Glittering Tidbits for Book Lovers

Like most readers, I’m a magpie when it comes to picking up odd facts and wonders. All things books make for particularly glittering tidbits. I can never resist a chance to see unusual and beautiful books.

— Tucked into a far corner of the annex to Carolina Rediviva, the main library at Sweden’s Uppsala University, a book sits alone behind bulletproof glass. You might think its remote placement indicates its minor significance. But look closer and you’ll see a work of visual splendor.  It’s the Codex Argenteus, a beautiful and mysterious bible from the sixth century.

How about Emily Dickinson’s herbarium?  So many writers have been gardeners and have written about gardens that it might be easier to make a list of  those who didn’t. But even in this crowded company, Emily Dickinson stands out. She not only attended the fragile beauty of flowers with an artist’s eye—before she’d written any of her famous verse—but she did so with the keen eye of a botanist, a field of work then open to anyone with the leisure, curiosity, and creativity to undertake it.

— Artist Yiota Demetriou’s new book of love letters can only be read when warmed by human touch. The book is a metaphor for relationships and the insecurity that comes with love and grief.

Of course, there’s always a chance to read books about such books.

— History abounds with tales of obsessive bibliophilic greed, betrayal, theft, blackmail, fraud, assault, and murder. Can mystery fiction be far behind? (Lured by the puns, if nothing else? A Cracking of Spines? Dewey Decimated? Here are some mysteries centered on the world of bibliophiles.

Also irresistible is the chance to test one’s book knowledge.

Can you pick the Harry Potter characters from a description of how their lives might have gone if they were muggles?

And there are all those fabulous ways we store and enjoy books.

— Featured in A blog about weird and wonderful bookshelves. Be sure to scroll on down when you get there.

–And this historic Michigan library listed as the most amazing college library in the country.

And then there are these shining objects that writers love:

Like words themselves.

Words you should know before a moon shot

Or

Absurd quests in fiction from seeking how to stop being an ass to finding out where a month has gone missing.

Or unexpected connections and literary inspirations:

— The influence of “The Year Without a Summer” on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein when a sun-obscuring ash cloud ejected from one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions in recorded history caused temperatures to plummet the world over.  Frankenstein and the Climate Refugess of 1816

Of course, the Internet is deadly for bookish magpies. Even finding an image for “The Year without a Summer” led to yet more links. Like this article from the New England Historical Society.

I could probably spend all day at this. So I think the thing for all us magpies to do is to give ourselves a magpie holiday every once in awhile and simply allow ourselves an entire day to just follow from one shiny object to another at our leisure.

Illustration by Brian Lies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And How! Etc.

Pleased as Punch 2

Pleased as punch….

Inspired by Julie Paschkis (one of my Books Around the Table co-conspirators) questioning how the phrase “And how!” might have come into existence, I spent a wonderful afternoon looking at websites which trace the origin of strange phrases in English.  If one person says to another, “Pistachio ice cream is the best ice cream on the planet!” and the other responds “And how!” you have to scratch your head and wonder about that (well, you don’t have to, but if you’re a writer with any curiosity about your language, you probably do.) How on earth did “And how!” come to mean “Absolutely! Amen to that!” Nothing on the surface of the phrase – definitions or etymologies of individual words, for example – explains it. So I scratched my head and began to explore.

There’s no doubt anymore, thanks to the internet, that if I wonder about something, many other people have wondered about it, too.  I googled “origins” and “phrases” and “English”  and in less time than it takes to blink (7/10ths of one second, to be precise) I had 68,500,000 hits. Granted, not all the hits would tell me about the curious origins of English phrases, but even if I only looked at a millionth of them, I would have a nice 68 to spend my day on.

Websites from Bored Panda to the Oxford Royale Academy (that’s quite a spread, yes?) have posted articles about phrase origins. Ever scratched your head and wondered about the following?

