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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Archive | Literary Madeleines

Boys and Girls of Bookland

Boys and Girls of BooklandThis is how book collecting goes. You see something that piques your curiosity. You wonder: “Why did this book get published?” “Who would have bought this book?” “On whose shelves did this book rest and why did they let it go?” “Was it a gift, never opened, or was it cherished and read over and over again?”

Sometimes you’re curious about the text or the illustrations or the binding or the publisher.

When I first began collecting books, satisfying my curiosity was hit or miss. I would go to the library and look up some of the things I wondered about in the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature or in the card catalogue (I know I’m dating myself, but that’s the point). Usually, I had to keep wondering.

Book collecting today is entirely different. Many of the antiquarian bookstores I frequented are gone because it became too expensive to maintain a physical store. They sell on the internet where one entirely misses the smell and randomness and happy accidents of book collecting. And yet I have access to used bookstores across the country. One comes to appreciate the buyers in these stores, their particular tastes.

A couple of my favorites? Cattermole 20th Century Children’s Books in Ohio. The Hermitage Bookshop in Denver.  Old Children’s Books in Oregon. Do you have a favorite? Please share in the comments.

Sometime last year, I purchased Boys and Girls of Bookland from Bob Topp at The Hermitage Bookshop. I did this because it was illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith and I hadn’t ever heard of the book. I admire Miss Smith’s work a lot. And I admire the story of her life.

David Copperfield and His Mother

David Copperfield and His Mother by Jessie Wilcox Smith

Nora Archibald Smith

Nora Archibald Smith

The book is written by Nora Archibald Smith. I’d never heard of her before. Because of the internet, I quickly discovered she was Kate Douglas Wiggin’s sister. You remember Ms. Wiggin: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. I also learned that the two sisters were instrumental in founding the Kindergarten movement in San Francisco in 1873. They wrote 15 books together. I’ll have to hunt for more about this author.

The book’s copyright is with the Cosmopolitan Book Corporation which, with a little digging, I learned was owned by William Randolph Hearst. Why would he publish this book?

David MacKay

David MacKay

The publisher of this book is David MacKay. I learned that he was born in Scotland in 1860. He immigrated to the USA in 1871, when he was 11. At age 13, he started working for J.B. Lippincott, learning the bookselling trade. A rival publisher, Rees Welsh, offered him a job. During his tenure, he published Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass before he was 21, even though the attorney-general of Massachusetts didn’t want it published for its “alleged immorality.” At age 22, MacKay opened his own publishing company, eponymously named. Will I be able to find out more about him?

You see, the author wrote roughly nine pages each about famous books such as Little Women, The Jungle Book, David Copperfield, Jackanapes, and more. They’re summaries of the stories, hoping you will read the full book. I guess you could say they’re lengthy booktalks in writing. And Jessie Wilcox Smith did a painting for each story in full color. What an interesting format. Were other books like this published?

I even searched online to find the name of the woman who was given this book as a gift, Susan Class House, from Uncle Thad and Auntie “B” Lawrence. I would like to know more about their lives.

There are often objects inside a book. This one did not disappoint. I found a plastic bookmark, a Yahtzee® scorecard with a 1996 copyright date, and a “Thank you!” card from Bob Topp.


Book collecting isn’t just buying a book to read the story. It’s about discovering the stories that swirl around the book.


John Burningham

John BurninghamYou probably know John Burningham best for Mr. Gumpy’s Outing but illustrators, book creators, are so much more than what we see between the covers of their books. Their lives are often illustrated. They record things on paper visually. They put what they’ve observed into drawers and portfolios and notebooks so they have that once-seen image to call upon for their work.

In this eponymously titled book, John Burningham (Candlewick Press), both Maurice Sendak and Brian Alderson write forewords for the book, particularly about the early 1960s which saw the publication of Borka (Burningham) and Where the Wild Things Are (Sendak). Those books “were the direct result of those fast and furiously freshly designed picture book days. Down with the simpering 19th century goody-goody books that deprived children of their animal nature, wild imagination, and lust for living.” (Sendak)

The majority of the book is Burningham’s remembrances of childhood, living in a caravan with his family during World War II, his early jobs, attending the Central School of Arts, and each of his books. This Literary Madeleine is replete with sketches, drawings, and finished work, photos, inspiration, and observances.

