Category Archives: Children’s Books Blog

Getting Bear to the Library

Those who have followed the adventures of Mouse and Bear may have noticed that Bear has never left his cozy Tudor cottage. He’s barely set even a claw out that front door.

The trouble with Bear is he’s a recluse.

DC_2506977_Page_04He likes his peace and quiet. He likes his privacy and he likes his cottage and pretty much sees no reason to leave it.

The dynamic is much the same in each book. Bear is a grouchy loner who is reluctantly drawn into life and its various celebrations by exuberant Mouse.

The latest book, A LIBRARY BOOK FOR BEAR is the fifth book in the Mouse and Bear series. The trouble with writing sequels about a character who’s a recluse is how to get your character out and about and into different adventures.

I wanted to talk a little in this blog about how I got Bear into the bigger world and about the challenge of writing sequels.

In some ways sequels are easy:

You know your characters and for a picture book it’s easy to follow a fairly similar story arc once you’ve set one up. The young reader is looking for the familiar and so is the editor. So it’s tempting to deliver the same story over and over with minor variations.

Writing each book is, in some ways, as simple as asking myself “what fresh hell can I create for Bear.”

Fortunately I’ve never had any trouble figuring out different ways to bug Bear. I grew up with five siblings, which pretty much makes one an expert on bugging people.

So I’ve had Bear have to deal with this mouse who won’t go away and with the horror of having a birthday party and with a first ever sleep-over with a guest who isn’t as quiet as Bear requires. Bear gets sick and has to deal with the much too cheerful ministrations of Mouse.

But how do you keep the familiar from turning into a formula? How do you keep it fresh, not only for your readers, but for yourself. I didn’t want Bear to simply be bugged and to respond the same way time after time. I hope to move his relationship with Mouse forward bit by bit through the series. And for Bear to change just a little.

So for this sequel I went through a number of scenarios—Mouse and Bear bake a pie together; Mouse and Bear go on a picnic and Bear can’t settle until he finds the perfect spot. Or they could go fishing. I wasn’t sure yet what would bug Bear about fishing but I know enough about fishing to know there’d be plenty of frustration.

But these all felt like I would cover pretty familiar territory. I did get Bear out of the house in a few of these ideas, but it was still just him and Mouse interacting. I wanted to turn things on their head a bit.

Then I remembered one of Bear’s main characteristics. In every story, he is inevitably driven to bellow out his frustration, rather like Donald Duck working up into one of his tantrums.

DC_2506951_Page_16

And that inevitable process gave me an idea. What if Bear were in a situation where quiet was required. A church, some solemn occasion… I was half-tempted to try out Bear at a funeral. I would love to see him bellowing mid-funeral (ideally about some annoyance he had with the corpse.)

But really what better quiet place than a library? And a library would get Bear out of his house and interacting with at least a few other animals

There was a problem with that idea, however, because I love libraries and books. What could Bear possible be grouchy about?

I grew up in a household with hundreds and hundreds of books. There were bookshelves in virtually every room. One room was a library with shelves from floor to ceiling. Even with all of that, we went to the library once a week and I would walk out with books up to my chin.

Libraries have always had a special place in my life. I still remember being the school library aide when I was in the fourth grade. How I loved to turn the numbers on the rubber date stamp to the correct date and decisively stamp the checkout cards.

My mother was on the Wenatchee, WA library board. My siblings and I even created our own library at home taking all the kids books we had and numbering and labeling them and creating library check out card for each.

So how could Bear not be interested in the library!? Fortunately, Bear is so persnickety and stubborn that he was convinced he already had all the books he needed right at home: he had three about honeybees, three about kings and queens and one about pickles. Who could ask for more?

Of course, Mouse knew you could ask for a whole lot more. He just needs to convince Bear of that. Eventually he does (with the help of a friendly librarian and pickles) and Bear goes home with seven new books. And I’m sure with more visits to the library in his future.

I’m glad I got Bear to go to the library. The book is already in its third printing. (It came out in July.) It’s been reviewed in the Wall St. Journal and Huffington Post, along with the usual children’s book review sources.  It received a starred review from the School Library Journal and was selected as an autumn must-read by Scholastic’s Instructor Magazine.

