• Posted on October 30, 2010

Headless in New York

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

It is also universally acknowledged that a single man, in want of a wife, may run afoul of a headless horseman, if he’s not careful.

Such is the fate of Ichabod Crane, gangly bachelor and school teacher, lover of ripe repasts and an even riper Dutch damsel. A victim not only of his own appetites and superstitions, but quite possibly the terrifying prank of his rival.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is an old American ghost story, based on a German fairy tale. It is familiar to many, but unread by most, due in part to the proliferation of knockoffs, cartoons and most recently, a pale cinematic adaptation by Tim Burton, starring Johnny Depp. This is a shame. In re-reading Sleepy Hollow, I was mightily impressed by the languid elegance and humour of Irving’s writing. Yes, a headless horseman, in any context, will steal the show, but equally compelling are the lush descriptions of the Hudson River Valley in Autumn, and in particular the sequestered glen known as Sleepy Hollow:

“If ever I should wish for a retreat, whither I might steal from the world and its distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know of none more promising than this little valley.”

You see, not every ghost story is takes place in a haunted house.

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  • Posted on October 27, 2010

It’s those pants again!

Sure, it’s cheating, but for the scroll-impaired, here is my February post for What Was I Scared of? by Dr Seuss. Not a Halloween book per se, but what it lacks in pumpkins, it more than makes up for in menacing forests, a wee frightened beastie, and of course, some terrifying trousers. Consider this book an ‘honourary’ Halloween selection. And beware those disembodied pants under your bed (draped over the chair, in the backseat of your car, stuffed in the corner of your closet…)

Next NEW Halloween post soon!

What Was I Scared of? by Dr Seuss  Random House, 1961 (this edition-1989)

  • Posted on October 23, 2010

Picks & Tweets: the week in books

OK. My next Halloween post was going to be about the Hob stories by William Mayne. To be honest, I knew nothing about this author when I picked up the first novel, Hob and the Goblins, in 1993. The cover, by Norman Messenger, is a gorgeous painting of a rather eerie house in the snow. That was enough then, and it’s still enough today. I picked up the second book, Hob and the Peddler for the same reason~nice cover, again by Norman Messenger. The third collection, The Book of Hob Stories, employed a different but equally talented illustrator, and unlike the other two novels, Patrick Benson’s illustrations can be seen thoughout the book. A no brainer, it needed to come home with me. A year or two passed before I actually read the books, and I found them to be completely charming. However, I have since discovered some very unsavoury things about William Mayne (see the link), which precludes me from writing a more extensive review of his books in this blog. Suffice to say, the two cover illustrations by Norman Messenger, and the artwork by Patrick Benson are worthy of attention entirely on their own, and their work will be explored in greater detail in future posts.

And now for something completely different. Sort of…

From Curious Pages~A review of Georgie, a ‘vintage’ ghost story from 1944. http://bit.ly/awVfOm

From the Guardian, Why I love Peanuts by Joe Queenan. http://bit.ly/9A8L4P Not the nut, the strip.

How many is a pandemonium of pandas? A tangle of octopuses? Have a look at these very cool, very creative illustrations: http://bit.ly/d4Cg7L

JK Rowling wins the Hans Christian Andersen literature award. Worth about £60,000. Great! Now, she can buy that new blouse:  http://bit.ly/bcEKsz And just to clarify, HC Andersen Award that JK Rowling just won is a new award for writers, and is NOT the major biennial medal.

Garth Williams’s cover art for Charlotte’s Web sells at auction for $155K; 42 illustrations sold in total, for $780K. Some pig indeed!  http://wapo.st/9RVMxS

Amazing Book Cover Art  http://t.co/ciB9s5G

Next post: final Halloween book review. And then…Christmas! Just kidding…

  • Posted on October 18, 2010

A Haunted Alphabet

The storyline is thus: A through Z inclusive, with poetry (of a most delightful sort), and some outstanding illustrations by the great Lane Smith. Done.

Well, not quite. Spooky ABC is, as one might conclude, an ABC book. And, as one might also conclude, it starts with A is for Apple. Except, this is a spooky apple, and it is the last thing you would want to find in your lunchbox:

Apple, sweet apple, what do you hide?

Wormy and squirmy, rotten inside.

Apple, sweet apple, so shiny and red, taste it, don’t waste it, come and be fed.

