Tag Archives: Ben Shahn

You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You

Following the poem-posts of Julie, Bonny and Margaret, here are a few tasty morsels of poetry from my childhood. I loved the book “You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You.” Recently I found it in paperback.

I especially liked Ciardi’s poem “Little Bits”.

Another favorite book was Ounce Dice Trice.

It might not have been called a book of poetry, but it was and is all about savoring words (and pictures).

My last word goes to Margaret Wise Brown from her book “Where Have You Been?”, illustrated by Barbara Cooney. This poem roosted inside me when I was about 5, and it has lived there ever since. I recite it to the crows in our neighborhood.

In the comment section I welcome any of your favorite poems or words from childhood. Thank you.

p.s. In my newsletter I mentioned the wonderful book Forgotten Words by Robert MacFarlane. It is actually called Lost Words.


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

Word Watching

paschkis wordwatching
Several years ago Julie Larios introduced me to the concept of chiming (as opposed to rhyming).
When two words rhyme they have  the same ending: river and sliver.
Chiming is looser. Chiming words bounce off each other in all kinds of ways. They could have similar sounds at the beginning, middle or end: sliver, silver, swindle, windless, windswept. Chiming allows you to experience the meaning of the words and the pure sounds.
Since childhood I have loved the book Ounce Dice Trice. Those words chime! The book is all about word-watching: delighting in words for their sounds and meanings.

ounce dice trice

ounce dice trice4ounce dice trice3ounce dice trice og ounce dice trice1ounce dice trice2

Learning a new language is a way to hear words from the outside as well as the inside. I wrote about that in this post about my new book Flutter and Hum, Aleteo y Zumbido.

In 1955 Antonio Frasconi came out with See and Say – A Picture Book in Four Languages. Frasconi was born in 1919 in Argentina to Italian parents. He grew up in Uruguay and then settled in the US in 1945. His wonderful woodcuts shine a light on the words in all of the languages.frasconi 1955frasconi008frasconi006frasconi007frasconi005The struggle and delight of language is to describe things and evoke feelings that exist beyond language.  Here are two poems by Pablo Neruda, illustrated by Frasconi, that dip their toes into that river. I shiver.


p.s. -Thanks to Jennifer Kennard for lending me Frasconi’s See and Say. Please explore Jennifer’s wonderful blog Letterology.

p.s. -Please click on the events page to find out about upcoming events and sales.

p.s. – To read a blogpost about words on quilts click this link to Mooshka – a patchwork blog.

Having More Fun

Merry Widow Merry Widow Persistent Faces - William Steig

Merry Widow
Persistent Faces – William Steig

I enjoyed posting some of my favorite fun picture book illustrations so much last month that I am revisiting the topic this week, only this time, I am pulling some well-loved images from sources outside of children’s books – more artists whose work conveys humor and playfulness.

william steig_putty

Persistent Faces – William Steig

Many of these images have a doodle-like quality. The topic of doodling deserves an entire post of its own, which maybe I will write someday, but I think doodling has a universal appeal because of its apparent fearless exploration of goofiness.

Sphinx - Saul Steinberg

Sphinx – Saul Steinberg

Saul Steinberg’s work has a sardonic wit.

March-April - Saul Steinberg

March-April – Saul Steinberg

Ben Shahn’s images laugh a little more quietly,

alastair reid Ben Shahn-Both Ways

Words That Read Both Ways
Ounce Dice Trice – Alastair Reid, illustrated by Ben Shahn

but still express a wise sense of humor.

alastair reid Ben Shahn-Bug Words

Bug Words
Ounce Dice Trice – Alastair Reid, illustrated by Ben Shahn

John Rombola I imagine sharing a cigarette with John Waters for some reason.

 Rombola by Rombola - John Rombola

Rombola by Rombola – John Rombola

 Rombola by Rombola - John Rombola

Rombola by Rombola – John Rombola

The circus also inspired Alexander Calder. The Seattle Art Museum had a Calder exhibit a few years ago. I don’t think a museum exhibit before or since has ever put me in such a happy mood.

Circus Lion - Alexander Calder

Circus Lion – Alexander Calder

Josephine Baker. Ooh la la and hallelujah.

Josephine Baker wire sculpture - Alexander Calder

Josephine Baker
wire sculpture – Alexander Calder

Even his large mobile sculptures evoke playfulness.

Yellow Whale  sculpture in wire and metal- Alexander Calder

Yellow Whale
Wire sculpture – Alexander Calder

Inuit art also seems to contain a lot of humor. What is it about all that ice and snow? The long summer days? The long winter nights?

The Enchanted Owl-Kenojuak

The Enchanted Owl – Kenojuak

Judas Ullulaq "Transformation"

Inuit sculpture – Judas Ullulaq

And here is a contemporary Japanese printmaker continuing the 17th – 19th century tradition of Okubi-e (bust portraits of Kabuki actors).

tsuruya kokei_bando tamasaburo

Bando Tamasaburo V as Ochika in “Ikite iru Koheiji”- Tsuruya Kokei

When I was in Japan as a teenager I saw Tamasaburo perform. He is actually quite slender and graceful. I don’t know if Tsuruya Kokei intended parody or was just tweaking composition and form, but it’s makes Tamasaburo look like a high comedienne.

Below is a photo of a Panamanian mola that I bought a number of years ago. It is a modern take on a traditional art form. Usually the motifs include bird and animal forms. This is the only one I’ve seen about a hairstyle.

Mola - artist unknown

Mola – artist unknown

And in response to Julie Paschkis’s last Beastly post on this blog, here are a couple of my favorite prints by Jose Guadalupe Posada. Scary funny.

Sol en Escorpion - Jose Posada

Sol en Escorpion – Jose Posada

I think I spied one of these bicyclists the last time I was in Brooklyn.

Calaveras de Ciclistas - Jose Posada

Calaveras de Ciclistas – Jose Posada

And speaking of Julie Paschkis, here is a drawing she made on a piece of paper from my notebook while we were at an SCBWI talk many years ago. She is the Queen of doodlers and her work also makes me smile. I kept the drawing (it was my paper after all…) and it hangs in my studio to remind me to let loose and have more fun when I am working (and not get my neck all twisted around like that).

doodle in pen and ink - Julie Paschkis

doodle in pen and ink – Julie Paschkis