It will be on the cover of American Booksellers Children’s book holiday catalog. Some 275,000 copies will be printed and distributed to independent bookstores nationwide.

IMG_0969

What’s next for Mouse and Bear? Having gotten Bear into the frying pan, I’m putting him into the fire next time with A HALLOWEEN FOR BEAR. Imagine how much he’s going to love having all kinds of animals come to his house demanding candy!

 

 

Ode to Steig

steig painter

Spring induces a feeling of joy, and in that spirit I offer this ode to William Steig. Steig was born in Brooklyn in 1907 and lived until 2003.
He was famous for his work in the New Yorker and for his many wonderful children’s books including Dr. DeSoto ,steig doctor desoto

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble,steig sylvesterShrek,

steig shrekand Zeke Pippin.

steig zeke pippin

He was famous for his drawings and his language. Steig loved wordplay and even letter-play.

steig fn l

He came from a family of immigrants with strong (Socialist) political views. It was a wildly creative family. His parents, brothers, in-laws, wives, children and extended family painted, wrote, sang, made jewelry, drew and expressed themselves in myriad ways, as did Steig. He stitched…

steig stitcheryand he carved.

steig sculpture

Recently I spoke to students in Pocatello, Idaho. Over a few days and many talks I realized the nugget of what I wanted to say to them: that creativity is a habit, not a gift. Sometimes people say “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” But creativity isn’t a bone – it’s a muscle, and it grows stronger with use. Steig’s creativity,empathy, and wit were limber and strong.steig carnival Steig was a follower of Wilhelm Reich and believed in unleashing his energy,  sometimes sitting in an orgone box in order to do so.
His work vibrates with energy. He evokes a wide range of emotions, often starting with but not always ending with humor.

steig eternal sea

steig insect

steig turkeysteig axolotl

 

I am grateful for all of his work, but most blissfully for his images of bliss. Who could not love this painting of a Sweetheart, a Swain, a Swine and Some Swans?

steig sweethearts

 

If you are hungry for more Steig you can read The World of William Steig, written by Lee Lorenz.

steig gorky rises

Fishtails

Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale-mermaid

Contemplating bird wings for my last post got me pondering other animal attributes we humans envy, which then led me to thinking about mermaids.

Arthur Rackham-To Hear the Seamaids Music-A Midsummer Nights Dream

I’m not sure what it is about mermaids that is so alluring. Is it our fascination with beings that can exist in multiple realms? Why else would we fantasize about having fishtails instead of legs? Personally, I think I’d rather be able to fly like a bird.

Fortina

Yet, when I was a young girl I dreamed of being Marine Boy‘s helpful mermaid friend, Neptina – or at least getting hold of some of that oxy-gum . . .

Marine Boy and Fortina

The mythology of mermaids goes back thousands of years and across multiple cultures.

Russian print-mermaid and merman

Mola-mermaid fishing

Mexican folk art hanging mermaids

Jose Francisco Borges-Iemanja

Often they were considered dangerous, luring men to their doom with their sensual beauty and seductive voices.

Medieval mermaids besiege ship

They were known to be vain, fond of looking at themselves in mirrors and combing their hair.

Medieval mermaid with mirror

Some theorize that what early mariners saw as mermaids were actually manatees.

National Geographic-manatee love shot

Really? Those poor sailors . . .

But by the 17th century mermaids had moved from the feared to the fantastic,

Merbabies birdbath at Versailles

Mermaid fountain at Versailles

the romanticized,

John William Waterhouse-A Mermaid

landing eventually in the realm of fairy tales, the most famous being Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid.”

Vilhelm Pedersen-The Little MermaidAndersen’s story was a tragic tale of misguided love and sacrifice, a subject of many beautiful illustrations.

Arthur Rackam-Fairy Tale mermaid sillouettesJeannie Harbour-Little Mermaid

Maxwell Armfield-The Little Mermaid

Edmund Dulac-She Held His Head Above The Water

And then Disney got hold of her and she became the insipid creature many girls now idolize. At least Neptina had some spine.

