Monday, October 20, 2014

Beautiful Book #24

Hansel and Gretel. The Brothers Grimm. Illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger. 1979.

Austrian illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger won the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen medal in 1990, the highest honour that can be awarded a children's book illustrator for a body of work. A simple Google-image search on her name will show you why. Her art is diverse, from dark to whimsical, she projects atmosphere deftly, and her style is unique despite being rich in influences. I particularly like the way she plays with space on the page--there is a balance to everything she does. She works mainly with folklore, bringing her own vision to classic tales and fables, but she has also illustrated canonical children's texts, such as Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz.

I have chosen one of her earlier works, Hansel And Gretel, because I am drawn to her Rackham-esque darkness. I have also included an image here from The Little Mermaid because I want to give a sense of her artistic range... and I've included one from The Selfish Giant to demonstrate her skill with space and balance.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Beautiful Book #23

How Summer Came to Canada. Retold by William Toye. Pictures by Elizabeth Cleaver. Henry Z. Walk, 1969.

It is not easy to pick a single title by Elizabeth Mrazik Cleaver. With 13 LC Catalog records for 9 distinct titles, she was not exactly prolific but her work is foundational to the histories of folklore and book illustration in Canada.  A two time winner of the Amelia Frances Howard-Gibbon Illustrator's Award, she also gave name to her own award that is managed by IBBY Canada. A list of the winners of the Elizabeth Mrazik-Cleaver Canadian Picture Book Award can be found here

I like How Summer Came to Canada for the texture and variety of its illustrations and because William Toye provides a spare and engaging version of this particular Mi'kmaq Glooscap legend. As one of Cleaver's first two books, it announces the breadth of her talent from the get-go. The illustrations below do not do the book justice. I recommend you sit down with all of her titles the next time you are at the library, and, in the meantime, if you'd like to see some of her illustrations from the influential early Canadian children's poetry anthology, The Wind has Wings (1969), there is a good blog post by Gary Andrew Clark here

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Beautiful Book #22

An Alphabet by William Nicholson. Heinemann, 1897

William Nicholson is another artist and illustrator whose work you will know, even if you do not know his name, for late in his career he was asked to produce illustrations for Margery Williams' 1922 classic, The Velveteen Rabbit. It is his woodblock alphabet from very early on in his career, however, that I like best. With each letter representing a character type or profession, An Alphabet is  simple yet complex in its reflection of character, social strata, fin de si├Ęcle fashion, and emerging graphic design principles. As one half of The Beggarstaffs, Nicholson was an influential artist for late 19th C poster design and he went on to create other books of woodcut illustrations, to become a painter who exhibited in London, and to illustrate and author children's books.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Beautiful Book #21

The Hey Diddle Diddle Picture Book by Randolph Caldecott. Frederick Warne, 1910.

You all know the award but do you know the artist whose name is behind it? Randolph Caldecott was active as a book illustrator in London in the 1870s and 80s and is considered the father of the modern picture book. His illustrations are whimsical and often convey a sense of motion. Many illustrations pair formal scenes with playful action and his world is as filled with politicians, hunters and domestic scenes as it is with animals and inanimate objects. I've chosen a collection containing several of his illustrated nursery rhymes, because I am particularly fond of his frogs, his nursery scenes and particularly his dish and spoon. Caldecott died at age 39. I can't help but wonder where his art would have taken the history of the book if he had lived a full, long life.

If you want to see more of Caldecott's work, search for him on Project Gutenberg, as a number of his works are there, complete with illustrations:

Monday, October 6, 2014

Beautiful Book #20

Pish Posh Said Hieronymus Bosch by Nancy Willard. Illustrated by The Dillons. Harcourt, 1991.

You know the work of Leo and Diane Dillon even if you don't know their names. As a wholly collaborative husband and wife duo, they illustrated many, many sci-fi and fantasy book covers, almost 40 picture books, won numerous awards, and were prolific in their careers for a span of 50 years. They were pioneers in bringing cultural and racial diversity to both the mass market paperback format and the picture book genre. I could hand over 5-10 spots on this list of 50 titles to them but since I plan to showcase 50 separate illustrators here, I've been forced to choose just one, the most beautiful, of their titles. So, Pish Posh Said Hieronymus Bosch it is.

Nancy Willard's playful rhyming text about the exasperated maid in the home of the famous 15th Century Dutch painter is a hoot: "'How can I cook for you? How can I bake when the oven keeps turning itself to a rake?' ... 'My aunt was a squash,' said Hieronymus Bosch." The book is a love story, but rather than a princess fairy tale, it is a love story to art and to making do. You might find it the perfect antidote to the over-trod romance plot we're fed from all sides. The Dillons' Bosch-inspired illustrations, including the maid's chief form of transportation, a pickle-winged fish, are marvelous. You'll want to spend hours upon hours with them.

Leo Dillon passed away two years ago. You can read his NYT obituary here.

You can also peruse this blog that showcases their art, including many of their mass market paperback covers.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Beautiful Book #19

A Drove of Bullocks: A Compilation of Animal Group Names. PatrickGeorge, 2009.

Name two really great things: collective nouns and clever graphic design. I often wish that I was supreme ruler of the English language tasked with coining collective nouns for animals. What a great job that would be: a murder of crows, an improbability of puffins, a battery of barracudas... Really, it's a wonder anyone ever learns to speak English given how quirky it is.

British design company PatrickGeorge has published several books for children, all of which are visually arresting and most of which are suited to toddlers and babies. Among their titles are four collections of visually witty takes on those delightful and often improbable collective nouns for animal groupings: A Drove of Bullocks (animals) A Filth of Starlings (birds), A Shiver of Sharks (sea life) and A Crackle of Crickets (insects). These books are a delight to look at and should be in every single doctor's, dentist's and optometrist's waiting rooms. They are far better for killing time than the typical Good Housekeeping fare one usually finds. There is a bit of overlap across the books and some have been published on a nicer, glossier paper that the bright illustrations demand, but all are wickedly clever and beautiful.

I've included a few images from my favourite, A Drove of Bullocks, here, but you can see more images and learn more about the books on the PatrickGeorge website. And puh-lease: a litter of kittens? How great is that?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Beautiful Book #18

The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, illustrated by Charles Keeping. Oxford: 1981. Kate Greenaway Medal, 1981.

I remember the first time I saw Charles Keeping's book art. I was taking a children's literature course for my Master's in Library Science and stumbled upon his version of Beowulf at the local, independent children's bookstore in Edmonton. God love ya, Greenwood's Small World, I wish you were still with us.

Keeping's Beowulf. I had never seen anything like it and I have yet to see anything since that compares with its atmospheric horror. Keeping's children's books, even those for the very young, see through decay and darkness to present an innovative, working class, artistic vision. The picture books that he both wrote and illustrated (1960s-1980s) often focus on urban decay and renewal in London and on the children who witness this change in the guise of progress. He not only wrote and illustrated his own books but was a prolific illustrator for the works of others, including but not limited to the novels of Rosemary Sutcliff in his early career and the Folio edition of the Complete Works of Charles Dickens in his later years.

But it is The Highwayman, his take on Noyes' 1906 poem that I think is his most cohesive and beautiful book. I am posting some images from it below and one of the monster Grendel from Beowulf. I would also encourage you to visit the website for The Keeping Gallery that his wife and fellow artist, Renate Keeping, ran out of their home after his death in 1988. She passed away this past March, but her art and image lives on through this website:
His biography is also fascinating and pretty comprehensive and well-written for a Wikipedia entry, if you want to learn more about him.