  • “Pleased as punch….” The word “punch” used to be capitalized, as far back as the 1600’s, because it came from the Punch and Judy puppet shows, where two puppets fought it out in front of a delighted audience. Punch was a mean cuss, always playing tricks on Judy or banging on her head with a stick, and he always took pleasure doing it. I found the long literary history of the phrase (back to Charles !! of England, who – in 1662 – ordered a command performance of the puppet show from an Italian puppeteer known by the alias Pollicinella) at a site called Idiomation: Historically Speaking. Punch and Judy were also the origin of the words “punch line” and “slapstick.” If you head over there after this, be sure to read about the woman who researches and writes the entries – her own history is impressive.
  •   Pleased as punch 3
  • “Go haywire…” I love this phrase, maybe because I know how it feels to do it? Here’s what Mental Floss says about it in their list of 16 curious phrases: “What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the ‘messed up’ sense of the word.”
Go Haywire 1

I definitely go more haywire than this….

  • “The whole shebang….” Another favorite phrase of mine. Mental Floss is less sure of the origin of this, but says, “The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.” That sounds right to me, especially given how many Irish were coming to America before and during the Civil War.
  • The Whole Shebang

    The whole shebang of a shebeen in Ballybeg House, Co. Wicklow, Ireland

  • “Minding your P’s and Q’s…” Speaking of drinking establishments, P’s and Q’s refer to pints and quarts, which barmaids had to keep track of serving so that the bills would be correct. To mind your p’s and q’s means to get things right, to be careful and do what you should be doing.  You can find it in the list of curious phrases over at Owlcation, a site of “engineers, product and community advocates, moderators, and editors that are passionate about writing and online know-how. In addition to our official team, we are a tight-knit community of thousands of writers and enthusiasts.” If you visit, you’ll see articles as diverse as “The Many Uses of Cow Dung” and “The Moon Rabbit in Legend and Culture.”
  • Ps and Qs 1
  • “Mad as a hatter….”   You might think you know the origin of this one. But according to Grammarly, “No, you didn’t already know this one, because it didn’t originate from Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Its origins date from the 17th and 18th centuries — well before Lewis Carroll’s book was published. In 17th century France, poisoning occurred among hat makers who used mercury for the hat felt. The ‘Mad Hatter Disease’ was marked by shyness, irritability, and tremors that would make the person appear ‘mad.'”
  • MadHatter 1
  • I’m going to end here and say toodle-oo. If you want to know where “toodle-oo” came from, you’ll be astounded by the length of the article about it over at The Phrase Finder.
  • Toodle-oo

 

 

 

Fox-founded Friendship

In December 2015, I received an email from a father in Novato, California: “I wanted to write you because you’re my daughter’s favorite author. And we just wanted to let you know how much we LOVE the Zelda and Ivy series! I wanted to thank you for writing and illustrating the book series my daughter will always remember as her childhood favorite. You are truly a hero of hers!”

He went on to say how they have several copies of each of the six Zelda and Ivy books and that they’ve done all the crafts on my website.

“And last year our family had a baby sister, and my older daughter thought Ivy would make a perfect name. And honestly, we were a coin flip away from naming our second child after your book’s character.” (They named her Zoe.)

Luna and Zoe and their fox friends.

As the years passed, Luna, the older daughter, began a tradition of making a yearly Christmas art project that related to Zelda and Ivy: Z&I Christmas ornaments for the tree, an elaborate Lego Z&I house, including outdoor sandbox, swing, pirate hideout, lemonade stand, birdbath, bunkbeds, piano – the complete setting of the books.

When we did a launch event for Little Wolf’s First Howling at Charlie’s Corner in San Francisco in April 2017, Luna and her family drove down and we got to meet in person. I invited them, if they were ever in Seattle, to come by my studio for an art project and tea.

At Charlie’s Corner: Luka holding Zoe, me with Luna in front, and Yukiko.

Luna sent another amazing Christmas project last December: a Twelve Days of Advent calendar that has Christmas outfits for Zelda and Ivy paperdolls behind each door.

IMG_20181209_151829552

Then last month, they took me up on my visit offer. We made gouache resist paintings together in my studio – and chomped on cucumber sandwiches (of course) with tea.

Thanks to Luna’s father, Luka, for these photos.

