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

17 responses to “Giddy-up

  1. This makes me think of the 12 Dancing Princesses fairytale!

  2. The little white horse by Elizabeth Goudge is a beautiful book for older children. Sue

  3. Right now I am being transported by the beautiful illustrations by Eric Puybaret in Manfish A Story of Jacques Cousteau. Love your Spring Horse!

    • I didn’t know about this book -I just looked it up and it’s wonderful. Do you know about the biography of Sylvia Earle by Claire Nivola? It is called Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle. Sylvia Earle is also sometimes called Her Deepness, and this is a lovely book about her.

  4. Gorgeous post. Beautiful thoughts, images. Thank you!

  5. I’m not sure if your sister was meaner than mine. Mine would have told me about the horse but simply said I wouldn’t be able to go. 🙂

  6. I want to ride on your Spring Horse!
    My favorite place to go as a child was the spring well in the fairy glen, in a story my dad told to me every other night at bedtime (“The Plaisham” in Donegal Fairy Tales by Seumas MacManus–my grandmother was Irish and my dad had heard the story from her). I actually went there every night, in the dark, snuggled into my bed. I can still see it clearly–the little glen on the mountainside, crystal clear water, stars reflected in the water (the main character, Shamus, always had to go there “when the moon is rising”).

  7. I’ve been doing some research up at the university library lately, in the special collections section. One of the early settlers of my town was a woman named Minnie Frances Hayden Howard. She was a doctor, graduating from medical school in 1899, and shortly afterward moved to Pocatello with her husband and young family. After a long and busy life, Minnie was asked many times by family and friends to write her memoirs, so in her 85th year, she took out a spiral bound notebook and began to write. That notebook was part of the large donation of papers and correspondence her son gave to the Idaho State University library after her death. When I found that memoir, it felt to me that I had found a real treasure, as these were full of anecdotes, interesting memories, reflections on life, and musings about the past, as well as the loose chronological history of Minnie’s experiences. I read so much and learned so many things about this woman, that she feels like a friend or close acquaintance. I’m continuing to learn from someone who has been dead for almost 50 years!

    One of the ideas Minnie shared was this simple but thought-provoking phrase: “People tend to live by the sentiments of the songs they sing.” Minnie wrote about how her mother didn’t enjoy the young teenagers bringing home the songs of the day and pounding them out on the melodeon. Songs like “You’ll Miss Lots of Fun When You’re Married” by John Philip Sousa & Edward M. Taber, or “After the Ball” by Charles K. Harris were not allowed to be sung in that strict, though loving, household. Now there may be nothing wrong with those songs, but Minnie’s mother didn’t want her young single adults to fall into the thought patterns of such songs that poked gentle fun at marriage or encouraged maudlin regret.

    Maybe Minnie’s mother has a point. But I’ve always been more interested in reading and books than in popular music, so as I’ve been sitting and pondering lately, I’ve been wondering if we also tend to live by the overall themes of the books we read. I think yes, we do.

    It is terribly hard for me to settle on one single book as my all-time favorite. But I suppose if I were pushed to make a decision, I would ultimately choose To Kill a Mockingbird. (That’s not to say it would be the first book I’d choose to be stranded with on a desert island. That honor would go to the as-yet-unpublished Encyclopedia Galactica. But that’s another conversation in itself.)

    When I recall To Kill a Mockingbird and its themes that I have consciously or unconsciously lived by as a result of making that book part of myself, I think certainly of the message to reject racism and hold fast to justice. But I think also of other, subtler themes.

    For example, I have four teenaged sons (one of them is an exchange student from Poland). Our life is very full and sometimes complicated and hectic. I remember how, in my own teen years, I slowly asserted my independence and began to make my own choices and decisions about life. I know I slowly withdrew from my parents, though still keeping good relations with them, and spent more and more time with my friends. Now my own children are doing this. I have learned that instead of trying in vain to hang on to my elusive sons for a little longer, risking disgruntlement and rebellion, I try to use Atticus’s style of parenting. Scout said he treated her and Jem with “courteous detachment.” So instead of getting all worked up about a child declining to share all the details of a date with me, or another son who refuses to give me a play-by-play of his debate tournament, I remember Atticus’s courtesy and his gentle awareness of the individuality of his children, and I try to do likewise.

