• Posted on September 25, 2010

A Bug’s Life

I love bugs.

Not crawling up my arm, not in my bok choy. Not munching on skin cells in the folds of my mattress. I love insects in their natural habitat, or on the pages of a book, articulated in pen, pastel, or in a wash of watercolour. I love to draw bugs. They are impossibly intricate and lovely, up close. I used to be terrified of creepy crawly things, and I am ashamed to say I stepped on ants, and other insects beetling along sidewalks and pathways, oblivious to humans, concerned only with his or her own buggy life. Now, I almost throw myself off the trails trying to avoid stepping on a bug. The other day, I found myself staring at a dead bee in a windowsill at a bus shelter. I felt a pang of sorrow for the bee, but more than that, I was fascinated by it’s beauty, even in death. I wondered how I could transport this fragile creature home in my pocket for further study and perhaps a drawing. In the end, I left the bee where it was, and eventually walked out into the rain and caught my bus. I’m not willing…yet…to be publicly weird.

As a reformed entomophobic, it’s hard to say how I got to here from there, but I suspect walking in the river valley for 15 years has helped. You either learn to walk in harmony with nature, or you run screaming like a six year old every time a tiny creature flaps it’s wings. A book like Crickwing, by Janell Cannon, does a great service by bringing the lives of the small and the unloved to eye level, for our consideration, education, and hopefully, our appreciation. And Cannon’s illustrations are simply stunning. Not stinging. Stunning.

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  • Posted on September 25, 2010

Picks & Tweets: the week in books

Finished reading yet, huh, finished reading yet, huh, huh, huh???

Lots of interesting articles this week, and a couple of blog discoveries…

From the New York Times: 10 Ways to Celebrate Banned Books Week, which is the last week of September~ http://nyti.ms/aEmais

The Death of the Book Has Been Greatly Exaggerated http://bit.ly/ag13KF As a dedicated hyperbolist, I would expect nothing less!

Can Censoring a Children’s Book Remove Its Prejudices? http://bit.ly/b8QZLB Seriously, just leave them alone!

Why so many dead parents in kids’ books? Hard to say, but Pippi Longstocking was a childhood favourite when I was a kid, which may or may not have had something to do with the fact that she was essentially parentless. And a redhead.  Sure, dad was at sea, but same dif… http://bit.ly/c08X6x

Found a fabulous new blog this week: Playing by the Book Through this blog I was able to take a gobsmackingly wonderful children’s literary tour of the UK. Part I http://bit.ly/bDhxzV- Part II http://bit.ly/ct26AL A fab holiday, and I never left my chair.

More blogging goodness: The Caustic Cover Critic: One man’s endless ranting about book cover design. Heh.

Seven Stories celebrates John Burningham’s artwork. Mr Gumpy would be proud.

Next Post: Bugs. Or, if I’ve already posted it, Halloween picture books for the entire month of October!

  • Posted on September 18, 2010

Picks & Tweets: The week in books

Did you say something?

As my cat Molly can attest, it’s been a long, tiring week. However, the world of books, and in particular, children’s illustrated books, never fail to warm my blood and energize my brain, just like coffee but without the teeth staining. Here’s the latest:

An impressive list of authors will be expanding on the illustrations in Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. To be released next fall. Oh boy, oh boy! http://bit.ly/dg60G4

Elvis sightings~in the illustrations of Anita Kunz. Did I mention she’s my favourite non-picture book illustrator? Well, she is!  http://bit.ly/bd3uqq

BBC News~Is our relationship with books changing? My answer? Nope. Still emptying my pockets for the ‘hard stuff’… http://bbc.in/dDA0ou

September 13th was Roald Dahl Day! I’m sure I had a chocolate bar in his honour, but really, I don’t need

Nothing like the original

an excuse to shove a Kit Kat in my mouth. Have a read of this surprising article from New York Magazine: Roald Dahl—the storyteller as benevolent sadist http://bit.ly/bonsVI And while we’re on the subject, let me just say that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remains one of my all-time favourite books. In the late-90’s, Dahl’s entire series had a visual overhaul, and the illustrations by Joseph Schindelman, which I grew up with and loved, disappeared. Thankfully, I had ordered a hardcover edition of CATCF (and the sequel Charlie & the Great Glass Elevator) the year before, with the original illustrations, so I wouldn’t be stuck with the Quentin Blake illustrations. This is not a criticism. His lively artwork is great, but it’s just not my Charlie.

Two blog posts this week, South and Harvey. A record, I think..

NEXT POST: Not sure yet, but something funny…not involving death.

  • Posted on September 15, 2010

The Unbearable Invisibility of Being

In the opening scene of the film The Princess Bride, a young boy interrupts his grandfather’s storytelling and says, “Is this a kissing book?” Easy to envision a similar scenario unfolding with Harvey, only substitute the word ‘sad’ for ‘kissing':

Is this a sad book?”