All of this is the unexpected golden extra – the cream that I didn’t even know was in the offing as I worked alone in my studio cooking up the Zelda and Ivy books.

It makes me smile to re-read Luna’s dad’s note: “Our family has TONS of Zelda and Ivy inside jokes too: we often play Go Fish, joke about cucumber sandwiches, sing “Take me out to the ball game” as a bedtime lullaby, often play pirates, occasionally change our names to Yolanda/Boleo Rose and say “halibut” if something is amiss, Luna got a (velvet-looking) gown (gloves and boa included) last Christmas, and a baton she reluctantly shares with her younger sister Zoe, she also has a Lucky Jewel, camps inside, digs holes to China, creates interesting “concoctions” and much more..”

What is better than to know something I wrote became part of my readers’ family’s lexicon and lives?

When Luna’s family visited, they brought along Fourth of July outfits for the Z&I paperdolls

pdollsand a beautiful illustrated book of Luna’s own, The Fox Princesses, in which sisters named Luna and Zoe team up with Zelda and Ivy to help a bear.

IMG_5567

IMG_5568

The cover and the conclusion of Luna’s latest book.

Best of all, was to have these sweet sisters working beside me at the drawing table on a lovely July day, together in that happy hum of creating.

Like Luna near the end of The Fox Princesses, I beamed.

Picnic

Summertime is Picnic time. Today I am reposting a blog I wrote six years ago, celebrating picnics. I’ve thrown a few new images in the hamper.

Feodor Rojankovsky

sip the roses, anonymous artist, 1809

In 1809 John Roscoe published The Butterfly’s Birthday which included the following advice (still good today):

roscoe advice

Beautiful summer days are meant for pleasure.

kite and garland 1825

Find someplace comfortable to spend an afternoon.

Rudolf Mates: A Forest Story

Spread out your picnic.

August Picnic by Julie Paschkis

Picnics can be small.

Sylvester by William Steig

Sylvester by William Steig

Or big.

Faith Ringgold quilt: Church Picnic

You never know who might show up.

Don’t bring too much.

On Market Street: words by Arnold Lobel and pictures by Anita Lobel 1981

On Market Street: words by Arnold Lobel and pictures by Anita Lobel 1981

If you bring raspberry tarts, make sure there are enough for everyone.

Raspberries by Jay O'Callahan, illustrated by WIll Moses 2009

Raspberries by Jay O’Callahan, illustrated by WIll Moses 2009

Picnic food doesn’t need to be elaborate.Julie Paschkis fruitful

Sometimes you are the picnic.

Yuri Vasnetsov

A bonfire is the best way to end a summer evening.

Orlando the Marmalade Cat by Kathleen Hale 1938

Orlando the Marmalade Cat by Kathleen Hale 1938

I hope you are having fun summer days filled with excursions and picnics. If you have ideas for the perfect food or book to bring on a picnic, please comment.

She Sells Sea Shells, Seymour Chwast 2008

She Sells Sea Shells, Seymour Chwast 2008

So Many Books, Just the Right Amount of Time

Is there anything more luxurious than summertime reading. A long summer day, a world before you on the page; the time to look up, half seeing the world around you, half still in the dream. As a child it was easy to slip into that world for hours at a time. There was so much time and grown ups to make sure the world kept on spinning. It’s harder as an adult to experience the true luxury of summertime reading, but sometimes things fall in place.

Right now I’m at Long Beach, WA. The ocean is rolling in outside my window.

I have a well-stocked bookshelf. Someone else’s choices to explore, which I love to do.

Not to mention the three  books I brought along with my Kindle.

It feels like the day can unfold at its leisure. I can read a bit, stare a bit, think a bit. Read some more. Perfect.

Here from my collection of images of books in art is how summertime reading  feels.

Illustration by Chris Gall

 

Illustration by Kurt Solmssen

 

Photo by Hesham Alhumaid

 

Illustration by Susan Estelle Kwas

 

Illustration by Rita C. Ford

 

Illustration by Elsa Jenna

 

Illustration by Eugeni Balakshin

A Summer Frame of Mind

Well, we’ve had a rainy summer so far, with temperatures below normal – that’s okay with me. I’m a cool-weather type, preferring a swim in ice-cold Puget Sound to a swim in tropical waters, and preferring a rocky log-strewn beach to palm trees and white sand. This preference bewilders and disappoints my kids, I think, since they’re sure (and have told me) that the Mayan Riviera is closer to paradise.

