Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Winter Poems

selected by Barbara Rogasky
illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

A book for those of us who love these cold and frosty months.  Barbara Rogasky has pulled together a wonderful collection of poems just about winter.  In the introduction she writes:

First, I love winter.  In cities, cold makes the air smell better and the streets look cleaner.  Snow quiets the busy racket of every day and slows things down.  In the country, where I live, all the seasons are beautiful.  But winter is the best.  A hard walk with breath a frosty cloud is much more refreshing than a sweaty walk in the hot sun.  The color and light over snow's whiteness are ever-changing and glorious.

Second, I love poetry.  A poem is a kind of miracle of words.  It can tell a story, flash scenes and images to the mind's eye, and use many fewer words than any other kind of writing.  Try putting down in prose what "Skiing" or "Cat on a Night of Snow" is about.  It'll take a lot more words than the poem does. 

Our beloved Trina Schart Hyman does the illustrations, including pictures of her daughter and grandson and the house and countryside where her and Rogasky live.  This is the book you pull out when the wind is bitter and you have a cozy night in bed. 

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird is one of my favorite Wallace Steven's poems.

Oh, The Prelude by Wordsworth- one of the most beautiful things ever written.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Winter Bear

Of course I couldn't help but post another Blegvad illustrated book!

Ruth Craft
illustrated by Erik Blegvad 1976

Three siblings go out for a walk on a bleak winter day and find, stuck in a hedge, a teddy bear.  There's no explanation for how or why the bear is there.  But somehow the story doesn't need it.  The children take him home, clean him up, and give him something to wear.

Other books illustrated by Erik Blegvad:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Shadow Castle

Marian Cockrell 1945

Our latest chapter book.  I looked forward to reading this as much as Charlotte did!  There's sparse pictures and Charlotte had to keep looking back at the ones with Princess Gloria and Bluebell.  It's a neat story that I had never heard of before and just happened upon at the thrift store.   It makes you wonder how many other countless children's books have been overlooked and forgotten through the years.

Lucy wanders into an enchanted forest alone one day. She meets a mysterious man who shows her to a castle tower room where the magical air is filled with shadows.  He then tells her the story of a family of fairies.  There's Mika, a fairy prince who falls in love with the beautiful mortal, Gloria.  Their wedding sets the stage for a 1000 year enchantment that has a beautiful ending.  We read about a fairy godmother named Flumpdoria and a kindly dragon.  One story has evil goblins who try to trick the young prince Robin and another tells of his sister Meira who must decide which world she wants to belong to, the magical world of fairies or mortals.

This is definitely a book worth tracking down, especially if you (like us) like to fill your sleepy bedtime moments with fairy tales and fantasy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Sometimes you find an illustrator or writer that you wish you could be friends with in real life.  How I would love to sit over a pot of tea with Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess.  I feel like we would have the most amazing conversations about art and mythology, classic fairy tales, and fantasy.  They both create, one with words and one with drawings, these worlds that I wish I could inhabit.  Some people are lucky to have both incredible talent, and incredible imaginations.

Neil Gaiman
illustrated by Charles Vess 2010

 They've collaborated on other things, but this one is pretty special.  It's everything I love about them- the style of artwork, the blurred space between the real world and the world of fantasy, the respect for all the elements of a good old fashioned fairy tale.  Give it a look and then you'll find yourself searching for more of their work.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Self-Portrait: Erik Blegvad

written and illustrated by Erik Blegvad  1979

This AMAZING book arrived in the mail right before Christmas.  Erik Blegvad became my favorite illustrator this summer (I kept adding his illustrated books to this blog).  So I ordered this book second hand and it's even better than I imagined.

It's a very simple auto-biography filled with Blegvad's own illustrations as well as a few from instrumental artist friends and mentors.  He writes it in a conversational way, telling us about his father who hoped to become an artist but was a marine biologist instead, his grandfather who knew the King (of Denmark), and his childhood spent in Copenhagen.

He writes about going to art school and meeting his wife (the author Lenore Blegvad) in Paris.  And as to be expected, the accompanying pictures are wonderful.  There are rough sketches and two pages of what he calls "Roughs, Revisions, Dummies, Doodles, and Decorated Envelopes".  You can guess how much I just love the "decorated envelope" page!

Erik and his wife Lenore

Love these envelopes!!

Though I loved his work before, I love him even more now through this kind and inspirational biography.

     There's a lazy side to me.  I hold it responsible for placing a sunrise north of Copenhagen, or a sixth finger on a decorated envelope, and for occasionally making some stiff and graceless drawings. 
     But when my lucky side is working, I find myself concentrated at the tip of my pen.  Which to my delight, proceeds to create people, objects, and worlds I never knew existed.
     To have learned to observe at such an early age, to have stumbled into such a varied life, to have spent it with such extraordinary people- there's luck for you.

Other books illustrated by Erik Blegvad:

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Search for Delicious

I love re-reading the books that Madeleine and Henry loved to Charlotte.  This is one.  Unfortunately somewhere along the lines we lost the dust jacket which was decorated with drawings by Natalie Babbitt herself. 

Natalie Babbitt 1969

This story is quite clever and has a bit of everything.  A boy, Galen, goes on a quest for his kingdom.  The prime minister is compiling a dictionary, but when he gets to the word "delicious" everyone seems to have a different opinion of what it means.  The queen contends that "delicious" is Christmas pudding.  The king insists it to be apples.  To avoid a fight, Galen is sent around the kingdom to record every one's definition of "delicious". 

Meanwhile the queen's brother, Hemlock, has been out stirring up trouble and soon the kingdom is on the brink of a civil war all because of a word.  Underneath it all is the story of a mermaid who has lost her doll and ancient dwarfs and a woldweller (keeper of the forest) high in the trees.  They all intersect is an exciting, beautiful way.

It took a couple weeks of reading every night (and a couple times after lunch) but Charlotte loved it.

 "That's right," crowed the woldweller.  "It is small.  And flimsy.  You've got nothing that lasts, you know.  That's not the first town that ever stood there.  There was one before that and one before that one, on back for nine hundred years.  I've seen it all," he said quietly and his eyes went vague and cloudy.  "Around and around.  Coming and going like the spokes of a wheel for hundreds of years.  It's nothing to me."

Galen sat in the moonlight beside the lake and thought about all that had happened since the day the pole began.  Past his mind's eye streamed all the faces he had seen, all the kind, angry, laughing, anxious faces that had peopled the days of his great adventure.  And he remembered, too, those others:  the woldweller's gray cheeks fixed into furrows like the bark of a tree;  the dwarfs, impassive and calm as the mountains themselves;  the wind that spoke through a hundred wayward, invisible mouths;  and Ardis with her eyes wet and unfathomable as the lake that glimmered before him.  He leaned over and studied the dim reflection of his own face in the water.  Young and skinny, he decided, and tired and worried, too.  A transient, changeable, ageable face.  A people face.  "And that's where I belong," he said to himself at last. 

Other books by Natalie Babbitt:

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Fox and the Cat

All sorts of silly, fun tales by the Grimm Brothers featuring animals and foxes in particular.

Kevin Crossley Holland
illustrated by Susan Varley

In one story Wolf does old dog a favor and in another fox uses his tricks to help an old horse.  The famous story "The Bremen Town Musicians" is included and all the tales are full of sharp humor and a lesson.

I just loved that the cat on the cover looks like our calico "S'more".