Brain Pickings

The Animal Fair: Vibrant Vintage Children’s Illustration by Alice and Martin Provensen

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“A little owl looked wise. ‘I think there’s going to be a parade,’ he said.”

As a lover of children’s books, especially vintage ones, I was instantly enthralled by the work of artist-author duo Alice and Martin Provensen, who began their collaboration when they got married in 1944 and went on to produce a wealth of vibrant, textured illustrations wrapped in heart-warming stories of curiosity and kindness. Among their most delightful gems is The Animal Fair (public library), originally published in 1952 and featuring 22 original stories and poems by the Provensens. Along the lively journey to the farmyard, zoo, and forest, we also find humorous semi-useful advice, like “how to sleep through the winter” and “how to recognize a wolf in the forest.”

(It isn’t hard to imagine that Kate Messer’s lovely modern children’s illustrations were inspired by the Provensens’.)

One day a hummingbird sat all by himself on a pole. A sparrow fluttered down and perched beside him. Then a chickadee, a titmouse, a finch, a pippit and other small birds joined them.

‘Is something going to happen?’ asked a wren.

A little owl looked wise. ‘I think there’s going to be a parade,’ he said.

Martin Provensen passed away in 1987. Alice Provensen is 94 years old and continues to illustrate.

Thanks, Jeremiah

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