Riviera-Maya-hidden-beaches

Certainly each heart beats faster for whatever speaks directly to it, and the lush Yucatan calls to many souls. I will join my sweet kids from time to time when they spend an afternoon snorkeling alongside sea turtles. Meanwhile, my heart beats pretty fast when I  lean down and pick up an agate on a Whidbey Island beach. (And it doesn’t have to be either/or, does it? The Pacific Northwest vs. the Tropics? I only meant to explain why I don’t mind a little July rain!)

Cama Beach

When I’m in a summer frame of mind, I resist most things of a scholarly nature. Or, better said, I resist large thoughts that challenge my brain. Little bits and pieces of things satisfy me from late June through to the end of August. I tinker, I play. Long walks are left to autumn, and the reading of War and Peace left to winter.

In that spirit, I offer those of you reading Books Around the Table today some recent bits and pieces that delighted m. One is specifically about writing, though all are about writing, since writing is basically about wonder. Links are included.

1. Did you know that a large cloud of ladybugs is called a bloom? And that some blooms are so large they show up on radar screens? What a world! Read more about it over at Atlas Obscura, which is fast becoming one of my favorite websites. For poets, that website provides so much inspiration.

ladybugbloom-480x270

2. Do you have certain obsessions? I mean the kind of obsessions that you often can’t explain? I love old flashlights. Collect them, who knows why. Love the names of marbles, keep a list of those. Always intrigued by pairs of dice. Or photos of people I don’t know having picnics. Collect old cameras in general but especially old Brownie cameras or cameras that fold in and out. Can’t get enough of true crime documentaries – well sometimes I fill up, but I’m puzzled about being so attracted to these. Another obsession? I would love to have every wall in my house papered with architectural plans.  So I’m cheered by this article from the New York Times about authors’ obsessions.

Brownie camera

Family Picnic

3. Isn’t there always room for something about the moon? Summer, autumn, winter, spring.  Always. Always. So here, thanks again to the New York Times (what would I do without you?)  is something a little moonish.

moon

4. Finally, a summer poem. Always room for a poem, too, right? Thanks to Poetry Magazine, March 2010. And thanks to Carlo Betocchi – 1899-1986 –  a surveyor and engineer who built bridges and canals…and poems. He might have been obsessed with magnolia trees. Or with the wind.

Summer

Translated by Geoffrey Brock
And it grows, the vain
summer,
even for us with our
bright green sins:
behold the dry guest,
the wind,
as it stirs up quarrels
among magnolia boughs
and plays its serene
tune on
the prows of all the leaves—
and then is gone,
leaving the leaves
still there,
the tree still green, but breaking
the heart of the air.

magnolia tree

Follow the Trail and Read the Tale

Sweet breezes and a warm sun greeted us Saturday afternoon when we arrived at Windjammer Park in Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island. The park had reopened just that morning after a year of renovation and kids exulted in the warm weather, swarming the spouts and fountains along an ersatz river at the splash end of the park. At the other end, a huge pirate ship play structure crawled with more little ones.

Sno-Isle Libraries interim director district manager Mary Campbell and Oak Harbor librarian Jane Lopez-Santilliana. Mary passed out cookies at the close of the event. (library photo credit)

Between the splash park and Bailey’s playground, meandering along the shoreline above the driftwood and the beach, waited the brand new Story Trail. My sister Kate and I had been invited to the Story Trail’s opening because our book, Little Wolf’s First Howling is the inaugural book. We could see Little Wolf laid out spread-by-spread in cases along the path, awaiting the ribbon cutting.

The sponsors of the cases plus Kate and I snipped the opening ribbon together. (library photo credit)

“Follow the trail, read the tale,” says the tagline along the bottom of each case. And, after introductions and the ribbon cutting, that’s exactly what we did. With the help of a moveable audio system, Kate and I read our book to the many community members gathered for the occasion. What a joy.

