Archive | Literary Madeleines

How the Heather Looks: a Joyous Journey
to the British Sources of Children’s Books

How the Heather LooksIf any good has come from the quar­an­tine of 2020, it’s made me a heavy library user — my per­son­al library, that is, since the pub­lic libraries are closed. I found this book in a dress­er draw­er. (When I redid my office, I didn’t want the clut­ter of book­cas­es, instead opt­ing for vin­tage dressers and armoires — love­ly to look at but I for­get what’s in them). It was exact­ly what I need­ed. 

This time of year, I miss Eng­land, a cozy, cottage‑y, book­ish coun­try. When­ev­er my hus­band and I have gone to the UK, it’s always been in the fall, and we’re nev­er there long enough. Heather is a trav­el mem­oir about one family’s 1958 sum­mer-long ram­ble in search of actu­al set­tings in children’s books. First pub­lished in 1965, the book was reprint­ed in 1999.

The Bodger fam­i­ly wast­ed no time. They stepped off the Cunard ship (the best way to trav­el!), rent­ed a tiny car that bare­ly fit two adults, two chil­dren and lug­gage, and head­ed for Whitechurch, the vil­lage Ran­dolph Calde­cott immor­tal­ized in his draw­ings. In the late fifties, children’s lit­er­a­ture pil­grim­ages seemed friv­o­lous in a coun­try still reel­ing from five years of war. In her inquiries with locals, Joan Bodger, armed with Bartholomew’s Road Atlas of Great Britain (one inch equals one mile), was some­times looked upon with sus­pi­cion. But she per­sist­ed and made won­der­ful dis­cov­er­ies.

The Tailor of GloucesterIn the “sun-flood­ed fields” of Har­well, they found L. Leslie Brooke’s Pil­lar House, occu­pied by a woman who had reached the top of the list for a new coun­cil house. She decid­ed her lit­tle house, lack­ing a sin­gle right angle, was best after all. Joan was delight­ed to step inside the “crooked lit­tle house” from Ring o’ Ros­es. I leafed through my own Ring o’ Ros­es, bet­ter appre­ci­at­ing Brooke’s care­ful lines and atten­tion to detail.

In Glouces­ter, the Bodgers tracked down the tailor’s house from Beat­rix Potter’s The Tai­lor of Glouces­ter. Know­ing the source of the sto­ry, I mar­veled anew at Potter’s jew­el-like water­col­ors.

Wind in the WillowsLast sum­mer, I planned a trip to Eng­land (that I sen­si­bly changed) in which we’d fly overnight to Lon­don, rent a car, and dri­ve to Corn­wall. As Joan Bodger point­ed out, a trip that took an hour on U.S. high­ways took almost all day in Eng­land. In Corn­wall, the Bodgers camped two weeks in a car­a­van, like Toad in The Wind in the Wil­lows. They encoun­tered the Romany, still seg­re­gat­ed, a few times. Once, while hik­ing, they found grass blades tied in pat­terns, sig­nals only the Romany could inter­pret. I dug through my folk­lore books and found Ray­mond Buckland’s Gyp­sy Witch­craft & Mag­ic. While there are some charms, the book is a fas­ci­nat­ing resource of Romany folk­ways.

The Bodgers trekked up and down Eng­land on King Arthur’s trail. They pad­dled a boat on the Thames in search of Rat’s house, Pan’s island, and Toad Hall (Maple­du­ram). Joan Bodger’s detec­tive work, in an era before the inter­net and GPS, was impres­sive. She brought the books along, com­par­ing the illus­tra­tions to the scenery. She often found peo­ple still liv­ing in the vil­lages who knew Ken­neth Gra­ham or Mrs. Heely (Beat­rix Potter’s mar­ried name) and was even invit­ed to vis­it A. A. Milne’s wid­ow. In Kipling coun­try, they found Pook’s Hill. I sat down with my Puck of Pook’s Hill and the sequel, Rewards and Fairies, to steep myself in sto­ries of British his­to­ry. Their excur­sion to the Bronte Par­son­age in York­shire had me back in my book­stacks. I found Rebec­ca Fraser’s adult biog­ra­phy, The Brontes: Char­lotte and Her Fam­i­ly, but was excit­ed to unearth the more enjoy­able The Young Brontes (1937) by Mary Louise Jar­den with illus­tra­tions by Helen Sewell. 