John Burningham Books

Here are some highlights:

“There is a misconception that picture books for children should be packed with colour and decoration on every page. This is rather like saying a successful piece of music should be crammed full of loud noise. It’s the juxtaposition and build-up of sound that makes music interesting.” (pg 127) 

 “When I look at some of my childhood drawings, I realize I have reproduced them again years later. The plumbing picture I drew as a child is very similar to the picture in Time to Get Out of the Bath, Shirley.” (pg 130)

John Burningham

He offers comments on many of his books, insightful, producing much flipping back and forth to look at other drawings, to examine how Burningham has done this elsewhere, to absorb his scope and style. For Oi! Get Off Our Train (called Hey, Get Off Our Train in the US … oi!) he explains that the West Japan Railway Company hired him to make a book about the Yoshitsune, Japan’s first steam locomotive, for Expo 90, a world’s fair held in Osaka in 1990. The painting below is from this book …

Oi Get Off Our Train!

It’s very revealing about this author/illustrator that he writes, “Oi! Get Off Our Train was first published in Japan in 1989. It is an environmental tale, now dedicated to Chico Mendes, who did so much trying to protect the rainforests. He was murdered for his work. Oi! Get Off Our Train is about endangered species, but more than that it’s about the social hierarchy of young children and the need to ease themselves into a group.” (pg 167)

Harvey SlumfenbergerHarvey Slumfenburger’s Christmas Present relates the story of a young boy who is quite poor. The only present he will get for Christmas is the one that Father Christmas will bring him. “Father Christmas was very tired. The reindeer were asleep and one of them was not very well. But Father Christmas knew he had to get the present to Harvey Slumfenburger.” (pg 179)

It is a book to be read carefully, savored, and cherished. Pull it down from your shelf every few months and you’ll quickly be pulled into his artwork once again. You’ll find yourself filled with effervescence, the type that carries you on to do great things.


Beyond the Page


by Vicki Palmquist

Quentin Blake: Beyond the PageI’ve been savoring Quentin Blake: Beyond the Page (Tate Publishing, 2012), a book that is replete with photos, illustrative art, and all the many ways Mr. Blake’s art has adorned many aspects of life “beyond the page.”

In his own voice, we hear of the places illustration has taken him. With something near a state of wonder, Mr. Blake reflects on all the ways illustrative art can be transformed. He talks about the manner in which illustrations are often dismissed by fine art connoisseurs because they merely serve the story. Yet his own art puts the lie to that pejorative thinking.

His art is everywhere: greeting cards, mugs, scarves, t-shirts, wallpaper, fabric (his art has become toile!), linens, and even a book bus.

Quentin Blake wallpaperMr. Blake talks about his thought process for creating wall-sized murals for hospitals, something he has done often. Reminiscing about his work at the Kershaw Ward for elderly residential patients, “they [trees] also indicated that we were in a not quite parallel real world where a certain vivacity of movement reflects, I hope, the mental enthusiasm of my spectators.” His older people engage in youthful activities, something every older person understands immediately.

Widely read, trained originally to be a professor of literature, Mr. Blake has traveled widely, accepted challenges that have broadened his life and art, and he shares his enthusiasm for living.

This is not a book to be relished by children, but rather adults. The selected art illustrates Mr. Blake’s musings, enriching our understanding of what it takes to be a world-famous illustrator.

When you see the art for Roald Dahl’s books, you most certainly know Quentin Blake’s work. I found it enlightening to read, “I have at one time or another illustrated all of Roald’s books, with one exception, and the canon is effectively closed. We know who the characters are, we are acquainted with the accepted image of each character—this is one of the advantages which was no doubt foreseen in Penguin Books’ initiative to get all the books illustrated by the same person.” (page 136)

Quentin Blake: Beyond the Page

There are many styles of art in these pages beyond those fine and sketchy line drawings, brightly colored, that we associate with the Dahl books. It is the depth of his work and his willingness to share his perception of what he creates that make this a Literary Madeleine. I will pull this off the shelf whenever I want to take a journey with a master. Lucky me! When you read this, lucky you! (My copy was a gift, but you can find this book in both hardcover and paperback.)

