Thursday, September 11, 2014

Beautiful Book(s): #13

The Baby's Opera and The Baby's Own Aesop, illustrated by Walter Crane; engraved and printed in colours by Edmund Evans. Frederick Warne, 1877 and Routledge, 1887.

I am mildly superstitious, so rather than give you one book for my #13, I am giving you two. OK, I am not superstitious at all; I am simply trying to squeeze more books onto the list. Walter Crane is, without dispute, one of the most influential children's book illustrators of any century. He was also quite prolific, thus my trouble in choosing a single title to represent him. A member of the arts and crafts movement and a socialist, he worked to make art part of everyone's domestic life.

I chose The Baby's Opera because of its significance in keeping the tradition of nursery songs alive, and because I know that some of you are musicians or have children who are budding musicians. I also think books of illustrated sheet music are particularly beautiful. I chose The Baby's Own Aesop because it showcases the humour and whimsy in his art, and because W. J. Linton's pithy, rhyming versions of the fables are irresistible.

As usual, I have included a few images here, but because these books are in the public domain, it is easy to find digital reproductions of them elsewhere. Project Gutenberg's versions are thorough and provide options for reading the books on eReader devices:

and the International Children's Digital Library versions are presented through a more book-like interface.

Either way, you win

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Beautiful Book #12

The Onion's Great Escape by Sara Fanelli. Phaidon, 2012.

Part activity book, part metaphysics primer, and part tool for exercising critical thinking skills, The Onion's Great Escape is a gateway to unlimited fascinating conversations no matter what the age of its readers. The book's titular character lives in fear of her certain fate: ending up in the Big Fry. Only you can release her by answering a series of questions which run the gamut from "What is your earliest memory" to "Who decides what is good or bad?" Italian-British author/illustrator, Sara Fanelli, always creates beautiful books, but this one is a joy both physically and intellectually. The toughest challenge for the reader is deciding whether or not to set the onion free by physically removing her from the book, thus destroying the book in the process. A book lover's conundrum indeed.

If you like the pictures below and want to see more of Fanelli's work, The Guardian has a slide show gallery of her book art here:


Friday, September 5, 2014

Beautiful Book #11

Snow White in New York, adapted and illustrated by Fiona French. Oxford UP:1986. Winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal, 1986.

Folk and fairy tales have been illustrated in all manner of settings, time-periods and artistic styles over the years. All too often such re-imaginings feel gimmicky and mismatched with art that simply cannot extend the artist's vision beyond the words on the page. Sometimes, however, when an artist is innovative and thorough, magic happens. Such is the case with English painter and illustrator Fiona French's version of Snow White as set in 1920s New York. Art Deco illustrations are the perfect fit for the tale of a "poor little rich girl" whose fair face competes with that of her step-mother on the society pages of The New York Mirror. When her step-mother seeks revenge, Snow White flees to a jazz club where she becomes the vocalist for a seven member band and wins the heart of a music reviewer. The illustrations are gorgeous and both design and concept are excellent. My only wish is that the words themselves had a bit more finesse to bring them up to the standard set by the rest of the book.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Beautiful Book #10

The Story of Rosy Dock by Jeannie Baker. Walker, 1995.

It was not easy to pick a single title by British-born, Australian collage artist Jeannie Baker as I love all her work and find that each book succeeds in in its own way. She is likely best known for her 1991 wordless picture book, Window, and I came very close to selecting her 1980 nearly wordless book, Millicent, which imagines the inner thoughts of an elderly woman who feeds the pigeons in Sydney's Hyde Park. I have included one image from Millicent here to demonstrate the detail Baker brings to the human form.

In The Story of Rosy Dock, Baker shows how dramatically the ecology of a landscape can be affected by the introduction of new species, in this case the flowering plant Rosy Dock which was brought to Australia by European settlers from its natural habitat in north Africa-western Asia, and which has now spread as a weed across much of the Australian desert. You will notice in one of the pictures below that the book also has a wordless nod to the similarly devastating ecological impact of the rabbit on Australia.

If you want to learn more about Baker in her own words, there is an interview with her here:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Beautiful Book #9

Rapunzel, adapted and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. Dutton: 1997. Caldecott Medal Winner, 1998.

Illustrated in the style of the Italian Renaissance masters, Zelinsky's take on Rapunzel is at once sumptuous and bibliographically grounded. An afterword discusses the history of the tale along with the textual choices Zalinsky made in his adaptation. But it's the artwork that sets it apart--even in cheaply reproduced Scholastic paperback versions of it. Try to lay your hands on the hardcover edition, though; it really is a cut above.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Beautiful Book #8

ABC Book by C.B. Falls. Doubleday, 1923.

I am a fan of woodcut illustrations and I am also a fan of innovative, non-touristy alphabet books. Be prepared to see plenty of them on this list. Today's book combines the best of both. C.B. Falls was a noted illustrator, book designer, and poster artist from the early-mid-20th century, but I don't think he ever produced anything as fine as this iconic, 4-coloured woodcut alphabet that has never once looked anything but cutting edge since it was first published 91 years ago.

The entire book is available from through a browse-able interface, and I suggest you all take the 30 seconds required to flip through it.

I've also posted a couple of pictures below to brighten your day.

For the historians and book culture lovers in the crowd, here is a link to a short blog post on Falls' participation in the WWII Books for Victory campaign.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Beautiful Book #7

The Queen of Paradise's Garden, adapted by Andy Jones, illustrated by Darka Erdelji. Running the Goat, Books & Broadsides, 2009.

"Once upon a time and a very good time it was, not in your time, indeed not in my time, but in olden times, when quart bottles held half a gallon and houses were papered with pancakes and pigs run about with forks stuck in their backs seein who wanted a slice o' ham..."

It is not easy for a small press to make a beautiful book, as beautiful books tend to be pricey to produce and demand wide distribution to cover costs; and yet, Newfoundland's Running the Goat, Books & Broadsides is committed to great beauty bound in small, soft-cover form. Andy Jones, formerly of Codco fame, has spent the last several years adapting traditional Newfoundland folklore and has published three of these tales, Jack tales, with Running the Goat. A fourth one, Jack, The King of Ashes, will be released this fall. The tales are illustrated by Slovenian Darka Erdelji and the two of them together have performed puppet shows based on Newfoundland Folklore. 
Andy will be performing one of these puppet plays next summer as part of the Raddall Symposium at Acadia and I can hardly wait to see it. Maybe you might want to submit a paper proposal, if Atlantic Canadian Literature as it intersects with childhood interests you?

Here is a video trailer for the book narrated by Andy Jones.

And here is the FB page for Running the Goat, Books & Broadsides.