Swallows and AmazonsHow the Heather Looks seems the per­fect vaca­tion, even with a two-year old who need­ed lots of naps, a nine-year-old medieval­ist who want­ed to stop at every old ruin to look for blood­stains, Eng­lish weath­er, Eng­lish food, the clown rental car, and get­ting lost. The Bodger’s trip is my idea of heav­en. Joan Bodger even man­aged to meet the famous­ly grumpy and anti-social Arthur Ran­some. When the elder­ly author auto­graphed their copy of Swal­lows and Ama­zons, he was sur­prised the nine-year-old boy had read his books, believ­ing Amer­i­can chil­dren only watched tele­vi­sion. 

In 1958, I was sev­en and had just learned to read pro­fi­cient­ly. This Amer­i­can child couldn’t get her hands on enough books! She grew up to own a library, a bane when mov­ing, but a bless­ing dur­ing a pan­dem­ic. What else is there to do? Watch YouTube? Net­flix? Livestream stuff? 

Arthur Ran­some told Joan Bodger he’d watched tele­vi­sion him­self and it seemed like jour­ney­ing through a strange coun­try on a very fast train: “It’s like see­ing every­thing through a lit­tle slot. You can nev­er climb down and go back once you are aboard …”

I’m more than weary of view­ing the world through the lit­tle slot of screens. How the Heather Looks is a pleas­ant, mean­der­ing train through a coun­try most of us know through children’s books, one that stops often so you can browse your own col­lec­tion or make notes of what to read next.

Note:  On Ama­zon, you can treat your­self to this book on Kin­dle (anoth­er slot, I’m afraid) for $12, or pay the insane price of $902.81 for the paper­back.  I own the first edi­tion 1999 hard­cov­er which I will put back in the draw­er very care­ful­ly


Welcome to Lizard Motel

There is a spe­cial peri­od of … child­hood, approx­i­mate­ly from five or six to eleven or twelve — between the striv­ings of ani­mal infan­cy and the storms of ado­les­cence — when the nat­ur­al world is expe­ri­enced in some high­ly evoca­tive way … It is prin­ci­pal­ly to this mid­dle age range … that writ­ers say they return in mem­o­ry in order to renew the pow­er and impulse to cre­ate. —Edith Cobb

Welcome to Lizard MotelWel­come to Lizard Motel: Chil­dren, Sto­ries,
and the Mys­tery of Mak­ing Things Up, A Mem­oir
Bar­bara Fein­berg
Bea­con Press, 2004

At first glance, Wel­come to Lizard Motel, with its cov­er illus­tra­tion of a bureau and a lizard’s tail (pre­sum­ably) stick­ing out of one draw­er, seems an unlike­ly book about children’s lit­er­a­ture. That’s what I thought when I saw it on the edu­ca­tion shelf in Bor­ders. The sub­ti­tle, though, Chil­dren, Sto­ries, and the Mys­tery of Mak­ing Things Up, reeled me in.  

Fein­berg begins her mem­oir on a day in which her twelve-year-old son must read a New­bery-win­ning nov­el as his sum­mer assign­ment. He hates the book, hat­ed the book he had to read the sum­mer before (anoth­er New­bery medal­ist). She takes her son to the pool and learns from his friends that they all despise those books. Fein­berg decides to read them her­self. 

The first third of Lizard Motel is devot­ed to Feinberg’s thoughts about “prob­lem nov­els,” pop­u­lar in the 70s and still going strong in more lit­er­ary iter­a­tions through the 80s to the mid-90s.  Lyri­cal writ­ing pulls her through many nar­ra­tives, but she feels depressed by the bleak end­ings. “Don’t you think there’s an exces­sive amount of angst [in mod­ern children’s books]?” she asked a librar­i­an. “Weren’t our books cozi­er?” She remem­bers read­ing Anne of Green Gables and Eleanor Estes’ The Hun­dred Dress­es, books that didn’t shy away from harsh­er real­i­ties, but didn’t cheat the read­er. She takes to task books such as The Pig­man, Don’t Hurt Lau­rie, Steffie Can’t Come Out to Play, Dicey’s Song, Bridge to Ter­abithia, and oth­ers that fea­ture trau­ma.