The Oak Harbor Story Trail came into being when a new Clean Water treatment plant necessitated reworking adjacent Windjammer park. Sno-Isle librarians saw an opportunity. They had heard about Story Trails on the east coast and wished for one for their patrons. Mary Campbell met with city planners to suggest that the library partner with the city and parks department to plan and install the Story Trail.  Mary and Jane Lopez-Santilliana worked with Sno-Isle administration staff to draft and submit a proposal to the City of Oak Harbor planning committee, parks department and city council. All three organizations approved the Story Trail proposal and partnered together to make it a reality. Donors stepped forward to sponsor the 26 cases along the harborside path. Jane will have the task of changing the books every few months.

If you happen to be in Dallas, Texas, you can see fellow BATT author/illustrator Julie Paschkis’s book Vivid is also part of what they call a ‘Story Path’ in Highland Park. The announcement of that path’s opening included this history: The first ‘Story Walk’ was built in 2007 in Vermont, the brainchild of Anne Ferguson with the assistance of Rachel Senechal, a librarian at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. Since then, variations of the program have been implemented in all 50 states, and at least 12 countries.

Author/illustrator Kevan Atteberry told me about the ‘Popup Storywalks’ program in our Seattle area. His book, Bunnies, was a first book when it was installed at St. Edwards Park earlier this year.

My husband, John, made a short video about the Oak Harbor Story Trail opening. Click here to see it.

Thanks to the Oak Harbor librarians and sponsors and everyone else who made it possible for Little Wolf to spend this summer at the beach.

 

Shapes

Artists work with line, shape, color and texture. It can be hard to pull those elements apart.

Toni Yuly illustration from Gracias Abejas

Where does shape end and color begin?

Edouard Vuillard

When a shape is right it dances.

Suzy Lee

A shape can be positive or negative (i.e. created by the space around it.)

Ben Shahn

Ben Shahn

A well drawn shape gets to the essence of things, eliminating detail.

Lois Ehlert

Dick Bruna

Bill Traylor

With compression and distortion a shape can convey movement. Exaggeration makes it more active (and more delightful).

Bill Traylor

Margaret Chodos-Irvine – detail from Where Lily Isn’t

Mayumi Oda

As it moves toward abstraction a shape is enlivened by what is real.

Matisse papercut

Henri Matisse

Salud – here’s to this shapely world!

Bill Traylor

Bjorn Wiinblad

Mayumi Oda

Beauty In Limitations: A Printmaker’s Perspective, Revisited

It’s been a busy week. So… this is a post I published here way back in 2012 – the early days of Books Around the Table. It amazes me that it has been seven years already.

. . .

I chose this post because I am moving away from being a printmaking purist and into the freedom of working with gouache paints and brushes. Nonetheless, I cut stencils to use as a base for my painting, so I guess I still prefer to work within the safety of limitations.

Denslow’s Mother Goose, W W Denslow, 1901

I have been thinking about limitations lately.

Like illustrations from old picture books before four-color photo-processing became the norm. The ones I’ve accumulated are mostly from the 40s and 60s and they seem have been printed that way to keep production costs down. An economy of expense leading to an economy of style.

Those images have a particular quality that I’ve always loved. The simplicity of an image made by building layers of color. The opposite of slick. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to printmaking. Printmakers are inordinately fond of process and tools you have to sharpen by hand. We think in layers. We are to painters what typesetting is to Microsoft Word.

Kees & Kleintje, Elizabeth Enright, 1938
Kees &Kleintje, Elizabeth Enright, 1938

Not that images like these were simple to produce. Each color had to be created on a separate overlay in black (or the photo equivalent). Often the print run was limited to two or three colors so overlapping was used to create more.

When you have to do the color separation yourself with specified colors, you have to create the mechanicals whilst thinking ahead to what the image might look like. You won’t know for sure till the finished page comes off the press.

