Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Some books with pictures

I highly suggest buying these. For Christmas, I mean. Instead of socks or prepackaged meat & cheese or gift cards or chocolate. No wait, buy chocolate. But also, buy...

Something classic with beautiful illustrations:

Something dark and literary:

Something whimsical and touching:

Something magical and quiet:

Something funny and smart:

Something poetic and unexpected:

Something real and imagined:

Whatever it is you spend your hard-earned money on, may it be something meaningful and worth buying. In spite of the gaudiness brought to the season by commercialism, if you wish to, make it yours. There can be a sweetness and a magic to it...and I suspect it has to do with tradition and family and thoughtfulness and love.
"Well, my dears, I hope you will like the things I am bringing: nearly all you asked for and lots of other little things you didn't, and which I thought of at the last minute. I hope you will share the railway things and farm and animals often, and not think they are absolutely only for the one whose stocking they were in. Take care of them, for they are some of my very best things.

Love to Chris: love to Michael: love to John who must be getting very big as he doesn't write to me any more (so I simply had to guess paints--I hope they were all right: Polar Bear chose them; he says he knows what John likes because John likes bears).

Your loving Father Christmas
And my love, Polar Bear"

~ J.R.R. Tolkien in Letters From Father Christmas

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Library Treasures: Part 1

(All quotes are from works either in the public domain or with full-texts available through creative commons. Links to attributions for all can be found at the end of the post.)

Since I started volunteering at the University of South Carolina's Irvin Department of Rare Books & Special Collections, I've seen more cool books than I can count. The following are just a few of the treasures I've come across recently.

Here's a passage from The Awakening, one of my favorite classic American female authored novels (it's hard to pick which passage to post as almost every page of my copy is marked up, but this one seems to embody the spirit of the story):

"A certain light was beginning to dawn dimly within her--the light which, showing the way, forbids it. At that early period it served but to bewilder her. It moved her to dreams, to thoughtfulness, to the shadowy anguish which had overcome her the midnight when she had abandoned herself to tears. In short, Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her."

Special Collections holds many copies of Dickinson's work, but I thought this one was particularly pretty.  Here are two of her poems that have stayed with me throughout the years, the second being the only full poem I have in memory. I know it's short, but give me a break, I've got almost no memory for text at all:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

I Never Saw a Moor
I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a wave must be.

I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in heaven;
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the chart were given.

This beautiful old copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin graces the shelves as well. I wouldn't call this story one of my favorites. But I'll definitely call it one of the most affecting I've read. Here's a painfully modern sounding excerpt from its 40th chapter:

"Scenes of blood and cruelty are shocking to our ear and heart. What man has nerve to do, man has not nerve to hear. What brother-man and brother-Christian must suffer, cannot be told us, even in our secret chamber, it so harrows up the soul! And yet, oh my country! these things are done under the shadow of thy laws! O Christ! Thy church sees them, almost in silence!"

It's shameful, but I've not read any of the Oz series. Don't shun me. I'll get around to it. I did find a pretty copy of The Wonder City of Oz for a buck at an antique store and will read it someday. Or I could just browse one of the many copies at the library, like this early edition.

From chapter 15:

"'No one knows it but you four--and myself,' replied Oz. 'I have fooled everyone so long that I thought I should never be found out. It was a great mistake my ever letting you into the Throne Room. Usually I will not see even my subjects, and so they believe I am something terrible.'"

Ever read Treasure Island? Sometimes I wonder about all of those titles out there I supposedly should have read--you know, the ones you're supposed to read for school or the ones that are really thick and intimidating and have a billion different printings and editions, the ones you know the titles of but have no idea what they're about. I used to think of Treasure Island like that until I read it, and now I'm suspicious that all the others I'm supposed to have read will be just as interesting. How will I ever get around to reading them all?

From chapter 3:

"'Come, now, march,' interrupted he; and I never heard a voice so cruel, and cold, and ugly as that blind man's. It cowed me more than the pain, and I began to obey him at once, walking straight in at the door and towards the parlour, where our sick old buccaneer was sitting, dazed with rum. The blind man clung close to me, holding me in one iron fist and leaning almost more of his weight on me than I could carry. 'Lead me straight up to him, and when I'm in view, cry out, 'Here's a friend for you, Bill.' If you don't, I'll do this,' and with that he gave me a twitch that I thought would have made me faint. Between this and that, I was so utterly terrified of the blind beggar that I forgot my terror of the captain, and as I opened the parlour door, cried out the words he had ordered in a trembling voice.'"

Just down from Treasure Island on the shelves is Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. I read through the verses for the first time this past summer while I was at school. They were very calming just before bed, and the version I had with me, illustrated by Charles Robinson, has beautiful engraving style illustrations throughout. Here's an appropriate seasonal verse for a day like today:

Autumn Fires
In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

There are tons more old and pretty and lovely books at the library. I encourage you, though this is going to sound very ironic indeed, to get up from your computer, away from your television, off your phone, and down to the library. There's something about holding a book and flipping its pages that an e-reader can't give you. It's different. Not good or bad. Just--different.