Feinberg’s views spark con­tro­ver­sies. She rails against children’s books as teach­ing tools. “As a tool to fur­ther the notions of, say, mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, an approach that could be deli­cious­ly rich, but which seemed nev­er able to move freely, since the strict humor­less watch­dog of Polit­i­cal Cor­rect­ness was always nip­ping at its heels.”    

When her sev­en-year-old daugh­ter invites Fein­berg to her school for a pre­sen­ta­tion of class writ­ing, Fein­berg exam­ines the Writ­ing Project then head­ed by Lucy Calkins at Colum­bia University’s Teach­ers Col­lege.  Her daughter’s class had been instruct­ed by a grad­u­ate from that pro­gram, who had the stu­dents write mem­oirs.  Each child’s first-per­son sto­ry was in the vein of, “My moth­er always cooked vanil­la pud­ding for me” or “My father put me to bed every night.” The past tense made the sto­ries sound like eulo­gies, as if “this moment we are shar­ing togeth­er has van­ished.” Young chil­dren don’t nat­u­ral­ly reflect on their pasts. One boy said he’d rather write about haunt­ed hous­es than his ter­mi­nal­ly ill sis­ter.

Com­ments on Lizard Motel range from “poor exe­cu­tion” to “delight­ful.” Some argue the mer­its of a par­ent writ­ing about children’s lit­er­a­ture, appar­ent­ly for­get­ting the book is a mem­oir and why shouldn’t par­ents dis­cuss what their chil­dren are read­ing? Sand­wiched between prob­lem nov­els and the Writ­ing Project is Feinberg’s own child­hood, the books that “pulled her out from some shad­ow I hadn’t known I’d been hid­ing in,” and, best of all, a pro­gram she began called Sto­ry Shop.  I longed to be one of those lucky kids who came week­ly to the rent­ed church base­ment to write and cre­ate. 

Should this book be in children’s lit­er­a­ture col­lec­tions? Maybe, if you enjoy prose like this: “I was charmed that the tiny chairs [from her Sto­ry Shop room] cast their own shad­ows, and each time I left and came back, I felt that some­one had just been, a moment before, sit­ting in the chairs. Once or twice I won­dered if it might be the chairs them­selves that were alive …” Maybe, if you believe an “out­sider” can express the view that not all chil­dren want to read sad, real­is­tic fic­tion. 

This book remind­ed me that when I was a kid, we had no assigned books, only the free­dom to choose what­ev­er we want­ed. I browsed the library shelves, avoid­ing any book with an N stick­er, indi­cat­ing a New­bery win­ner. To my nine-year-old self, those books were like med­i­cine.

As a children’s writer, Feinberg’s book made me want to write a Valen­tine to all the books I’d loved as a child. So, I wrote my own mem­oir for my master’s the­sis in children’s lit­er­a­ture. Yet my Valen­tine, begun in joy, turned dark as my trau­mat­ic child­hood crept in. I didn’t write the book I want­ed to. After re-read­ing Wel­come to Lizard Motel, I hope one day to pay prop­er trib­ute to the books that changed my life, minus the doom and gloom.


Literary Madeleine: Sing a Song of Seasons

Sing a Song of SeasonsI believe this book belongs in every class­room, every home, and in every child’s life. It is a won­drous book to read, to look at, to mem­o­rize, and to talk about with the chil­dren around you. It is a Lit­er­ary Madeleine, scrump­tious in every way.

The full title is Sing a Song of Sea­sons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year, edit­ed by Fiona Water and illus­trat­ed by Frann Pre­ston-Gan­non, it is a won­der. Can you tell I’ve fall­en in love?