Disneys Little Mermaid Wallpaper

One day at an outdoor community pool about five summers ago my daughters and I watched, mesmerized, as a young girl wearing a mermaid tail lowered herself into the water and started swimming around, mermaid style. From a distance, she looked amazingly realistic and the scene, in spite of it being set in a chlorinated, square enclosure, was charming. After she removed her tail (the pretense looked like hard work) we went up and spoke to her. She said she got the idea and the DIY mermaid costume instructions off of YouTube.

Currently you can find thousands of videos online of people “mermaiding.” My teen-aged daughter follows a site called Project Mermaids where models and celebrities pose for photos in elaborate mermaid costumes to demonstrate “how precious our ocean and beaches are.”

Maybe it’s not just the idea of being able to exist in multiple realms that makes us envy those with wings and tails, but also the idea of defying gravity, either underwater or above ground.

I guess it’s human nature to want to be more than human.

Unknown artist-mermaid

 

 

Wings

Birds placemat

“Birds have wings; they’re free; they can fly where they want when they want. They have the kind of mobility many people envy.” – Roger Tory Peterson

I must be one of those people to whom the famed naturalist was alluding. I find that things with wings, especially bird wings, have a special attraction. Real birds fascinate me. How they have evolved, the way they communicate, their behavior. And of course, how they move. This attraction extends to other winged creatures as well – angels, putti, mythological characters. Anything with wings on it seems imbued with magic.

Cherubs-Neopolitan-mid 18th c

Have you watched the PortlandiaPut A Bird On It” skit? Now, I enjoy the humor in that show as only a true urban Northwesterner can, but since that episode aired, I can no longer indulge my bird love without a twinge of shame. Damn them. Don’t they understand that we just envy birds’ mobility?

M Chodos-Irvine -Get Out Of Jail Free charm

So bear with me while I bare my feathered soul.

There is something about birds that I find comfort in. I don’t collect birds like a philatelist collects stamps. Rather, such items accumulate around me like pigeons around a cafe. They inspire me. Why shouldn’t I want bird imagery on things I have around me in my nest, so to speak?

Such as outside my window, on a metalwork piece by artist Deborah Mersky.

Deborah Mersky-Crow metal hanging

Or on the walls of my home, as in one of my favorite paintings by Joe Max Emminger, “Bird Moon.”

Joe Max Emminger-Bird Moon

And on jewelry.

MOP bird pin

Blue bird and moon pin

Winged school bus pin

Japanese bird badge mount set

I also have amassed a large number of bird related postcards.

I H Jungnickel-Der Hahn als Festordner

Bill Reid-Haida-Raven and the First Men

Pablo Picasso-The Dove

Claude Coats-Disney production image for Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs

Crows-detail of Japanese screen-c 1650

Ruan Sidi-Jinshan folk art-Ducks Eat Rice

Along with this page from a Mary Poppins “Magic Paintless and Dot-to-Dot” coloring book by J. LaGrotta and E. Eringer for Disney Inc.

J LaGrotta and E Eringer-Disney Mary Poppins Magic Paintless and Dot-to-Dot

Of course, the works some of my favorite children’s book illustrators have wings too.

Julie Paschkis:Julie Paschkis-Word Bird-Flutter and Hum

Leo Lionni:Leo Lionni-Tico and the Go copy

Lizbeth Zwerger:Lizbeth Zwerger-Swan Lake

Wood engraving is a beautiful medium for portraying the delicacy of feathers. These are some of my favorite prints in that medium.

Sarah van Niekerk:Sarah van Niekerk-Jacobins in a Bay Tree

Eileen Mayo:Eileen Mayo-Two Doves-1958

John Buckland-Wright:John Buckland-Wright -Endymion-1943

This is a wood engraving of the sculpture of the Winged Victory of Samothrace by an uncredited illustrator, used as an advertisement for air power. It came from the now defunct scrap file at the Central branch of the Seattle Public Library.

