• Posted on December 27, 2011

Picks & Tweets from the Illustrated Word

Christmas brunch with the dog-an annual tradition

Whoa…it’s been almost two months since I posted a Picks & Tweets on this blog! Other than a pre-existing case of indolence, I have two fat excuses-I travelled to Sweden (and Norway) in November, and upon my return, was hit smack in my jet-lagged face with Christmas-the great sucker-upper of time (and everything else.) Didn’t even have time to put rapidograph to paper and ink my annual Christmas card (sorry people.) However, now that we are thankfully passed the fever pitch of festive activity, I have collected a few of my favourite tweets from this month, and parts of the last, in one butter tart-induced burst of hyperglycemic energy. I expect to crash at any moment…

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  • Posted on December 23, 2011

A Hoppy Christmas

And now…one final Christmas review~a lively and colourful book from 1962~Kangaroo For Christmas, by James Flora. I was beginning to despair that nothing would jump out at me this December, but not only does the book jump…it leaps off the shelves, across five decades and 32 snow-filled pages. The only thing better than a really cool Christmas picture book is a really cool retro-Christmas picture book, with fantastic sixties-style illustrations, a dad who smokes a pipe, and a kid who says, ‘oh my‘ and ‘we are dreadfully sorry‘. Thanks to Enchanted Lion Books of New York, Kangaroo For Christmas has been spirited out of Mad Men playrooms and digitally restored just in time for Christmas 2011.

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  • Posted on December 07, 2011

The Best Picture Books (and one novel) of 2011

In the almost two year life of this blog, I have yet to compile a ‘best of’ list list simply because I would not write about a book unless I thought it was already head and shoulders above the rest. This is the beauty of writing a blog; it is by nature exclusionary. No one is paying for my services (sadly), or directing my attentions, therefore I can toss my voice into the blogosphere with nary a concern for my job or the feelings of an author or illustrator who failed to meet my exacting standards. I write about the books that I love. Period. In terms of the number of children’s books published every year, it is a very small number indeed, but in terms of the amount of time I can devote to them through this blog, it is a dauntingly large list. I wish I had more time. And more bookshelves.

The other problem is that I don’t just write about newly published books. The oldy oldensteins on my shelves insist that I shine a spotlight on them from time to time, and I happily oblige. It’s the least I could do.

Nevertheless, I respectfully admit that a few titles have stayed close to my heart this year, closer than others perhaps, like an unforgettable conversation with a friend, or a dog that just won’t leave your side.

And so, in no particular order…

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  • Posted on December 01, 2011

On the First Day of Christmas


Uh oh. It is December 1st, and I have yet to deck a single hall, and to be perfectly honest, it’s been a very long time indeed since my bells have been jingled. Fear not, for I bring you tidings of great joy, namely Christmas Books, and plenty of them. While this list was compiled in the snowy months of 2010, it is destined to expand in the coming weeks, just like my waistline. Stay tuned for more festive selections and a list of favourite books of 2011.

May your decorative Starbuck’s snowman cup runneth over with the spirit of season.


  • Posted on November 29, 2011

The Foreign Bookshelf

Along with the giddy anticipation of visiting great Scandinavian art museums and the fulfillment of a life-long dream of being in the same country that whelped ABBA, the prospect of foreign bookstores and the treasures therein was giving me the vapours weeks before my departure. Different cultural sensibilities, the promise of exciting new European illustrators…sometimes I feel like I’ve picked the shelves of my local bookstores clean, and trolling online can be hit or miss, especially when distraction arrives in the guise of a headline announcing the demise of Demi and Ashton’s marriage.

Sowa at Christmas

As expected, the WH Smith in Heathrow did not have any tasty items, but the small bookstore in the Frankfurt airport netted my first score-a Michael Sowa Christmas book, Der Karpfenstreit (The Carp Dispute.) The text was in German, but the illustrations were deliciously odd, more than enough reason to part with my Euros. Sitting in a cafe, drinking a cappuccino and waiting for my connection, I wanted to reach out to the older couple sitting at the same long table with me. “Look what I found!” Instead, I pulled out The Snowman by Jo Nesbø, and proceeded to read about bonhommicide in Oslo. Must remember, not everyone has a passion for picture books.

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  • Posted on November 12, 2011

The Secret of MiM

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, the Easter Bunny, Jack Frost and the Man in the Moon. What do they all have in common? Well, other than varying degrees of commercial value, nothing, other than they are the mythological beings of our childhood, along with (if you’re Canadian) the Friendly Giant and Mr Dressup. As such, they loom large in the imaginations of many children, and a certain, brilliant author and illustrator-William Joyce. The Man in the Moon is the first in a series of books to be called The Guardians of Childhood, a concept born out of Joyce’s disappointment at the ‘weak and undefined’ mythology surrounding these fantastical beings. “There are defined mythologies for Batman and Superman, so why not a defined mythology for something we actually believed in as children?” Why not indeed, although I personally don’t recall being too concerned about where the purveyor of my Mr Fruit n’ Nut originated, other than his name was Easter Bunny. But, I may have been wrong about that…

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  • Posted on November 01, 2011

Remembrance Day

Of all the days in the year in Canada that we celebrate or commemorate, Remembrance Day is the one that means the most to me. Other seasonal occasions, like Christmas, hold fond places in my heart, filled as they are with memories of friends and family, and my unnatural love of winter, twinkle lights, and all the Who’s down in Whoville.