Delicious, malicious; one bite and you’re dead.

Think I’ll have banana.

An ABC book is the equivalent of Hamlet for illustrators. It’s a right of passage. A challenge to those possessed of a superior talent and the creative cajone’s capable not only of re-imagining the alphabet, but also surprising and entertaining an audience over 26 ‘acts.’ And to stretch this metaphor even further, Spooky ABC, like Hamlet, is a ghost story.

To B or not to B, that is the question.

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  • Posted on October 16, 2010

Picks & Tweets: the week in books

Maggie the witch

The fate of children’s picture books was front and centre this week, starting with an article in the New York Times about picture books no longer being relevant for children. In fact, it’s the beleaguered publishers and frenzied parents who are questioning the validity of illustrated picture books. I’m no expert, having only been a child, never raised one, but I think I can say with some authority that kids, if given a choice, would rather read The Stinky Cheese Man than say, War and Peace. Yeah, I’m exaggerating, but is it possible that so-called ‘accelerated education’ only nourishes the parents ego, not the child’s intellect, imagination, and most importantly, a sustained interest in reading? It’s been a few years since I worked in a bookstore, but I can tell you that the picture book sales were steady. And even today, I was in the children’s section of a local independent, and there was one kid sprawled out on the floor, reading a picture book, and another in his mother’s lap, both of them engrossed in an Oliver Jeffers. It was all I could do not to step on children as I made my selections. Whatever opinion you hold, the article fueled some great discussions, and here are a few of the best:

Roger Sutton, editor of the Horn Book, had this to say about NYT article on picture books. http://bit.ly/c6YJdD

The best children’s picture books future generations may never read http://bit.ly/bsBCTB

Are picture books for kids fading or flourishing? Two opinions on this controversial subject: http://mbist.ro/cwchtb

Embracing the Picture Book –http://tinyurl.com/2dw9pd

And…the funniest, and most eloquent response belongs to the Boyz Read blog~FUNERAL FOR A PICTURE BOOK? http://bit.ly/cucHkX Awesome!

And now that the issue has been resolved…here are a few tasty items about picture books that don’t involve their imminent demise:

From the New Yorker: The Berenstain Bears get an app and find God. Heh. http://nyr.kr/9YP1DS

The story behind a lost, unpublished Dr. Seuss manuscript!  http://bit.ly/dBDeH5

Three David Macaulay Books Relaunched~Castle, Cathedral and Mosque. What, no Yurt?  http://bit.ly/cSxSnO

Robert Sabuda take note, you weren’t the first…by a longshot: A 1482 “pop up” book:  http://cot.ag/bfrmNQ

The printed book is not dead yet | Joe Moran http://bit.ly/9tQPXb (Not about picture books, but still mighty interesting.)

Next Post:  The A to Z of Halloween

  • Posted on October 12, 2010

Nobs and Broomsticks

You many have been wondering why, in a blog that celebrates the work of great children’s book illustrators, I have waited until now to write about Chris Van Allsburg. He is, after all, one of the most brilliant illustrators of the 20th and 21st century. An illustrator whose work, like Lisbeth Zwerger, has become synonymous with classic children’s literature. The reasons are not mysterious. I have a lot of books, including most of Chris Van Allsburg’s titles, so the queue is long. Also, while most illustrators live in obscurity, Van Allsburg is a bona fide star, thanks to the Jumanji and The Polar Express films (5 second review~get the books.) There is no particular urgency to ‘lift the veil’ on an artist whose work is well known and well loved.

Simply put, I waited until October because The Widow’s Broom is Chris Van Allsburg’s one and only Halloween book, and it is second only to The Polar Express in my esteem. And now, finally, the time has come to say a few words about a fallen witch, a flying bull-terrier, and a dose of justice delivered by a crafty old lady and an enchanted broom.

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  • Posted on October 08, 2010

Picks & Tweets: the week in books

Seriously, Linus...

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. And speaking of the Great Pumpkin (which we weren’t)…

The Peanuts cartoon strip turns 60!  Read all about it in a new Lines and Colors post: http://bit.ly/8XHxvn Where would we (I) be without our (my) cultural reference points like Charlie Brown and Snoopy? Even though I’ve watched A Charlie Brown Christmas, without fail, every December since the early seventies, I think I took the strip for granted until I read an essay in Jonathan Franzen’s autobiographical collection, The Discomfort Zone (HarperCollins, 2006.) The analysis and appreciation of the Charles Schulz oeuvre is quite a pleasure to read, as is all of Franzen’s work. Schulz and Peanuts by David Michaelis is also an excellent read. (HarperCollins, 2007.)