Winged Victory of Samothrace-Airlines determine the destiny of nations-artist unknown

There are wings of inspiration in all sorts of places. I took this photo of some old airline signage from the Boeing Museum of Flight.

Boeing logo bird arrow

I went to Paris recently. Paris has wings everywhere you look.

Winged monument Paris

Winged Victory statue Paris

Wall decor painting - Louvre

So by now it shouldn’t surprise anyone that bird imagery shows up often in my work.

M Chodos-Irvine -Dreamer

M Chodos-Irvine -Cycnus

It helps to have some good reference materials. I have accumulated a number of  bird books, but there are a few that I use often. Birds In Flight, by Carrol L. Henderson, has excellent photos of birds on the wing. Any bird book by Roger Tory Peterson will be good. The World of Birds, by Peterson and James Fisher has good structural information, such as this page on the anatomy of the wing.

R T Peterson-wing anatomy

The “How To Draw” series from the 40s includes a handy instruction book on drawing and painting birds.

How To Draw and Paint Birds cover

Hunt makes it look so easy.

Lynn Bogue Hunt-How to Draw and Paint Birds-pg 14

Audubon’s illustrations are fun to peruse. His birds are placed in the most awkward positions, yet they are graceful in their own torqued way. I guess this is what you get when you are drawing from death, rather than life.

Audubon-White-tailed Kite

Birds and wings and feathered things. They tell a story of flight, of soaring, and of freedom. May they inspire you to make great art. Or at least put a bird on something.

Jean Honore Fragonard-The Cage

Giddy-up

Apple Cake 2012, Julie Paschkis

illustration from Apple Cake 2012, Julie Paschkis

Today is the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year.
2014 is a Year of the Horse in Chinese astrology.

Yuri Vasnetsov

Yuri Vasnetsov

When I was little I shared a room with my older sister. She told me that after I was asleep a large white horse would fly into our room and take her away, and that if I was awake when it appeared I could go with them.

Tatiana Mavrina 1969

Tatiana Mavrina 1969

But I was never able to keep myself awake, and I never got to go.

Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, Alice and Martin Provensen 1974

Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, Alice and Martin Provensen 1974

I believed in that horse. I can still feel how I ached to go on those adventures and to see other worlds. I know what I missed.

paschkis black horse

Now I read in order to get that feeling of being transported. In some books an alchemy takes place. Suddenly you are not just reading words; you are in another place, another world, another person’s mind.

Hiroshige, Big French Circus, 1871

When I pick up a book I always hope that it will have the power to take me somewhere else, and I wait for the moment of lift off – when the world of the book becomes more real than the world around me. Sometimes it happens.

paschkis spring horse

Julie Paschkis, Spring Horse

Even after years of reading and some writing I don’t truly understand how it works. Yes, it has to do with language and character, with details that ring true, with plot development and tension. But is also has to do with a flying horse showing up and with being awake enough to take the ride.

Woodcut by Raoul Dufy 1910 for Apollinaire's Parade of Orpheus

Bestiary by Apollinaire , woodcut by Raoul Dufy 1910

Guillaume Apollinaire

Guillaume Apollinaire

Recently I was lifted away by the collection of O Henry Prize Stories for 2013, especially the stories by Kelly Link and Joan Silber.

In the comments section I welcome your suggestions for books that transported you.
Happy Reading in the Year of the Horse!

The Creation of the World from D'Aulaire's Norse Gods and Giants 1967

The Creation of the World from D’Aulaire’s Norse Gods and Giants 1967

Another Alice

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 1

A few weeks ago, Maria Popova published a post in her wonderful Brain Pickings blog featuring the illustrations by Ralph Steadman from a 1972 edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland.

Before you go any further, read her post. Then come back here. Then go read more of her posts if you haven’t already.

I didn’t know Steadman illustrated Alice In Wonderland, but I should have,  because I own a copy of his Through The Looking Glass, also published in 1972, that I bought on a trip to England in 1975 (Steadman’s Alice In Wonderland is mentioned on the book jacket flap, but what 15-year old reads  jacket copy?). It is one of my Most Valued And Beloved Books. Here are more of my favorite images:

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 2The Jaberwock, with eyes of flame. Steadman is also a political satirist.

