Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A brief introduction, with pictures, to my favorite book by my favorite author-illustrator, William Pène du Bois

*note to all- I want you to know that my quick, short & snappy synopsis of the storyline is in no way indicative of or worthy of the witty, lighthearted inventiveness of William Pène du Bois' fantastic story.  I regret that I am undoubtedly unable to convey this sufficiently, but hope to interest you enough that you may seek it out and read it!*

The three policemen live, along with a number of other happy people, on a mysterious and rather unknown island called Farbe.  So happy are the Farbons, who are all fishermen except for the three policemen and their aide, Bottsford, that there is no crime.  Ever.  It is for this reason that the policemen's mettle has never been tested!   In fact:

"In their spare time, which is almost anytime, the three policemen design and make their own uniforms, which get more and more elaborate.  This seems to be their only work." (p. 10)

Here are the policemen readying themselves in the morning:

(they have an album recording that plays the 'bongs' and 'pling' along with instructions as to what exact part of their toilet they should be attending.)

Inevitably, crime does come to Farbe Island- one morning, all of the fishing nets are stolen!  The islanders gnash their teeth and pound the earth in very dramatic despair:

A meeting is called; witnesses reveal that the culprit is... a sea serpent!

A plan is hatched! The plan involves a quantity of poison, costumes for the policemen- fish suits!

Young Bottsford, who is, of course, the brains of the operation, has his own, smaller, fish suit, in which he follows the three policemen out to the sea serpent, which turns out, strangely enough, to be not a sea serpent, but a giant boat SHAPED like a sea serpent!

(sorry about this scan, ugh...)

They board the ship, and when sailors cut the heads off the 'fish', they spring out!

This is the best image- look at Bottsford's mighty kick!  The criminals are taken into custody.  During the trial, Bottsford (naturally!) realizes and reveals that the boat's captain is none other than their own mayor- who concocted the whole scheme in order to test the policemen, and also to provide the Farbons with a beautiful luxury ship (in the shape of a sea serpent, which, apparently, is very popular in other countries!) in which to travel and see the world.  The three policemen are presented with medals and beautiful new costumes, and Bottsford is made Emperor of Farbon (and receives a miniature Ferrari!).

The inside dust jacket reveals a cross-section of the sea-serpent boat:

(sadly, my copy, an ex-library book, is not in the best condition)

Monday, April 19, 2010

The most beautiful and sumptuous books that we mere mortals can ever hope to lay hands on: Tara Books

The London Jungle Book by Bhajju Shyam

I'm sure that a lot of you are already familiar with the exquisite books that Tara has been producing since 1994- almost everyone connected with the book biz has no doubt pored appreciatively (and covetously!) over at least one or two of their lush, colourful publications. Even so, I couldn't resist a post on Tara books!  Founded by Gita Wolf, they are based in Chinnai, in south India. The work of their Indian artists highlights the best of everything that I have always appreciated in Indian art; it is decorative, lively, riotously colourful, filled with patterns, texture, and such obvious enthusiasm for all aspects of the natural world.  I am presenting here just a small selection, just a few of the numerous beautiful books that they have produced.  I urge you to look at their site to see more, and to learn more about their company and various authors/artists.

Many of their titles are limited-edition handmade books, such as The Night Life of Trees:

The Night Life of Trees was illustrated by a group of artists of the Gond tribe (  the 'Gond' comprises an area of central India)  including the brilliant Bhajju Shyam, who also illustrated:
Flight of the Mermaid:


I love the zoomorphism of these two books, and the effortless intertwining of nature-based pattern into the depiction of humans (and near-humans)!

by West Bengalese scroll painters and singers Joydeb and Moyna Chitrakar.  This book replicates the traditional format of a Patua scroll.  It expresses perfectly the chaos and destructiveness of the disaster in its swirls of jumbled characters and jarring colour combinations.

From the Tara site: " In the traditional manner of Patua art, this innovative scroll-book transforms the dramatic news into a moving and artfully rendered fable. Dirge-like in tone and translated from the original Bengali song, the Tsunami ballad evokes, as all ancient forms of keening do, the persistence of life in death. The extraordinary imagination of the Patua artists introduces an old fashioned empathy into modern reportage-and in the process, creates a moving take that transforms the ephemera of newsrooms into art with a universal resonance. This is the first time a Patua scroll has been rendered into the form of a book. The scroll-book is silk-screen-printed by hand."

 ...and I eagerly await the appearance (next month!) of

  Monkey Photo!

 (illustrated by Swarna Chitrakar with text by Gita Wolf)

Well, that's about enough gushing from me for the moment.  There are many more beautiful books on the tara site , including many more picture books (not all handmade; some you might even be willing to share with your kids- if they're good!), including some board books , as well as postcards and some beautiful prints that I think I might NEED.  I will leave you with this link to their most recent blog entry, which talks about their newest handmade book, SSSS: Snake Art and Allegory.


Monday, April 12, 2010

The magic of N.M. Bodecker

N.M. (the "N.M." stands for Niels Mogens) Bodecker was born, raised and educated in Copenhagen, where he worked as an editorial assistant for an art magazine, wrote two volumes of poetry, and drew a political comic strip for a  Copenhagen newspaper.  He emigrated to the United States after World War II, where for many years his illustrations appeared in Harper's magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, Esquire and Holiday.  The preceding image is one of his covers for The Saturday Evening Post that appeared in 1965.