Quentin Blake: Beyond the Page


My Seneca Village

by Marsha Qualey

My Seneca Village
by Marilyn Nelson
Namelos, 2015

My Seneca Village cover

I’m going to begin with a disclaimer that is also a bit o’ bragging. I’ve had the good fortune to meet and work with Marilyn Nelson (A Wreath for Emmett Till, Snook Alone, How I Discovered Poetry). I’ve stayed up late and sipped wine and talked with her, spent a day escorting her to school visits where she wowed elementary students; she once supped at my table. I also had the good fortune to hear some of the poems in My Seneca Village when the book was a work in progress.

So, obviously I was predisposed to like it. I was not prepared, however, for how quickly and completely I fell in love.

The book opens with Nelson’s “Welcome,” which includes a succinct history of Seneca Village, “Manhattan’s first significant community of African American property owners,” that was founded in 1825. The village was short-lived: “By 1857, everyone would have been forced to move, and Seneca Village would be completely erased by the creation of Central Park.”

41 poems are at the heart of the book. Each was inspired by a name and “identifying label” Nelson found in census records. Presented in chronological order, the poems span thirty-two years; several of the characters reappear, maturing and changing along with the village. For the first reading, it’s beneficial to read the poems in order, even if a quick glance at a table of contents that reveals such titles as “Miracle in the Collection Plate” or “Pig on Ice” tempts you to skip ahead.

Equally important are the one-page scene-setting prose descriptions that preface each poem. Were My Seneca Village ever to be an image-illustrated book, I’d wager not even the finest of our picture book artists could animate the characters and setting as well as the author’s language; it would be akin to breaking a spell.

Seneca Village Project; Google Earth; Photo: City Metric

  Central Park West is the street bordering the park in the right hand image. Seneca Village Project; Google Earth; Photo: City Metric                                          

Historical footnotes accompany several of the poems. Those and the excellent concluding author’s note, in which Nelson explains the poetic forms and rhyming techniques she used, remind the reader that the literary mural unfolding in her hands is the result of history, imagination, and hard and intentional work.

This is a book for all ages, but, oh, what a terrific book to read aloud or simply make available to young readers (though I should warn any interested teacher that there is one poem that might trigger PG-13-ish questions or comments; I won’t mention it by name because I don’t want anyone reading ahead, but it includes the lovely compound noun “pleasure-purveyors”). 

Seneca Village is an almost-lost world.  With My Seneca Village, Marilyn Nelson brings that world near in time and close to home.


Classic Children’s Comics

by Vicki Palmquist

“No one I knew ever picked up Archie or Lulu or Dennis the Menace because it was Required Reading. We read comics because we wanted to see what was going to happen. We wanted to take that unexpected turn.” — Jon Scieszka

Toon Treasury of Classic Children's ComicsWhen I was in high school, I went on a hunt to find as many old comics as I could, learning about the history, the controversy, the artists, and the love affair that swooped up so many kids and showed them that good stories exist in many forms.

If you’d like to share classic comics with your kids or your students, you’re in luck. Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, those folks behind Toon Books, sought out the fun, wacky, and adventuresome stories that will have them turning the pages for their next comics encounter. Spiegelman and Mouly aimed for funny and they found it—bullseye—in The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics (Abrams ComicArts, 2009).

You’ll find comics that may be familiar to you such as Little Lulu, Pogo, Dennis the Menace, Heckle and Jeckle, and the Little Archies (not the teenage version, but the young kids). You’ll read stories and find characters that I believe will be new to you as well.

Toon Treasury

I particularly enjoyed Gerald McBoing Boing in “Boing Boing” by Theodore Seuss Geisel and P.D. Eastman. The graphic line, the colors, the poetry, the story … I won’t ruin the ending but it’s comforting to know that there’s a place for everyone in this world.

In Melvin Monster “Mice Business” by John Stanley, a family of monsters has a mouse problem. This is theater of the absurd. Your children (and you) will howl over the antics of Mummy and Baddy and their son, Melvin.

Little Lulu Five BabiesIn Little Lulu “Five Little Babies” by John Stanley and Irving Tripp, the boys trick Lulu into looking foolish but she gets the best of them in a clever and ironic way.

Believe it or not, in Uncle Scrooge “Tralla La” by Carl Barks, this high-energy story lets us in on the secrets of capitalism and utopia.

Did you know that Walt Kelly of Pogo fame also did a series of comics called Fairy Tale Parade? “Prince Robin and the Dwarfs” is fast-paced, exciting, and funny … and also a ripping good yarn. I particularly enjoyed studying his Map of the Fairy Tale Lands.