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 3

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 4

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 5Notice how he uses the gutter split to advantage. Perfect for a story set in a world of reflection.

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 6

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 7

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 8 Steadman takes the commonly accepted view that the White Knight is Lewis himself.

R Steadman-Through The Looking Glass 9

When I was first starting out as an illustrator, nearly thirty years ago, I tried out pen and ink as a medium, a la Steadman. The image below was for The Clinton Street Quarterly, a small publication from the 80s out of Portland, OR. It is humbling to look back that far in my professional history, but take it as a tribute to my love of Steadman’s work.

Chodos-Irvine Marcos

Anthropomorphing

Denslow-Mother Goose-Humpty Dumpty Anthropomorphism is the act of attributing a human form or to a non-human object or being.

I have been trying my hand at anthropomorphizing (it is as hard to type as it is to say) but I have yet to be hired to illustrate a book with non-human characters. So far my books have always portrayed children (with a few semi-sentient toys).

M Chodos-Irvine -Ella Sarah Gets Dressed cat toy

A few years ago I created some sample illustrations for “Zoo Shoes,” a charming story by Amy MacDonald.

M Chodos-Irvine-ZooGiraffeHighHeels

Amy and I pitched the manuscript and the illustrations around for a while but we failed to find a publisher for the project. Still, it was a good exercise for me to play with anthropomorphization (that’s as hard to type as it is to read), and someday, I hope these two lovelies will have a story of their own.

M Chodos-Irvine-Isadora and Martha

Anthropomorphism probably goes back as far as storytelling. It is standard practice in mythology and folk tales – Coyote, Raven, Spider, Mother Nature. It must be innate for humans to project human psyches into everything we perceive. Aesop’s Fables, Mother Goose, Br’er Rabbit –  these tales allow us to critique human foibles without offending anyone specifically. It’s like seeing someone else’s reflection in your mirror,

JJ Granville- Dog Days

which is very useful in storytelling to children.

Dr Seuss-Yertle the Turtle

Perhaps children can see themselves in animal characters more easily than human ones because animals are often small and misunderstood and vulnerable.

Plus animals are cute and kids like cute things (and so do their parents).

The Provensens-The Giant Golden Mother Goose-3 Little Kittens 2

Garth Williams-Bedtime for Francis
Ian Falconer-Olivia

L M Kvasnosky-Zelda and Ivy and the Boy Nextdoor

Another advantage is that animals can be identified by their characteristics without bias or prejudice. An aardvark with self-esteem issues can then help us learn the value of accepting oneself and one’s nose.

Marc Brown-Arthurs Nose

Animals also have no racial identities, so any child looking at a picture book can identify with a little bear,

Sendak-Little Bear

and animals can be foreigners in Human-Land without having to be identified by their nation state. They are clearly from Animal-Land, and that is enough.

Jean de Brunhoff-The Story of Babar

In case you want to take a stab at this approach yourself, the steps to anthropomorphization are simple:

Give upright posture, some cute clothes, a hat.

Paul Schmid-Pearl

Kevin Henkes-Chrysanthemum

R Scarry-Lowly Worm copy

But most importantly, give whatever non-human subject you’ve chosen the facial and emotional expressions of people.

Hardie Gramatky-Little Toot

Pretty much anything can be, and has been, anthropomorphized in picture books.

Laurie Keller-Arnie the Doughnut 2

David Small-Hoovers Bride
Glasses Who needs em-Lane Smith-Viking 1991

Are there disadvantages to using anthropomorphism in picture book illustration? Not that I can think of, except perhaps running the risk of making your characters too cute, or worse, too human.

However, let it be known that there are dangers inherent in anthropomorphism itself. We must not expect everything we portray as human to behave accordingly.

Garth Williams-Push Kitty

Some restraint is wise.

Beginning and Endpapers

Golden Book endpaper

When I was looking though my books from childhood, this image from the endpapers for The Golden Book of Children’s Literature, pulled me in again, just like it did when I was young. People who live to read (can you find them all?) is the world this book invites us into. And that got me thinking about the special place endpapers hold in books.