Imag­ine in your class­room, or in your home, that you have a rit­u­al of read­ing this book each day at a cer­tain time. The chil­dren will look for­ward to it. There are 333 pages in this large-for­mat book. You’ll find a poem for each day. Some­times there is one poem on two pages and some­times there are three poems on one page. They are often short poems (mem­o­riz­able) and once in awhile there’s a longer poem. The poet­ry ranges from “Who Has Seen the Wind?,” by Christi­na Roset­ti (Jan­u­ary 17th), to “April Rain Song,” by Langston Hugh­es (April 4th), to “Squishy Words (to Be Said When Wet),” by Alis­tair Reid (August 4th), to “At Nine of the Night I Opened My Door,” by Clive Caus­ley (Decem­ber 24th), 

I love the poet­ry selec­tions but I mar­vel at the illus­tra­tions. They are two-page spreads, paint­ed by one artist, and each one is a reward for turn­ing the page. A new sub­ject! Paint­ed with a new palette of col­ors! And the poem for that day is reflect­ed beau­ti­ful­ly in the sea­son­al­ly appro­pri­ate paint­ing.

SING A SONG OF SEASONS. Text com­pi­la­tion copy­right © 2018 by Fiona Waters. Illus­tra­tions copy­right © 2018 by Frann Pre­ston-Gan­non. Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the pub­lish­er, Can­dlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Kate Wil­son, the pub­lish­er of this book, writes this in her intro­duc­tion: “For my sev­enth birth­day, my par­ents gave me a book that – like this one – con­tained hun­dreds of poems. It was a small, fat book with­out pic­tures. At first I found it daunt­ing: with­out pic­tures, there was noth­ing to catch my eye, noth­ing to lead me into the book. But one rainy  day after school, I took it down and began to read. And that was it for me: I fell in love with poet­ry, with rhyme, with rhythm, with the way that poet­ry squashed big feel­ings, big thoughts, big things, into tiny box­es of bril­liance for the read­er to unpack. It became my favorite book. I have it still. It is stuffed with lit­tle slips of paper that I used to mark the poems I liked best. As I grew old­er, those poems changed: a poem that baf­fled and bored me when I was sev­en revealed itself to me years lat­er. I learned many of them by heart and could still recite them to you now.”

I had a book like that: Favorite Poems Old and New: Select­ed for Boys and Girls, by Helen Fer­ris. I have it still. It brought me to poet­ry, which I start­ed writ­ing when I was in third grade. I have a respect and love for poet­ry to this day. And isn’t that what we want for our chil­dren? A steady path to con­nect with the beau­ty of words and big thoughts?

Sing a Song of Seasons

SING A SONG OF SEASONS. Text com­pi­la­tion copy­right © 2018 by Fiona Waters. Illus­tra­tions copy­right © 2018 by Frann Pre­ston-Gan­non. Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the pub­lish­er, Can­dlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

The book’s design is thought­ful. There is a shiny rib­bon to mark your place. There is a Table of Con­tents for the book, a Table of Con­tents for each sea­son, an index of poets, an index of poems, and an index of first lines! You can find your favorite poem again and again. 

As your child grows to love poet­ry, as they get old­er, remem­ber to sup­ple­ment this book with oth­er slim vol­umes of poet­ry such as If You Were the Moon by Lau­ra Pur­die Salas, One Last Word: Wis­dom from the Harlem Renais­sance by Nik­ki Grimes, World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um, edit­ed by Lee Ben­nett Hop­kins, and Imag­ine by Juan Felipe Her­rera and Lau­ren Castil­lo. There are hun­dreds of won­der­ful books of poet­ry … but Sing a Song of Sea­sons will be a com­pelling door to that world.

Imag­ine each morn­ing in your class­room, pulling this book down from its spe­cial shelf, open­ing it to the day’s poem, show­ing your stu­dents the art for that day, and read­ing the poem out loud. If your stu­dents are old enough, per­haps a round-robin of chil­dren would read the day’s poem.

At home, what bet­ter way to start or end each day than with a few moments of qui­et while you read the book togeth­er?

Sing a Song of Seasons

SING A SONG OF SEASONS. Text com­pi­la­tion copy­right © 2018 by Fiona Waters. Illus­tra­tions copy­right © 2018 by Frann Pre­ston-Gan­non. Repro­duced by per­mis­sion of the pub­lish­er, Can­dlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Of course, you will open the book imme­di­ate­ly to find your birth­day poem and anniver­sary poem. Oak trees and acorns fig­ure large in our fam­i­ly’s life. We were delight­ed to find that the two-page illus­tra­tion for our anniver­sary is filled with oak leaves and acorns! Did I men­tion that I am in love with this book? You will be, too.



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.