I don’t know if you can say these are favorites when I’ve listed so many of them, but “Captain Marvel in the Land of Surrealism” by C.C. Beck and Pete Constanza is a true high point of the Treasury. When I started this article I was going to say that there are no superheroes in this collection but they included Captain Marvel in a story that will have you questioning reality. (And there’s a story about Supermouse, too.)

These six stories are just a fraction of what’s available in The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics. There’s at least one story that will tickle every reader’s funny bone and I’m willing to bet you’ll have a hard time keeping your own favorites to a list of six.

Map of the Fairy Tale Lands

How lucky kids are today to have such ready access to a book that collects the best of an era when comics were new and experimental and, in the case of this Treasury, appropriate for childhood.

As Mr. Spiegelman and Ms. Mouly write in their introduction, “But as parents we’ve desperately wanted to keep our kids safe on the ever-shrinking island of childhood, protected from the dangers of, say, Internet porn and the horrors of the nightly news, while still preparing them for the Real World. As evidenced in so many of our selected stories, adults can act very childishly, kids can be remarkably clear-eyed, and the battle between the rational and the irrational is more like a dance.”

I’m glad to have been invited to that dance. I’ll pull this tome (it’s 1-1/4” thick) down from the shelves when I need a book to lighten the mood. Thanks to my good friend Amy who knew this would be a cherished birthday present.


Literary Madeleine: Grasping at Stars

by Vicki Palmquist

How many children, over how many years, have learned from their parents to identify the stars that make up the Big Dipper? Can you see them standing outside, pointing to the stars in the dark sky, tracing the make-believe line that draws a saucepan in the heavens?

The Stars and Find the ConstellationsMy mother told me some of the stories she knew about the constellations, about the Great Bear and Orion and Andromeda. When her supply of knowledge (and interest) were exhausted, she bought me Find the Constellations by H.A. Rey (yes, the author of the Curious George books).

When I wanted to know more, she bought me The Stars: a New Way to See Them, also by H.A. Rey.

Besides creating books for children, the jacket flap says Mr. Rey’s interests “extended from biology and languages (he was fluent in four and acquainted with half a dozen more) to history and, of course, astronomy.” Thank goodness! He awakened that interest in me and I’m pretty sure dozens and dozens and hundreds of other children. (And adults, go ahead, admit it.)

In Find the Constellations, which is updated through 2016, you’ll find explanations that combine facts, and stories, and science. Anything less would not be satisfying. Better yet, the man could draw, and his illustrations are lighthearted but scientifically sound. When he draws a “Sky View” as though we were privileged to be inside the USA’s best planetarium, we can see seasonal depictions of the way the stars appear in the sky, and the way they might appear in our brain, finding the constellations. There are charts and maps and tips for stargazing.

Finding the Stars

In The Stars, we find a book for older children and adults. There are constellation charts with viewing notes:

CRAB (CANCER): Faintest of all constellations in the zodiac. Its main attraction is the so-called BEEHIVE, a small hazy spot [marked by a cross on the chart], just visible without glasses under best conditions. Glasses reveal a cluster of many faint stars.

Finding the ConstellationsThese are infographics at their best, long before we began using that term. The Calendar Charts show where the stars will be in the sky on a certain day, at a certain time. There are even latitudinal charts so people in different parts of the country can more accurately observe the stars.

The second half of the books includes more wonders, including how stars die, the celestial clock, how the earth wobbles on its axis, and how constellations have moved through the ages. When the right child finds this book, there is an astronomer in the making, whether as a profession or as a hobby.

Wait! There’s more! If you buy the hardcover of The Stars, you will find that the dust jacket unfolds to a large poster of a General Chart of the Sky. I had this hanging on my bedroom wall throughout my childhood. Is it any wonder I love reading science fiction? Check these books out of the library for your curious child. When you find yourself considering a telescope, it’s time to buy them for your own library.



Literary Madeleine: A History of Reading

by Marsha Qualey

A History of Reading coverOne of the great good fortunes of my life is that I’ve managed to create a professional life that requires I read a lot. Reading is a passion; the old bumper sticker says it all: I’d rather be reading.

