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: http://www.thekeepinggallery.co.uk/
His biography is also fascinating and pretty comprehensive and well-written for a Wikipedia entry, if you want to learn more about him.

Beautiful Book #17

Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More to Life. By Maurice Sendak. Harper & Row, 1967.

This is quite simply one of my favourite books ever. It has it all: nonsense! theatre! sandwiches! a giant baby! a lion! one the hungriest, most sincere quest heroines of all time! When I was interviewed for my job as curator back in 2002, I used this book in an elaborate metaphorical answer to the question of "Why should you have this job?" -- Because, of course, I wanted to be the leading lady in the World Mother Goose Theatre Company. And here I am fourteen years later, living in the Castle Yonder and happy as a dog with a salami mop.

The book is small with sepia and white line drawings, and it is not nearly as elaborate or well-known as many of Sendak's other titles but I think it perfect and I hope you agree.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Beautiful Book #16

The Frog Prince or Iron Henry by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Illustrated by Binette Schroeder. Translated by Naomi Lewis. North South Books, 1989.

German illustrator, Binette Schroeder published her first of many children's books, Lupinchen, in 1969, and, lucky for us, a number of them have been translated into English--not that you would need a translation of the text to appreciate her art. The translation serves merely to put the books in our North American hands. Fantastical, atmospheric and funny, her art makes you feel as if you are looking at a world of saturated colour right at the moment of twilight when anything might become possible. I am partial to her take on The Frog Prince because it walks the line between horror and humour, and it uses vertical page space to play with perspective and scale in interesting ways.

You'll have to track down the book to see the charming moment when the Prince leaps merrily into his new bride's bed--it's so worth it. In the meantime, I've included a couple of images here to entice you, and I strongly encourage you to do a Google image search on Binette Schroeder's name so you can appreciate a more fulsome range of her art.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Beautiful Book #15

Casey at the Bat by Earnest L. Thayer, illustrated by Christopher Bing. Handprint Books, 2000. Caldecott Honor Book, 2001.

As a book and baseball lover, I am wholly enamoured with this picture book. Bing imagines Thayer's well-known poem as a newspaper scrapbook, which is in keeping with the history of the poem; it was first published in the San Francisco Examiner in June of 1888. Bing's pen and ink illustrations in the style of aged newspaper engravings are gorgeous and visually balanced, but it's the scrapbook ephemera--vintage baseball cards, ticket stubs, newspaper clippings and the like--that create perfection and that also demand a nod to book designer, Todd Sutherland. A reader can spend hours mulling over the ephemera, learning no end of interesting bits and bobs about the history of baseball and the history of newspaper engraving art. As a bonus, readers can spot noted historian Henry Louis Gates' cameo as catcher and track down the names of Bing's friends and mentors who are listed as the engravers for each illustration. The book is a testament to what picture books can be and once you've spent an hour with it, you'll want another hit of its brand of sophistication.

Here's an interesting Publisher's Weekly article about the book and about Bing from the year it was published. http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/profiles/article/53148-fall-2000-flying-starts-christopher-bing.html

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Beautiful Book #14

Creation by Gerald McDermott. Dutton, 2003.

Noted illustrator and folklorist, Gerald McDermott came to book publishing after first developing his craft and his sensibilities in film and animation. His first and best known book, Anansi the Spider (1972) began life as an animated film in the 1960s. When McDermott passed away almost 2 years ago, he left a body of 28 illustrated works, most of which were not only illustrated by him but written or adapted as well. He was always rigorous in his research and both allusive and innovative in his art. The most beautiful of his books, in my opinion, is Creation, a work that is spare on text, bold in design, and a culmination of so many of his stylistic elements.

I do not have the technology to adequately reproduce illustrations from this book and it is hard to find digital reproductions online, so I am going to direct you to its Amazon page where you can take a peek inside at the first few pages. The book, like the first book of Genesis itself, moves from darkness to light, from emptiness to abundance. To see what I mean about the later pages, you'll get have to get yourself to the library or order a copy. And if you aren't familiar with McDermott's work, then please seek it out. A quick Google image search will show you what you've been missing. 


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: http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/gallery/2011/mar/31/childrens-books-7-and-under


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: http://www.kids-bookreview.com/2010/10/chatting-with-author-and-artist-jeannie.html

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 archive.org through a browse-able interface, and I suggest you all take the 30 seconds required to flip through it. https://archive.org/details/abcbook00fall

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. http://www.booksforvictory.com/2014/02/illustrator-c-b-falls-and-victory-book.html