Who am I kidding--I hate Kindles and Nooks, and I refuse to read a book on my iPhone even if it is an interactive version of Alice, and should I ever replace my sweet old copies with electronic ones, dig a hole and bury me alive.

Oh, and what does this have to do with children's literature? It's a good question. An even better question would be--What makes a book a children's book? I'm hardly even qualified to ask the question, so I certainly won't attempt to answer it. However, it's fair enough to say that the things I've included on this list could be read and enjoyed by children, whether they were written for children or not.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Bookish Christmas List: Part 1

"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more!"
Dr. Seuss

Okay, okay. I know Christmas isn't about the presents. And I know it's not even Thanksgiving yet. But we're staying with family in Tennessee, and it snowed this morning, and we're drawing names for presents, and I spent a long time today scanning bookstore shelves, so I'm starting my bookish list early.

The Little Prince Pop-Up
This is my second favorite story ever. It makes me cry every time by inducing a blissful melancholy about life and love and friendship and inevitability and hope. Good for kids or adults, but especially adults who've forgotten about once being kids. The artwork has been made interactive in this printing, plus it's still unabridged. The countless pop-up books I saw on the shelves today were mostly abridged and mostly awful. And very un-kid-friendly. Though perhaps that's the nature of the pop-up. (Picture below from

The Wind in the Willows Vintage Book Journal
First, because I love this story (3rd favorite ever) and second, because I really like repurposed books. I don't feel so bad about this one being mangled because I already own a copy of this edition. Plus it's readerly and writerly at the same time and still has some of the Shepard illustrations throughout. Who doesn't wanna journal alongside Shepard illustrations?! Not to mention buying it would mean supporting home crafters instead of, you know, Walmart.

Design your own classic bookcover
Though I love the various illustrated versions of Alice (especially those of Tenniel, as seen below, and Peter Newell), I'd also love to have a copy with a blank cover for my own interpretation of the ordered chaos within. My most enchanted reading experience as a child occurred when I stumbled across Through the Looking-Glass. My most disenchanted reading experience was coming back to the story as an adult and realizing I couldn't fully imagine it anymore. I wonder how I'd decorate its cover now. Perhaps I'd just leave it blank.

Christopher Robin Plaque
I partly like this because Christopher Robin is such a nice guy and partly because it makes me feel good every time I read it. Though it kinda looks like something to hang in a child's nursery, I'd proudly hand it alongside the other classic illustrations of Pooh in the hallway or beneath the Beatrix Potter landscape print in the office or maybe even above the pictures of Ratty and Mole in the living room. (Picture below from

Copy of the Book of Kells
I've been meaning to get a copy for a while now, and after watching The Secret of Kells recently (really beautifully done, lovely music, sweet spirit), I remembered how much I'd like to see the book in person. Until then, I'll take a facsimile (would love this copy, but I'm trying to make a reasonable list here). There are several reasons I'm fascinated by the book, the main one concerning how and why people go about representing a set of beliefs. There's something that appeals to me about taking a long time to very intricately express a feeling or thought artistically. The magnitude of it is silencing. For that reason, this is also appealing: Color Your Own Book of Kells.

Neverland Passport Notebook
Because I love to travel and Peter Pan is my favorite book ever. Behold this passage from Chapter 1: "She was a lovely lady, with a romantic mind and such a sweet mocking mouth. Her romantic mind was like the tiny boxes, one within the other, that come from the puzzling East, however many you discover there is always one more; and her sweet mocking mouth had one kiss on it that Wendy could never get, though there it was, perfectly conspicuous in the right-hand corner. The way Mr. Darling won her was this: the many gentlemen who had been boys when she was a girl discovered simultaneously that they loved her, and they all ran to her house to propose to her except Mr. Darling, who took a cab and nipped in first, and so he got her. He got all of her, except the innermost box and the kiss. He never knew about the box, and in time he gave up trying for the kiss." Need I say more?

Set of Quentin Blake Mugs
I often wish I had a better memory for names of authors and illustrators. There are a very few who stick in my mind, and Blake is one of them, previously because of his collaborations with Roald Dahl and more recently for his work with David Walliams. My first memory of Dahl and Blake is from a library reading of James and the Giant Peach (one of the books I called a favorite as a child) in elementary school. The librarian read chapter after chapter as we sat on carpeted steps, enthralled (well, at least I was). No TV screen, no game console, no cellphone required to keep our attention--just the magical blend of written word and imagination. Beautiful. (Picture below from

I don't want a wand. I don't want an invisibility cloak. And I don't want polyjuice potion. I want a time-turner. And if I can't have a real one, I'll take a replica instead. Okay fine, I do want a wand, any kind of awesome cloak, and whatever potion you can whip up for me. But just think of the possibilities time holds...

Shakespeare Sonnet Locket
I didn't become a huge Shakespeare fan till a few years back when I discovered Hamlet in all its dense and witty glory. I get what all the hype is about now. I spent my few seconds on top of St Paul's imagining the original Globe full of stinky people listening to the words of those tragic (or comic) characters and understanding them much better than I ever will--which seems a bit of a contrast to this dainty, silvery locket, but who cares. I think it's pretty and the sonnet quote is lovely. (Picture below from

A Bookish Christmas List: Part 2 coming soon...