Remembrance Day, on the other hand, engages me emotionally and spiritually like no other day of the calendar. No cards or presents are exchanged, no fireworks, no hollowed-out pumpkins. It is the one day set aside for quiet reflection, not on our lives but the lives of others who participated in the wars of the 20th century and beyond, who even now are buried in fields where poppies blow. I have no direct experience with war, other than through my brother-in-law whose mother was taken from her Polish village and brought to Germany as a labourer, and his father, who fought with the exiled Polish army all over Europe and the Middle East. I am not a war nut; the specificities of battles and campaigns do not interest me, but I do wonder why people do the things they do. How decisions, large and small, play out through time.

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  • Posted on October 29, 2011

Picks & Tweets from the Illustrated Word

Just a few days until Halloween, and I still haven’t bought any candy, or at least none I wish to share with miniature ghouls and goblins. The dog, on the other hand, is welcome to whatever falls off my lap. I confess that I’ve been rather busy of late, but I have managed to visit a few of my favourite sites. Here are some highlights from the world wide spiderweb…

A Picture Book Proclamation, signed by the likes of Jon Scieszka, Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen. I may not have published any picture books…yet...but this blog is devoted to, and in celebration of the principles outlined in this manifesto. I couldn’t have said it better, or at least as succinctly, although I have been accused of soapboxing it every now and then. Nice to see folks standing up for art. Hurray!

Speaking of Jon Klassen, Zoe at Playing By the Book takes on I Want My Hat Back in an interesting review which goes against the tide of praise washing over this witty and beautifully drawn picture book. The dry wit may leave some kids cold. Good point. Conversely, the dry wit leaves this sarcastic old(ish) gal all warm and cozy. Who’s right? Well, there is no right and wrong, just individual preferences, and as with the above noted proclamation, I’m just very happy to see people discussing picture books. Good picture books.

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  • Posted on October 22, 2011

The Grimm Reader

There is no dearth of Grimm tales in children’s literature. In fact, Grimm was children’s literature for many years in the 19th century. What is fascinating is not the pervasiveness of the Brothers Grimm, but in the countless adaptations of their tales. Even the brothers themselves modifed the text in many instances, publishing mulitple versions of the same story within their lifetimes. As scholars, linguists, and archivists, their original intended audience was not primarily children but adults; they wished to chronicle the local, and in many cases oral storytelling of the German republic, and if a frog prince got hurled against a wall (instead of kissed) to break a spell, who would raise an eyebrow? Nevertheless, even their ‘PG’ versions were surprisingly and rather inventively violent, especially if you had the misfortune of being a stepsister, or stepmother. Apparently, blended families were the ticket to severe bodily injury, and occasionally a very painful death, which puts a whole new spin to the Brady Bunch when you think about it.

Now comes this new translation by Matthew Price, The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, a compendium of familiar and not so familiar stories in their original 1857 form: warts, revenge and all. Noel Daniel, the editor of this impressive tome does something quite unusual by casting the spotlight on the illustrators who helped to bring these fairy tales into the collective consciousness. Each of the 27 tales, in the order of when they originally appeared, are paired with some of the most influential illustrators of the 1820’s to the 1950’s. It would have been nice to see a few contemporary artists, like Lisbeth Zwerger, who is surely the most gifted visual interpreter of Grimm in the last fifty years, included alongside the roster of ‘famous’ illustrators, but this is a minor quibble. The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm is beautiful, wicked fun.

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  • Posted on October 13, 2011

The Dark Art of Halloween

Ah…Halloween again. As mentioned in a previous post, October is one of my favourite months. Autumn colours and bags of fun-sized chocolate bars make me happy in a very, very deep place. As a picturebook aficionado, I love the months that bring out the seasonal collections. Christmas, Easter…even within this narrow field, it’s fascinating to see how many picturebook variations there are on Jesus (well, not that many), a Christmas tree, or a gourd. Some are better than others, and in that spirit, I will be making recommendations for Halloween based on previous posts in this blog. But first…a little Halloween treat from my youth.

While this blog is devoted to picture books, occasionally a novel bubbles to the surface, or in the particular case of this novel, boils and bubbles to the surface, demanding inclusion in spite of the dearth of illustrations. Such is The Little Leftover Witch, by Florence Laughlin.

One of the most memorable books of my childhood, The Little Leftover Witch is a short novel about a seven year old witch named Felina who breaks her broom on Halloween night and is unable to fly. In spite of her protests, the stubborn and disheveled girl is taken in by a family, where she is gradually made to feel at home in a non-magical world. What I remember most is the way she is cared for by the mother. Her long hair is brushed and brushed until it is shiny and all the knots are gone, her dirty black dress is washed and ironed, she has a bubble bath for the first time in her life, and instead of bat soup and jibbers’ gizzards, she is fed chicken and dumplings, peach cobbler, ice cream, and big glasses of ice-cold milk.

Felina resists the kindness of the family, but eventually succumbs. The Little Leftover Witch resonated with me as a child. As the fifth girl in a family of limited means, the nurturing was a little thin, but I did have my school library, where I found this book, and many others. Coincidentally, I found it again the first day I started working in the children’s section of a bookstore. Different cover, same book. The simple, pen & ink illustrations are just as evocative as they were decades ago, as is the story of a lost little girl. The jaded adult in me wonders why Felina wasn’t allowed to retain her true witchy self and is instead persuaded to follow the conservative values of her adopted family. Luckily, a good story and pretty pictures never fail to knock me off my portable soapbox. The Little Leftover Witch is a book about love and transformation, and on that level, it succeeds beautifully. And what could be more ‘Halloween’ than a story of transformation…from summer to autumn, light to dark, jibbers’ gizzards to chicken dumplings. Although I believe the book is currently out of print, I was more than a little surprised to read that Chris Colfer from Glee is making a movie out of The Little Leftover Witch for the Disney Channel. Looks like the book is about to undergo…a transformation.

And now…a few more Halloween treats (excluding those horrible molasses things) from the archives~

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