    I think also of the way people in the Maycomb community helped each other and I hope I’ve internalized the model Harper Lee describes of an ideal neighborhood where people work together in friendship to help one another. Through hardships like fire and addiction, and smaller things like gardening and recognizing a stray dog, the people of this fictionalized neighborhood helped each other. Because of Stephanie Crawford’s influence, for example, I have tried to be kind to the children of my own neighborhood. So I think the themes of community and public feeling have rubbed off on me.

    Then there’s Boo Radley. I think a simple way to sum up how his perspective affects me is that one never knows the influence one person has on another. A kind word might be the very thing someone needs to keep going. Scout and Jem had no idea how much they meant to Boo, and often we don’t know how much we mean to other people. But maybe that isn’t the important thing. Maybe it is more important that we tell the people around us how much they mean to us, and if the feelings are reciprocated, great. If not, at least we’ve shared our own feelings of gratitude and appreciation.

    I could go on and on, tracing my actions directly to portrayals of similar actions in some of my favorite books (unfortunately not all of them positive). Books and ideas are powerful, and music is also powerful. Sometimes I’ve been a bit shy about reading or thinking or listening to some examples of these things because I know their influence can be great. For example, I haven’t been brave enough to read much Stephen King, and I don’t have the desire to listen to certain types of music. Maybe this wariness comes in part from recognizing the truth of what Minnie Howard’s mother taught. We really do tend to live by the sentiments of the music we listen to and the books we read.

    So I think I need to carry this awareness one step farther now. Because I acknowledge the influence books and music have on me, I will, still with courteous detachment, suggest to my children and community members, books whose themes can motivate readers toward good things. I will also listen when my children and others share their thoughts and experiences with me, because it’s hard to know how much such a listening ear can mean to someone else. Listening is, in itself, a way to show gratitude and appreciation, and this helps to reinforce the sentiments by which I choose to read about and live by.

    I am so looking forward to your visit to Pocatello! We will have a wonderful time. Thank you for sharing your lovely blog.


    • Thanks for sharing your story and thoughts, and Minnie’s thoughts. I love To Kill A Mockingbird too – both the book and the movie. And I agree that the influence of books or music can be powerful, but I also think you can take parts of even bad reading experiences and get something out of them. I think different parts of a book or piece of music speak to me at different times.
      I hope to meet you in Pocatello!

  8. Lisbeth Zwerger

    Dear Julie
    I just came across your beautiful blog and not just discovered heaps of wonderful pictures but also one of mine (less wonderful).
    I really had to laugh about your comment:
    “In this illustration by Lisbeth Zwerger, the text says that the feast is merry, but it feels desolate. Maybe the robbers are sad that their iPad fell on the floor.”
    You are right it looks just like an iPad!
    (iPads didn´t exist when I illustrated the Bremen town musicians :))
    However it is only one of my illustrations from “Little Hobbin” that got stolen years ago at an exhibition in Italy. I somehow had hoped that somebody might discover the picture in a neighbour´s living room ……
    Seeing as I have an aversion against robbers I couldn´t make the scene look a bit more merry!
    Anyway, really enjoyed your blog.
    all the best and a happy new year 2016

    • Dear Lisbeth,
      I am such a huge fan of your work. I can’t quite believe that you read my blog post! My comment about the feast was flippant and silly – and I hope it didn’t feel insulting. I have followed your work for years and years. I travelled to Massachusetts from Seattle to see your show at the Eric Carle Museum and I own many of your books. I have posted your images on this blog many times. Here is a link to a post where I talked about the way that you use line and space. I admire so many individual illustrations, and I also admire the the way your work has changed and developed over time. Over the years your work has become concentrated and simplified so that the essence of each idea shines. Thank you for your work! Also, I hope the robbers who stole your art are desolate, and I hope that you get the pieces back someday. Happy New Year –

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