Yes, it is. But the melancholic subject matter doesn’t make it a bad thing. It is, in fact, a human thing. And in the hands of Hervé Bouchard and Janice Nadeau, it’s a deeply moving, occasionally funny, and visually inventive masterpiece. Flat out, Harvey is the most beautiful book I’ve read this year. Maybe longer, I’ll have to check my blog.

Borrowing from the graphic novel tradition, Harvey is nevertheless in a class all its own. Like Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, it is a very particular world that Harvey occupies, but less fantastical. This is a recognizable town (albeit 40 years ago judging by the beehive hairstyles), and a recognizable situation. Harvey is a young French Canadian lad who loses his father one early spring day, and attempts to make sense of the grief swirling around him, using the tools available to an imaginative boy. He is obsessed with the movie The Incredible Shrinking Man, a film which permeates his entire world, overtaking it at one point when invisibility seems the only reasonable response to an altered life.

Harvey is a journal of that day in early spring…

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  • Posted on September 12, 2010

Random Acts of Catness

I watched a flock of geese soaring overhead in V-formation the other day. Practice runs. It’s too soon for the birds to flutter off to wherever they go in the the winter. Calgary? Hard to say, but bird or human, in a northern city, September is autumn. Early September still looks like summer, but late September, when the cool air has moved in and the branches that aren’t entirely bare hang on to the last few curled leaves, summer seems months ago. And by the first week of October, people look out their windows, in full expectation of the first fat flake.

In Patrick McDonnell’s South, a little bird wakes up from a nap to discover his peeps have moved on without him. It’s autumn, and he is alone. Well, not quite alone. His friend Mooch (the cat, from the cartoon strip Mutts) offers his paw to the weeping bird, and they set off in search of his flock. In a similar situation, I’m not sure my cat Molly would do the same thing, but I like to think she possesses one or two ‘better angels’, buried somewhere deep in those 22 pounds of furry flesh.

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  • Posted on September 09, 2010

Picks & Tweets: The week in books

If a dog had nasturtiums for a head

William Gibson On the Future of Book Publishing. Wall Street Journal  http://bit.ly/9xUvnJ

More fun from Curious Pages: Boners, More Boners, Still More Boners & the Pocket Book of Boners from Dr Seuss http://bit.ly/d1tPmW

The curse of swearing in children’s books http://bit.ly/ch26fr (as opposed to the joy of swearing in real life…)

Huffington Post~Funniest Kid’s Books by Comedians~Seinfeld/Martin/Brooks agreed, but what about John Lithgow’s The Remarkable Farkle McBride, with fabulous illustrations by C.F. Payne? http://huff.to/aYHY3K

“There is only one religion of book burning.” International PEN President condemns Koran burning: http://mbist.ro/bXUT2S

Lane Smith on the technology battle in It’s a Book:  http://bit.ly/bZRSrL

Is there a future for the independent bookstore in the digital age? http://ow.ly/2AyEY (and if not, when would be the best time to kill myself?)

Next Post:  South by Patrick McDonnell

and then…Harvey by Herve Bouchard. It’s a stunner! (THANK YOU Groundwood Books!)

  • Posted on September 06, 2010

Each Peach Pear Ghost

It is my intention to celebrate the work of beautiful picture books in this blog. This has been to the exclusion of unpictured children’s books, which occupy far less space on my shelves but are otherwise highly valued and upstanding members of my collection. When I was a children’s bookseller, I read a lot of novels and YA, and although I continue to read and collect picture books, my attention to unpictured books has languished. Let me clarify this point: last year I was coerced into reading a popular teen vampire novel, part of a series…can’t think of the name…which my teenage nieces were raving about. I dutifully finished the book, felt a fluttering of breathless youth (quickly staunched by middle-aged cynicism), followed by a few days of fitful ennui about an entire category of books I’m no longer reading, or advocating.

It’s a shame, really. In the decade I worked at the bookstore, I read more children’s novels than I ever did as a kid, and a few of those are among the best to ever cross my book-strewn path. So, in spite of the fact that novels tend to exceed 32 pages, and are short on illustrations, I will periodically post a review of a well-loved novel in my collection, or perhaps, even a new book, if one should catch my attention.

To that end, when my thoughts wander to my favourite children’s stories, I often think of My Brother’s Ghost, by Allan Ahlberg, a deeply moving, palm-sized novel set in working-class 1950’s England. Published a scant 10 years ago, My Brother’s Ghost has the feel of an old classic. An old British classic, along the same vein as Goodnight Mister Tom, by Michelle Magorian, or Nesbit’s The Railway Children. Quintessentially British, but on the sombre side of the Thames. No ‘pip pip cheerio’ or Blytonesque jolly good adventures in Ahlberg’s story, just illness, abuse and death. Hey! Come back! It’s a great book. I promise.

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