Friday, October 31, 2014

Beautiful Book #28

The Ship that Sailed to Mars by William Timlin. George Harrap, 1923.

Published in a run of only 2,000 books, 250 of which were made available in North America, William Timlin's The Ship That Sailed to Mars is a rare and strikingly beautiful science-fiction/fantasy classic. Timlin, an artist and architect, began creating the book for his young son in 1921. This was no small feat given that the book comprises 48 colour plates and 48 pages of text handwritten in calligraphy by the author. When George Harrap agreed to publish the manuscript in 1923, he decided to keep Timlin's calligraphy rather than having the book typeset. The result is a book unlike anything I've ever seen: ancient, yet futuristic, fantastical yet grounded in early 20th century artistic traditions. It anticipates so much 20th Century science fiction and fantasy and does so with elegant whimsy; for example, the space ship is not a rocket but rather a sailing ship designed by fairies, and the old man who sails it does so in a vest and waistcoat.

One of my favourite bits of text reads: "On their arrival at Mars, following their flight from the Moon, they found the land fair and free of Man or Fairy, but roaming its woods were harmless but inexpressibly Hideous Things. Many were like unto the evil thoughts of a maniac at moonrise; others were sluggish, amiable beasts, and then there were those Monsters that flew."

When I first heard about this book, I knew I wanted a copy. Thankfully, Calla Editions, an imprint of Dover, created a facsimile of the original in 2011, one that can still be snagged new for a great price via online bookstores. Trust me when I say, you won't regret the 20-some odd dollars you spend on it. And if you are lucky enough to find a copy in your local library, all power to you.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Beautiful Book #27

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. Houghton Mifflin, 1984.

Illustration and design of children's books in the last 40 years has been highly influenced by the Rhode Island School of Design. RISD boasts David Macaulay, Brian Selznik, and David Wiesner among other prominent illustrators as alumni. Barry Moser taught at the school for many years, as did Macaulay. Smack dab in the centre of this deep community of talent, you will find alumnus and former instructor, Chris Van Allsburg. Trained as a sculptor, Van Allsburg, on the advice of his wife, Lisa, turned to book illustration as an extension of his art. His use of sculptural form, child-centred perspective, eerie atmosphere, the darkness of folktale morality, and subtle humour have rendered his voice unique and ground-breaking in the picture book genre.

He is best known for his books that have been adapted to film, The Polar Express and Jumanji, but my personal favourite is and will always be The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. The book's concept is simple: a fictional children's book publisher is visited by an illustrator who leaves his portfolio for consideration but then never returns to collect it. Inside the portfolio are are series of evocative drawings containing nothing but a title and caption. Readers are encouraged to engage with the illustrations, to write the stories for themselves...and so they have, all over the world as part of classroom assignments and solitary flights of fancy. In 2011, noted authors, including Kate DiCamillo, Sherman Alexi, Walter Dean Myers and Stephen King, joined forces to publish, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, 14 stories based on the book's original illustrations. While I very much enjoyed their takes, for myself, I prefer to let the mysteries behind each picture be.

I have included a few of these illustrations here, but I encourage you to find the book to linger over for yourself. And while you're at the library, look for his other titles: The Garden of Abdul Gasazi and The Sweetest Fig are other favourites of mine, and I cannot resist the post-modern charm of A Bad Day at Riverbend. Given that today is the 30th of October, I should also single out The Widow's Broom, a title well-suited to Halloween.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Beautiful Book #26

Down Singing Centuries: Folk Literature of the Ukraine. Translated by Florence Randall Livesay. Compiled and Edited by Louisa Loeb. Illustrated by Stefan Czernecki. Hyperion Press, 1981.

When I logged into Twitter this morning, the day after the horrific violence on Parliament Hill, I was struck by the top two Trending Topics in Canada: #OttawaShooting and Happy Diwali. "This is my country," I thought. "This is the country that I love."

Today's beautiful book is a fascinating contribution to Canadian cultural history of another sort. Published in 1981, it collects and brings forward the translations of Ukrainian songs and folktales undertaken by Florence Randall Livesay in her Winnipeg home. Mother to famed Canadian poet, Dorothy Livesay, F.R.L. became interested in Ukrainian culture when she took in immigrant girls as 'mother's help' in the early years of the 20th Century. Her interest in their songs was so great that she sought help from Reverend Paul Crath, a Ukrainian Baptist Minister to learn the language so that she might translate these songs. She persisted in her efforts and brought her own poetic sensibilities to bear, publishing Songs of Ukania with Ruthenia Poems in 1916. She continued to work on translating Ukrainian folklore after this book's publication but didn't publish again. Down Singing Centuries is an academically impeccable bringing together of Livesay's translations from her original book and beyond edited by scholar Louisa Loeb, and gorgeously accented with colour plates provided by German-Canadian artist Stefan Czernecki. The book is a pleasure to read, to look at and to touch.

 Portrait of F.R.L

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Beautiful Book #25

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. By Lewis Carroll. The Pennyroyal Edition as designed and illustrated by Barry Moser. University of California Press, 1982 and 1983.

Number 25 of 50. When you hit the halfway mark in a project, a celebration is called for. What better celebration than a tribute to Barry Moser and his Pennyroyal Press? Moser, an illustrator, woodcut artist, painter and book designer (among other things) founded The Pennyroyal press in 1970. His Pennyroyal books are made from the ground up using a printing press (managed by typesetter Harold McGrath) and woodcut illustrations created and printed by Moser. In 1982, Moser and McGrath undertook their first large scale project on the press, an illustrated version of Alice that is meticulous in its textual history, stunning in its design, thorough in its concept, and innovative in its pictorial interpretation.

For these books, Moser situates himself in the eyes of Alice. While we do see her and her sister depicted in illustrations that frame the narrative, once she is in Wonderland, the reader sees the  fantastic and frantic sights only as Alice sees them. This positioning heightens the horror and uneasiness of her adventure--of note, the Cheshire Cat is a skeletally thin Sphinx cat. Similarly, in 1983's Through the Looking Glass, the illustrations are all presented as if seen through the mirror's reflection. I could go on an on about the brilliance of these books--the chess problem played out in the illustrations, Moser's choice of accent colours, the faces depicted and who they represent, the layout of text and image on the page, the textual extras in each book--suffice to say, it is no wonder that Alice's Adventures in Wonderland won the American book award in 1983 for the trade edition of the book as published by The University of California Press.

I like to keep these posts short, but I do urge you to read more about Moser, Pennyroyal and the ground-breaking Pennyroyal Caxton Bible here. And please don't stop with Moser's woodcut Pennyroyal books. He has illustrated many other children's books as well. I've included an illustration from his Jump! collection of Brer Rabbit stories and an illustration from his collaboration with Virgina Hamilton on a A Ring of Tricksters below.

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 academics, 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?