinocho.

Lou Loeber
Gouden Vlinders by S. Franke, with art by Lou Loeber
Saskia de Bodt introduced us to Dutch modernist picture books, including Lou Loeber’s de Stijl experiment, Gouden Vlinders [Golden Butterflies] (1927).  Loeber’s style (stijl!) put me strongly in mind of the Tangrams I played with in the 1970s.
Gouden Vlinders by S. Franke, with art by Lou Loeber
Gouden Vlinders by S. Franke, with art by Lou Loeber

Wouter van Reek

Wouter Van Reek, Keepvogel en Kijkvogel: In Het Spoor Van Mondrian (2011)

Wouter van Reek’s Keepvogel en Kijkvogel: In Het Spoor Van Mondriaan (2011) — also introduced to us by Saskia de Bodt — has also been published in English as Coppernickel Goes Mondrian (2012).  This is one of many books I’ve added to my “to buy” list.

Wouter Van Reek, Coppernickel Goes Mondrian (2012)

Wouter van Reek's Keepvogel en Kijkvogel: In Het Spoor Van Mondrian (2011): interior 2-page spread


Bauhaus toys!

Michael Siebenbrodt, of the Bauhaus Museum Weimar, showed us (photos of) lots of Bauhaus toys and children’s furniture, such as Peter Keler’s Wiege (1922), a cradle — which, he told us, is weighted at the bottom so that it won’t roll all the way over.

Peter Keler, Wiege (1922)

Lyonel Feninger — modernist painter and creator of the Kin-der-Kids comic (1906) — created many toys, mostly (as I recall) for his kids or friends.

Lyonel Feininger: toys

Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack’s top (designed in the 1920s) is still in production.  It’s available from the Naef Store.  That’s a link to the US version of the store, in the previous sentence: for other locations, try Naef’s main website.

Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack, top


Einar Nerman

Would someone please reissue Einar Nerman’s children’s books?  As Elina Druker told us, Nerman (1888-1983) was a Swedish caricaturist strongly influenced by Art Nouveau.  His picture books are largely unknown today, but they look fantastic.  There’s the beautiful Crow’s Dream (1911), in which animals take over and rule a city — a satirical commentary on our treatment of animals and of each other.  I can’t find images of that on-line, but the great illustration blog 50 Watts has images from Fairy Tales from the North (1946), a few of which I’ll include below.

Einar Nerman, Fairy Tales (1946)

Einar Nerman, Fairy Tales (1946)

Einar Nerman, Fairy Tales (1946)


Samuil Marshak and Vladimir Lebedev

Marshak and Lebedev, Yesterday and Today (1931)

Because I was moderating this session, I failed to take many notes on Sara Pankenier Weld‘s insights into poet Marshak and artist Lebedev.  I can tell you that the above title, in English, is Yesterday and Today.  Also worth noting: MoMA has just published an English-language edition of Marshak and Lebedev’s Baggage (1926).

Marshak and Lebedev, Baggage (1926, English translation 2012)

During this same session, Evgeny Steiner juxtaposed US and Soviet books that seemed to mirror each other.

Slide from Evgeny Steiner's presentation

As I said above, my moderating prevented me from getting many notes taken.  But, here (above) is one slide, at least!


Sandor Bortnyik

Sandor Bortnyik only created one children’s book, the title of which Samuel Albert translated as Spot and Dot’s Adventurous Journey (shown below, published 1929).

Sandor Bortnyik, Die Wunderfahrt

There are apparently several versions of this, one of which has nonsensically playful verse — if I remember correctly, this version has neither been published nor translated.  A Hungarian modernist, Bortnyik created posters, advertisements, and paintings.  He was a major artist, but I’d never heard of him until hearing Albert’s talk.


Kurt Schwitters

While we’re in the 1920s, I must here mention — as Hadassah Stichnothe and others did — the typographical delight that is Kurt Schwitters’ Die Scheuche (The Scarecrow, 1925).

Kurt Schwitters, Die Scheuche (1925)

Kurt Schwitters, Die Scheuche (1925)

A collection of Schwitters’ fairy tales, plus a full English version of the above appears in Schwitters’ Lucky Hans and Other Merz Fairy Tales (translated by Jack Zipes, 2009).


Otto and Marie Neurath’s ISOTYPE children’s books

Today, we’re familiar with silhouetted figures on signs, or graphs that use as a unit of measurement the image of the item measured.  Until hearing Hanna Melse’s paper, I didn’t know about the children’s books inspired by this pictorial language — which was named ISOTYPE (for International System Of TYpographic Picture Education).  Looking at the pictures, I thought that Chris Ware and Mark Newgarden would be especially interested — each image speaks with great economy and clarity, which is a stylistic trait they both admire.

Marie Neurath, Wonders of the Modern World (1948)

above: Marie Neurath, Wonders of the Modern World (1948)

Neurath, Tips for tots: An ISOTYPE Book on the Seasons (1944)

above: Otto and Marie Neurath, Tips for Tots (1944)

To learn more, see the ISOTYPE Revisited exhibit.