Endpapers are the opening and closing of a book. They can be as simple as a well-chosen tint of colored paper stock to set the mood, and palette of a story, or they can provide another surface for the illustrator to use in their storytelling. I like including illustrated endpapers in my books. In fact, when I was hoping to win my first picture book illustration contract, for BUZZ by Janet Wong, I included a description of the endpapers in my initial notes to the editor. She told me later that that helped convince her that I was the right artist for the job.

Some endpapers are purely decorative, yet still reflect the book’s theme, as in Maud and Miska Petersham‘s charming endpapers for The Poppy Seed Cakes, by Margery Clark.

The Poppy Seed Cakes-Petersham

And Eric Carle‘s endpapers for Bill Martin, Jr.’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (“I see a red bird looking at me.”)

Brown Bear-Carle

Others serve to book-end a story, as in this array of “photos” from Marla Frazee‘s A Couple of Boys Have The Best Week Ever.

Best Week Ever-Frazee

Best Week Ever-Frazee 2

I took this approach for my own Best Best Friends, which takes place during business hours at a preschool. The cubbies are full when everyone arrives,

BBFfirstendpaper

and empty (almost) after they leave.

BBFlastendpapers

Endpapers can also be a handy place to put interesting but extemporaneous information that could otherwise bog down the story, as in Virginia Lee Burton‘s Mike Mulligan And His Steam Shovel,

Mike Mulligan-Burton

plus extra funny stuff, like in Laurie Keller‘s The Scrambled States of America Talent Show.

Scrambled States Talent Show-Keller

Chris Raschka and Vladimir Radunsky instruct you on proper dining etiquette in their book, Table Manners, and use the endpapers to advertize the advantages of observance, before and after.

Table Manners-Raschka Radunsky 1

Table Manners-Raschka Radunsky 2

Some illustrators use the endpapers to extend the story to it’s fullest possible extent. In David Small‘s illustrations for Sarah Stewart‘s The Friend, they function as prelude, setting up the scene of the lonely little girl in the big house,

The Friend-Small

and as epilogue.

The Friend-Small 2

Keith Baker‘s endpapers for Hide and Snake begin and end the game where we have to find the snake hiding amidst the other patterns.

Hide & Snake-Baker 3

The colored bands continue to the title page,

Hide & Snake-Baker 1 copy

and carry through to the last page where we see that the turquoise line that reads as the ground throughout the book is actually toothpaste. Ha, fooled again!

Hide & Snake-Baker 3

And as if the rest of the book isn’t beautiful enough, Peter Sís‘s exquisite endpapers for The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin could function as separate, additional picture books in and of themselves. I mean really.

Tree of Life-Sis 1

Tree of Life-Sis 2

Unfortunately, endpapers are often left out of later editions of books if they go to paperback or board book formats. While these editions are more affordable than hard cover, it’s a shame that the endpapers are seen as expendable. It’s like getting a hamburger without the bun.

Nevertheless, when you set out to illustrate a picture book, keep the endpapers in mind as part of the whole package. Who knows, it might even get you a book contract some day.

Back To School

Paschkis ABCXYZ

I haven’t been a full time student for more than 30 years. I haven’t been a full time teacher for 20. But September still feels like the beginning of a new year. It’s time for a fresh start; it’s time to go back to school.
Here are some images for your edification, whether or not September brings you back to a school building.

This alphabet come from ABZ, edited by Julian Rothenstein.

ABZ Alphabet

But where did B,C and F (and many other letters) go?
Maybe they are dancing.
This Czech Modernist alphabet was designed by Karel Teige in 1935.

Czech modernist B

czech modernist F

Saul Steinberg took the alphabet for a walk in 1965:

Steinberg 1965

What to do with the alphabet? Make words.
These illustrations are from The Infant’s Alphabet of 1822:

The ArticlesNouns: An Infant's Alphabet 1822

Or perhaps you would like to learn French. These pages are from an 1814 primer painted for Alfred Bourdier de Beauregard by his uncle Arnaud.

for Alfred Bourdier de Beauregard

1814 French Primer

No education is complete without math and science. Number Friends was published in 1927.