Kees, Elizabeth Enright, 1937

The above images were printed with red, yellow, blue and black inks. The oranges and greens and other tones come from overlapping the transparent inks and using screen tones of those four colors. I know it sounds like CMYK, but the difference is that the color separations were all done by hand. There was no full-color image to start with ahead of time.

Rather than confuse you further by describing what I’m talking about, I will show you an example. The spread below demonstrates how three separate images overlap to produce a multicolor picture.

Woodcuts & Woodengravings: How I Make Them, Hans Alexander Mueller, 1939

When artists work under these limitations, I think a kind of magic can occur. I like the happy accidents that happen when colors overlap and registration gets a bit off. Some people would argue that you can get the same effect more easily using a computer, but there is too much control — down to the pixel — with digital media. There is no room for chance or Happy Accidents. The only accidents I can think of involving computers involve spilled liquids, and they are NOT happy.

Pierre Pidgeon, Arnold Edwin Bare, 1943
Ilenka, Arnold Edwin Bare, 1945
Mrs. McGarrity’s Peppermint Sweater, Abner Graboff, 1966
Josefina February, Evaline Ness, 1963
James and the Giant Peach, Nancy Eckholm Burkert, 1961

So how does all this inform my work?

“Daphne’s Hand”, Margaret Chodos-Irvine

Well, like I said, I’m a printmaker, and printmaking isn’t the most practical illustration technique in which to work. Nonetheless, it is worth it to still leave room for chance in my work. Images like these remind me that working within limits can have positive, even beautiful, results that could not be achieved in any other way.

It only takes 30,000 years of culture to get this

Lately, for some reason I’ve been thinking about how much you need to know to understand a simple cartoon. Here’s the cartoon.

Cartoonist Amy Hwang

I have it pinned to my refrigerator door because I love to nap, so that’s the first reference point for me. But what else do you need to know to “get” this cartoon? I mean I figure a Martian wouldn’t begin to know what to make of this.

We earthlings need to know that a cat (or any creature) lying in a bed with other similar creatures of different sizes gathered around it is typically a death bed scene. Here you get a further hint out of the fact that this a hospital bed, which we  know because of a mutually understood visual shorthand.

You need to know that at death, people sometimes express their thoughts on life including their big regrets. You need to know that those regrets are usually about rather grand things—I regret not loving more. I regret not appreciating every day. It’s a doorway into the deep wisdom of someone at the end of their life.

You need to know that napping is considered a pretty negligent use of one’s time. You need to know that cats nap a lot, so much in fact that it is improbable that any cat could nap more. How much napping does any cat need? And so the grand is turned into the banal, and yet, it’s touchingly real, too.

Finally, at a very basic level, you need to have learned how to decipher lines and shades on a flat surface as images. Not to mention that you need to know our current conventions in clothing and size for indicting age and gender; that the creature with an open mouth is the one speaking in a cartoon.  Oh, and you need to be able to read.

For a lot of you, you’ll know something more. You’ll recognize this as a New Yorker cartoon. You’re unconsciously picking up on conventions that are telling you that.

That’s a lot piled up into appreciating this. I love that. I love how layered our awareness is and how so many layers can be captured so simply and so perfectly in this ephemeral bit of humor.

That’s what I love about writing, too. One of the best descriptions of I ever heard about poetry was from a professor at San Francisco State University who taught a class on Shakespeare. I don’t remember his name (I never do) but he said something to the effect that a poem is words compressed into a seed that only blossoms in the mind.

And that description blossomed in my own mind. I “got” it. I got what is so powerful about poetry;  what’s so special about it. Why you experience it differently from other art forms. All writing blossoms in the mind to some degree, but poetry is the ultimate compression and gives it that deep, internal “oh” that you don’t quite  get from other writing.

Cartoons especially single panel cartoon can also be wonderfully compressed, too. But they rely so much on current, temporary associations that they rarely (never?) achieve the timelessness of poetry. Just try reading old New Yorker cartoons.

Want to play? What all is compressed into this cartoon? What do you need to know? Is it so specific to writing that it’s more of an in-joke? I’m betting that our current “meta” approach to art makes this much more universally accessible than that.

Cartoonist Tom Gauld