The Avant-Garde’s Legacy in French Children’s Literature

Nathalie Parain, ronds et carrés (1932)

above: Nathalie Parain, ronds et carrés (round and square, 1932)

Sandra Beckett‘s discussion of the avant-garde and its legacy in French children’s literature was my favorite presentation.  It gave me a greater understanding of French children’s literature’s willingness to take risks and push boundaries (in contrast to, say, American children’s literature).  Beyond the paper’s thesis, I was intrigued by the books — some which I will seek for my own library, and others for my niece Emily’s Library.

Edy-Legrand, Macao et Cosmage ou l'experience du bonheur (1919)

above and below: Edy-Legrand, Macao et Cosmage ou l’experience du bonheur (1919).  Sandra Beckett calls it “the most visually daring work of an artist who would go on to become one of the premier illustrators of the 20th Century.”  Edy-Legrand was only 18 at the time he created the book.

Edy-Legrand, Macao et Cosmage ou l'experience du bonheur (1919)

Evgeny Steiner would likely (and correctly) point out that Edy-Legrand’s images are more Art Nouveau than strictly surreal, but I presume that readers of this blog post won’t mind.

Lise Deharme, Le Coeur de Pic. Illustré de vingt photographies par Claude Cahun (1937)

Above: Lise Deharme, Le Coeur de Pic, illustrated with photographs by Claude Cahun (1937).  Andre Breton, Man Ray, and other surrealists admired this book.  In his foreword to Le Coeur de Pic, Paul Eulard wrote, “The book has the age that you want to have.”

Parain, Mon Chat (1930)

Above: Nathalie Parain, Mon chat (1930).  You can also read the book in its entirety here.

El Lissitzky, About Two Squares (1922)

Sandra suggested that El Lissitzky’s About Two Squares (1922, above) influenced Anne Bertier’s Mercredi (2010, below).

Anne Bertier, mercredi (2010)

This book (above) looks great & will definitely be joining Emily’s Library.

Moving into the 1960s and 1970s, publisher Harlan Quist’s pop art children’s books — also a focus of Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer’s talk — are all (or nearly all) out of print.  Many Quist books bring to mind Heinz Edelmann’s work (he was art director on Yellow Submarine), though not all do.

Albert Cullum, The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On (1971)

above: Albert Cullum, The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died But Teacher You Went Right On (Quist, 1971).  The book has 30 illustrations, each one by a different artist.  Here’s the one by Nicole Claveloux:

Nicole Claveloux's illustration for Albert Cullum's The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died but Teacher You Went Right On

And one by Cathy Deter:

Cathy Deter's illustration for Albert Cullum's The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died but Teacher You Went Right On

One by Gerald Failly:

Gerald Failly's illustration for Albert Cullum's The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died but Teacher You Went Right On

You can find many more pictures from The Geranium on the Windowsill… at Codex 99‘s post on the book (my source for the above images).

Eugène Ionesco & Etienne Delessert, Contes 1 2 3 4

above: Eugène Ionesco and Etienne Delessert, Contes 1 2 3 4 (originally published 1969-1973), and recently republished in English as Stories 1 2 3 4 (McSweeney’s, 2012).

Eugène Ionesco and Etienne Delessert, Contes 1 2 3 4

above: another illustration from Eugène Ionesco and Etienne Delessert, Contes 1 2 3 4.

Jules Walker Danielson has an extensive post on and interview with Etienne Delessert, which I recommend to you for further reading.

Peignot & Constantin, Au pied de la lettre

above: Jérôme Peignot and Robert Constantin, Au pied de la lettre (2003). Photo of slide created by Sandra Beckett.


Pop Art Children’s Books

I do realize that some of the above cross over into “Pop Art,” but since these next few images are from Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer’s talk (“Just what is it that makes pop art picturebooks so different, so appealing?”), I thought I’d give us a new section title.

Peter Blake's version of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1972)

above: Peter Blake’s version of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1972).

Inspired by Heinz Edelmann, Peter Max created The Land of Yellow (1970), The Land of Red (1970), and The Land of Blue (1970).

Peter Max, The Land of Yellow (1970)

above: Peter Max, The Land of Yellow (1970).

Peter Max, The Land of Blue (1970) and The Land of Red (1970)

above: Peter Max, The Land of Blue and The Land of Red (both 1970).  Photo of Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer’s slide.

Etienne Delessert, How the Mouse Was Hit on the Head by a Stone and so Discovered the World (1971)

above: two-page spread from Etienne Delessert’s How the Mouse Was Hit on the Head by a Stone and so Discovered the World (1971).  Original image on 50 Watts.


A Very British Avant-Garde

In her “A Very British Avant-Garde,” Kim Reynolds presented the results of the kind of archival research required to figure out just where these avant-garde books for children are being produced.  To a one, I had never heard of any of the books she talked about.

Jean de Bosschere's The City Curious (1920)

Kim reports that The Little Review called Jean de Bosschère’s The City Curious (1920) “a sinister little story.”

Jean de Bosschere's The City Curious (1920): The City Curious

Jean de Bosschere's The City Curious (1920): The Eggs running along

above: images from  Jean de Bosschère’s The City Curious (1920).  You can see more images from the book here.