But I also think reading is an interesting topic. How and why do we read? Who were the first readers? How has reading been used to oppress and liberate? How and why does reading—the physical act of reading—vary from culture to culture? Why—unlike so many outspoken proponents of one technology or the other—does my cat not care whether I read a hard copy book or use my Kindle? (He’s happy to paw or plop on either when he wants my attention.)

Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading has answers to most of those questions, and it poses and answers a great many more. Though wonderfully illustrated, the book is text-heavy, and it’s written for readers with some knowledge of world history. In other words, tough going for young readers.

However, the history Manguel weaves is chock full of gems that could entertain and intrigue readers of any age if carefully culled and presented.

Foremost among them, a centerfold: A Reader’s Timeline. Here are just a few of the items on Manguel’s timeline:

  • c. 2300 BC: The first recorded author, the Sumerian high priestess Enheduanna, addresses a “dear reader” in her songs
  • c. 200 BC: Aristophanes of Byzantium invents punctuation
  • c. 1010: At a time when “serious reading” in Japan is restricted to men, Lady Murasaki writes the first novel, The Book of Genji, to provide reading material for herself and the other women of the Heian Court
Eleanor of Aquitaine, reading for eternity

Eleanor of Aquitaine’s tomb lid; reading for eternity

Also of immediate value are the examples of the many depictions of reading in visual art through the ages, a list of which could provide a good start for a motivated young researcher.

The evolution of reading and its influence on individuals and societies provides a wonderful angle for studying history. But if that doesn’t work for your young readers, there’s always Manguel’s earlier book: The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, a comprehensive and celebratory catalogue of fantasy settings from world literature.

A native of Argentina, Alberto Manguel now lives in Canada. 



Literary Madeleine: The Horse

by Marsha Qualey

The Horse coverThe Horse: A Celebration of Horses in Art
Rachel Barnes and Simon Barnes
Quercus Publishing 2008

“We paint what matters to us…”

“Horses have always been part pf the human imagination”

                                           —from the introduction

While preparing for this month’s Bookology I read and looked at many books about horses, and this is the one that was totally (totes!) unexpected. I was wowed. Even better, after an initial perusal I felt compelled to page through it again and again, studying the text and savoring the images.

Cave Painting

Spotted Horse Cave Painting
Lascaux, France
Click to enlarge.

In art, paintings over a certain size are classified as “monumental.” This is a monumental book, 17’’ (h) x 14” (w). Accordingly, the reproductions—many on double page spreads—are much larger than any that could be viewed on a computer screen; further, the paper and image quality successfully convey the tactile element of the artwork.

The price tag is also monumental; that along with the size would make this book a questionable one to add to a school library or a personal collection, but its impact as a classroom or living room visitor is easy to imagine.

Horses, Basilica San Marco

The Horses of Saint Mark,
St. Mark’s Basilica
Venice, Italy
Click to enlarge.

History? You bet. The book is organized chronologically, from the cave painters to Picasso. How did the human relationship to horses change? Why? How did those changes show up in our art?

Science? You bet. The green patina on the bronze horses at Saint Mark’s in Venice is enough to trigger many conversations about basic chemistry and pollution.

The Piebald Horse

The Piebald Horse 1650-4 The Getty Center
Los Angeles, California USA
Click to enlarge.

Language arts? You bet. Begin with Paulus Potter’s painting, “The Piebald Horse.” Piebald. This veteran writing teacher smiles at the idea of using the word as a prompt for any number of writing exercises.

Of course, there would be some classroom cautions should the book be shared that way. Because the focus is on Western art, the early sections include a fair amount of Christian imagery. And—yet again—most of the (known) artists are white men.

The Horse Fair

The Horse Fair, 1853-5 Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, New York USA Click to enlarge.

The exceptions to the white-guys trope are fabulous, though, and they should be added to any list of report-worthy individuals:

Rosa Bonheur (The Horse Fair, left): “In order to make studies at the horse sale in Paris she obtained police permission to dress up as a man, so she could move more easily around the crowd” (p.123). 

Bronco Busting

Bronco Busting c.1925-35 Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC USA Click to enlarge.

Velino Shije Herrera (Bronco Busting, right): “Herrera was born in Zia Pueblo in New Mexico. He became recognized for his quotidian scenes of the Pueblo Indian Life … this work is signed with his Native American name Ma Pe Wi” (p. 184).

One final warning: this is not a lap book. To savor it you will need a table and time.