Number Friends 1927

This Edible Frog is from The Art of Instruction, published by Chronicle Books. It is not a scratch and sniff poster and does not include the smell of formaldehyde.

Edible Frog

All learning needs to be synthesized. Here are two helpful pictures painted by Saul Steinberg in 1959.

Saul Steinberg 1959

Steinberg 1959

And how to end this post? With proper punctuation, of course. This is from the Good Child’s Book of Stops, published in 1825.

Punctuation

Imprints

Looking through my old books for my Fairy Tales post last month was an enjoyable, but somewhat eerie experience. I feel as though those books imprinted themselves on my brain on some deeply primordial level. The thoughts and ponderings I had in my head as a child are still there, just waiting for the right images to make them pop back up again.

Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne, “decorations” by Ernest H. Shepard, causes this phenomenon to happen. I found this copy at my parent’s house recently.

Now We Are Six book

When I read this book now I hear voices. Well, not actually voices, just one voice – my mother’s – with the same intonation and cadence she used as she read the poems to me before I could read them myself. This is especially true with those that are my favorites, the ones that I must have made her read to me over and over again.  For example, this one.

Shepard-Now We are Six-The Good Little Girl

The answer to the question was deliciously obvious and thrilling to me. It  echoed what I often heard.

Here is an image that I remember staring at and wondering about. It’s from “The Little Black Hen”.

Shepard-Now We are Six-Little Black Hen

…But I’ll lay you a beautiful

   Eastery egg,

If you’ll show me the nettle-place

   On your leg.”

So for years I thought nettles left pinfeather-like spines sticking out of your skin. Re-examining the picture now I think those lines are supposed to represent Christopher Robin’s fingers, but I still see them as an anomaly.

Tales From Grimm, illustrated by Wanda Gág, was part of my fairy tale collection. I was able to read by the time Mom brought this book home from a library discard sale.

Gag Tales From Grimm book

Gág’s drawings are comfortingly lumpy and solid with the pleasing line textures common in illustrations from the 30s and 40s. They make me happy.

Gag-Tales From Grimm-The ListenerGag-Tales From Grimm-The Long One

Years later I saw Gág’s Millions of Cats for the first time and it was like visiting with an old friend. Familiar face but different outfit.

Gag-Tales From Grimm-Hansel and Gretel ending

As you can see, these books have been well loved over the years.  The Golden Treasury of Children’s Literature, edited and selected by Bryna and Louis Untermeyer, was new when it came to me in 1967, a gift from my brother and his wife.

The Golden Book

They wanted me to be a good girl too.

Golden Book Inscription

I’m afraid it has fared the worst of the three. It has been literally loved to pieces.

Golden Book in pieces

This book is a candy-shop sampler of so many masterful storytellers and illustrators. Over thirty authors including Rudyard Kipling, C. S. Forester , J. R. R. Tolkien , Lafcadio Hearn, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, Louis Slobodkin and of course Milne, Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and Aesop.

The illustrators include Gordon Laite (I studied these hairdos very, very closely. How did Cinderella manage them?).

Gordon Laite-Cinderella's sisters

Adrienne Ségur made Thumbelina’s environment exquisite but terrifying.

Adrienne Segur-Thumbelina

W. W. Denslow, the original illustrator for Frank L. Baum’s The Wizard of OZ.

Denslow-Oz

Charles Harper’s Bambi. Geometric and precise.

Charlie Harper-Bambi

The Provensens’s illustrations for Aesop’s fables. They make it look easy.

Provensens-Never Cry Wolf

As well as Robert J. Lee, Lilian Obligado, Tanako Tanabe, Eloise Wilken, Jean Winslow and others.

All of these books have influenced the images I create today, even if I don’t consciously think about them doing so. The graphic quality, the stylization. It’s all in there.

These words and pictures speak to me like no others can, still and always. Perhaps my girls will feel the same way some day about Imogene’s Antlers and Ooh-la-la, Max in Love.

Shepard-Now We are Six-Have you been a good girl