From Roger Ebert (my secret crush): “Wise to watch it NOW while it’s still online”. Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck. http://j.mp/dDz0Bg Love a little cartoon subversion!

From 100 Scope Notes: The 10 Most Valuable Picture Books … of All Time!  http://100scopenotes.com/2010/10/05/the-10-most-valuable-picture-books/ Heyyy. ..my first edition copy of Karline’s Duck, which I stole from the Winnipeg Public Library, is not on the list. Yeah, so maybe the story of a filthy old woman and her unnatural relationship with a duck is not a classic, but did I mention it’s a first edition?

Love his stuff.

From the Guardian: A long profile of author/illustrator Lauren Child, creator of Clarice Bean and Charlie & Lola. http://bit.ly/cNm6DB Love her stuff.

Canadian Children’s Publishers Hope for Good Finish to year – PW http://t.co/wxC96Z5 Seriously, I am doing my best.

Illustrator Peter de Seve: Lines and Colors post: http://bit.ly/aMhkYN, also a link to his great website (also freshly linked on 32 Pages.)

Next Blog: Oh, something Halloweeny. ‘Tis the season, after all.

  • Posted on October 01, 2010


In human interactions, a first impression, which is the equivalent of judging a person by their appearance, or ‘cover’, is not a reliable gauge of quality. Wait until they open their mouth, and then judge them. With books, it’s a little easier. As long as the editors and designers have some idea of what they’re doing, the cover of a picture book will give you a pretty good idea of what’s inside. And if you’ve seen enough picture books, as I have, the spine alone may be all that is required to cast an opinion. I do it all the time, and I consider it one of the best of my many unemployable skills.

In the fiction section of a bookstore, it takes awhile to figure out what my next read will be, but in picture books, I’m all about snap judgements. I am proud to say I judged Halloween by its cover in a publisher’s catalogue, and when the book arrived, it not only met my expectations, it exceeded them. Halloween is one gorgeous book, and I have yet to see another gourd, ghoulish or otherwise, that can compete with the cover. Or the spine.

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  • Posted on October 01, 2010

Picks & Tweets: the week in books

Run Away!

September 25th to October 2 is Banned Books week. (In Canada there is also Freedom to Read week which takes place in February.) See who’s banning what: an interactive map of book bans and challenges: http://bit.ly/cqI0jK

From the New Humanist~Tibet, sausages and masturbating mice. As Banned Book Week concludes, Anne Rooney explores the hidden restrictions on what children are reading. http://bit.ly/bQqQMP

For further reading on the subject of censorship in children’s books, have a look at my review of Else-Marie and Her Seven Little Daddies. North Americans and Swedes may share a love for  pre-fabricated particle board, but we have entirely different bathing rituals.

PS: The only book that was ever banned in my house was a teen novel called Go Ask Alice, because it was about drugs. I read it several times, in spite of my mother, and I’m proud to say the only drug I’ve ever experimented with is the type of crack available in bookstores. And I may have licked a toad or two.

From the Guardian: Raymond Briggs: ‘The picture book is the best field for an illustrator‘ http://bit.ly/9in8RI I love Raymond Briggs, and this is a great little video~from nursery rhymes, to Fungus, to the Snowman. Awesome.

Good Grief, Moon!  Most alarming news this week…things you never wanted to know about Margaret Wise-Brown. From Mental Floss, a rather disturbing portrait of Ms Wise-Brown~ http://bit.ly/9E2Aqa This short article adds a whole other level of meaning to Runaway Bunny.

David Sedaris, Squirrels and Chipmunks, with illustrations by Ian Falconer. What’s not to love?http://t.co/lMl1hny (via NPR)

Great new blog discovery: Boyz Read Lots of great ‘boy-centric’ picture book reviews and suggestions.

Funniest tweet this week: “It is the 50th anniversary of The Flintstones, the inspiration for the crazy cartoon world of Creationism.” Carl Maxim

Next review: Didn’t I say this last week? Why, Halloween, of course!