• 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
Hansel and gretel

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
widowsbroom feature

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.

a leftover girl and her cat

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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  • Posted on October 12, 2011

Picks & Tweets from the Illustrated Word

Gorey's Black Spider (courtesy 50 Watts)

An entire month since I last posted a Picks and Tweets? For shame. No excuse, other than the usual craziness that is synonymous with September (in my day-job world), which is somewhat alleviated a month later by the arrival of Halloween candy on store shelves. There are goodies everywhere, and many, many empty wrappers, but it is the non-chocolate variety of which I speak. Where to start? Well, how about with some well-deserved accolades?

Just announced…Migrant, Along a Long Road & Ten Birds are among the nominees for the 2011 Governor General’s Award. All three have been reviewed in this blog, and all three are very deserving. Congratulations to the illustrators, authors, and publishers. Also, I Know Here, written by Laurel Croza and illustrated by Matt James, has won the Marilyn Ballie Award. Congrats all around.

One of several interesting articles from The Guardian: Maurice Sendak ‘I refuse to lie to children’.  Yes, he always tells them where the wild things are. Turns out his His favorite story is Outside Over There. Mine too. Falling backwards is one of my many talents.

Really fascinating and disturbing. Loitering in Neverland: the strangeness of Peter Pan. Yes. It’s a strange story, about a strange boy, written by a strange man, co-opted by an even stranger man. Not one of my favourite stories for sure, but there is a very fetching edition of P.Pan with illustrations by Authur Rackham lurking about on my bookshelves. Kind of a palette cleanser. Via the Guardian.

David Bowie’s Space Oddity made into a picture book for kids. Child therapists everywhere rejoice! Seems a strange choice of songs, but the concept, by a Canadian, has proven very popular. My first choice would have been I’m Afraid of Americans, although the Berenstain Bears may have covered this one already. Wired.com

  • Posted on October 09, 2011
Dillweed feature image

A Dish of Revenge

In spite of many hours trolling bookstores and online websites, new and beautifully illustrated Halloween books are bone thin this year. Not that they have to be about Halloween per se; no gourds required. What is required is subject matter brewed in mayhem and mystery, with a soupçon of the supernatural. Checking out Lane Smith’s Curious Pages blog, I ran across Dillweed’s Revenge: A Deadly Dose of Magic, which looked suitably dark. I summoned the book to my doorstep, and found a story that is indeed dark, and funny, and deliciously bent. Perfect.

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