 I know N.M. Bodecker primarily as the illustrator of  Edward Eager's wildly entertaining 'magic' novels (including Magic or Not, Half Magic, The Time Garden, Magic by the Lake, Knight's Castle and others); he was my most admired illustrator as a child, and had perhaps the greatest influence on me.  I slavishly imitated his distinctive profiles for a few years, at least. 

 His illustrations were whimsical and witty, and matched perfectly the tone of Eager's novels, in which the outlook and opinion of the children is eminently reasonable and the folly of the adults is revealed with gentle mockery and is easily overcome.   Detailed and yet highly stylized, his ink drawings reflect this outlook, in their depiction of the children as the most 'realistic' characters;  the adults are less proportionate caricatures, generally...

He would have been a perfect illustrator for Roald Dahl!  His work still appears within the Edward Eager books, which are still in print, happily.  However, the covers have been 'updated'- the editions now available bear Quentin Blake's drawings on the covers (reason #1 why I do not like Quentin Blake!) Here are a couple of the original N.M. Bodecker covers:


 Compare this to one of the Blake covers:


(this is not one of the individual covers; rather it is a cover for a box set.) Enough to give you the idea.  I'll not belabour the point.  

N.M. Bodecker  won two Christopher Awards for poetry, in 1974 and 1976. Two of his volumes of 'nonsense' poetry were entitled ''Let's Marry Said the Cherry'' and ''A Person From Britain Whose Head Was the Shape of a Mitten.'' He died in 1988.  

Sunday, April 4, 2010

New blog inaugural post or, How I have long been both particular and enthusiastic when it comes to pictures in books

     Welcome to my new blog!  I plan for this to be a blog about the loose, general subject of pictures in (and on) books; pictures about which I am particularly enthusiastic. Although I'm starting in the past, I won't stay there; although I'm starting with children's books, I probably won't stay there either.  

  Because I'm trying to keep this first entry reasonably concise, this is just a quick introduction to myself and a few of the things that stand out in my memory when I think back to the books that I liked as a child.  Like most people, I was once a child.  And like most children, I looked at picture books long before I learned to read.  I spent as much time drawing (or attempting to!) as I spent looking at books, which was quite a lot.  I do not claim to have had refined taste from the very beginning. The book that was my first favorite was "Jim Jump", by Betty Ren Wright:
Not coincidentally, horses were the first subjects that I drew obsessively.  By the time I was finished with "Jim Jump", I was not only a competent reader, but could draw a decent long-legged pony, too.

     The importance of pictures did not diminish once I was able to read; in fact, quite the opposite.  I was willing to read almost anything in the library, but borrowed first (and borrowed again and again) according to the quality of the illustrations.
William Pene Du Bois was, and remains, a favorite among favorites at the picture book stage (and beyond!)(I will elaborate on him later; a blog post on him is in the works!):

Even as I was proud to advance to reading what I referred to as 'thick books', I was disappointed that the number of illustrations diminished in inverse proportion  to the impressive-to-me number of pages in the book.  
 My passion for drawing continued, and often reflected the tendencies of my favorite illustrators.  I loved Garth  Williams'  soft, black charcoal-y drawings for the "Little House" books:               

and his ink drawings for "Charlotte's Web" and "Stuart Little":

 Another of my most beloved illustrators was Louis Darling, who illustrated many books by Beverly Cleary.  His ink drawings were hilarious and expressive:

I loved everything about these drawings: the haircuts, the slouching socks, interestingly textured clothing and slightly slovenly, ill-tempered kids.  More than I liked the stories, it turns out- when Alan Tiegreen replaced Louis Darling in "Ramona and her Father",  I was horrified. I grudgingly read the book (but only once!).  When the next 'Ramona' book appeared with drawings once again by Alan Tiegreen, I looked once at the pictures and did not take it out of the library.  And so ended my relationship with Ms. Beverly Cleary.  It was the first such disappointing betrayal I had experienced.

I liked a particular edition of Pippi Longstocking only for her pictures (alas, I can't find an image from this particular illustrator!), but never finished one of her books.  The forced over-the-top hyperactive nature of the stories (or at least it seemed so to me at the time, I have to admit to having not given her a shot since!) irked me somewhat.  

I generally found the drawings in the older editions of Nancy Drew preferable to the more recent ones, liked (but did not love) Joseph Schindelman's illustrations for 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' and 'Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator' (his people were strangely over-shaded and stunted, I thought, and I was very very picky indeed about how people above all were depicted), and found the drawings in the Betsy-Tacy books (ill. Vera Neville) thoroughly weird yet somehow compelling:
But I am saving the best, the reigning king of the black-and-white illustrators of this junior-novel phase of my childhood, for my next post.

Please stay tuned! Upcoming posts include:
 The Magic of N.M. Bodecker

 William Pene du Bois is like unto a god
 Why I do not like Quentin Blake
and more!  Actual titles of upcoming blog posts may vary.