Enid Bagnol, Alice and Thomas and Jane (1930)

above: my rather blurry photo of Kim’s slide featuring Enid Bagnol’s Alice and Thomas and Jane (1930).

Edith Saunders, Fanny Penquite (1932)

above: Edith Saunders, Fanny Penquite (1932).  This more obscure title was published Oxford University Press and, as I recall, Kim was unable to find more information about the book’s author.

Lewitt-Him, The Football's Revolt (1939)

above: Lewitt-Him, The Football’s Revolt (1939) — a book about a football that decides it no longer wants to be kicked about!

Bertrand Russell, The Good Citizen's Alphabet, with drawings by Franciszka Themerson (1953)

above: Bertrand Russell, The Good Citizen’s Alphabet, with drawings by Franciszka Themerson (1953).


I’ve left out a lot here, including Sirke Happonen‘s fascinating discussion of the production of Tove Jansson’s innovative Hur gick det sen? (1952) — the title means What Happened Next?, but the English translation bears the title The Book About Moomin, Mimble, and Little My.  And Olga Holownia’s award-winning presentation on the Icelandic avant-garde (which doesn’t really get going until the 1950s…!).  But the preceding, at least, offers a glimpse at some of the children’s books we learned about.

What’s harder to capture is the camaraderie of the event.  There were no competing sessions.  So, people from 25 countries all spent the better part of three days together.  Wisely, the organizers scheduled coffee breaks every couple of hours, and arranged for us all to have lunch together at the Museum of Work— a short walk from the conference venue.  Alas, there was little time to explore Norrköping, but we had evenings free.  I very much enjoyed hanging out with Kim Reynolds, Sandra Beckett, Olga Holownia, Nina Christensen, Sara Pankenier Weld, Anna Czernow, Evgeny Steiner, Samuel Albert, and many others whose names I should be mentioning here (apologies for omissions!).

Children's Literature and the European Avant-Garde, Norrköping, Sweden. Sept. 2012. Photo by Allegra Roccato.

Thanks to Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, Elina Druker, Maria Nikolajeva for organizing it.  Thanks to Allegra Roccato (who also took the above photograph) and the European Science Foundation for providing administrative and financial support.

And, coming up in my next post…: a few words on Tove Jansson’s Moomins, who are (inexplicably!) largely unknown in America.


Correction, 17 Oct. 2012, 5:25 pm.  Samuel Albert informs me that Bortnyik did not write the (unpublished) nonsensically playful verse for the book.  So, I’ve struck the words “by Bortnyik himself.”

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Jose Aruego (1932-2012)

Maurice Sendak, Ellen Levine, Jean Craighead George, Leo Dillon, and now Jose Aruego.  It’s been an all-too-mortal year for children’s books.  Mr. Aruego died on August 9, his 80th birthday.

I never met Mr. Aruego, but he did kindly grant Julia Mickenberg and me permission to use his illustrations for Charlotte Pomerantz’s The Day They Parachuted Cats on Borneo (1971) in Tales for Little Rebels (2008).  For all such permission requests, I included a self-addressed stamped envelope to facilitate the reply.  He returned the envelope, embellished with his own beautiful script rendition of my name.

Jose Aruego, envelope addressed to Philip Nel, 2005

It seemed as if, even though this was a mundane request, he was going to respond with his full attention.  Next to his signature, he added — in beautiful tiny script, on a post-it note — a request for a copy of the book, once published.

Jose Aruego, postscript to Philip Nel, 2005

His biography is a fascinating one.  As we note in Tales for Little Rebels, he grew up in Manilla where, at school, he sat next to and befriended Benigno Aquino — the Philippine leader assassinated (decades later) for opposing Ferdinand Marcos.  Though as a young man Aruego trained to practice law, he lost the sole case he tried, leaving the profession after a mere three months.

Aruego’s heart wasn’t in the law.  It was in art.  Inspired by his childhood love of comic books, he decided to study art in New York City, because he thought of it as the comic-book capital of the world.  In the late 1950s, he enrolled at the Parsons School of Design, studying with Leo Lionni — the artist about to gain fame in the children’s book world for Little Blue and Little Yellow (1959), Swimmy (1963), Frederick (1967), and many others.

Robert Kraus and Jose Aruego, Leo the Late Bloomer (1971)After graduating, Aruego worked for ad agencies, sold cartoons (New YorkerSaturday Evening PostLook), and eventually decided on pursuing free-lance illustration full-time.  He married and later divorced artist Ariane Dewey: they co-illustrated over forty-five books together, both before and after the dissolution of their marriage.  He also illustrated over a dozen by Robert Kraus, including Whose Mouse Are You? (1970) and Leo the Late Bloomer (1971).

A bit of a late bloomer himself, Aruego created many great children’s books during his over fifty years as an artist.  He’s a great example of a person who followed his own path, and, in so doing, found his true talent.  Rest in peace, Mr. Aruego.  Thanks for leaving us all the gift of your sensitive, detailed, warm, amusing art.

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