Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘children’s books’

03 OCTOBER, 2013

Alone in the Forest: Exploring Fear & Courage in Stunning Illustrations Based on Indian Folk Art

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Exquisite visual storytelling that speaks both to our crippling fear of the unfamiliar and our ability to transcend it, emerging enriched by the experience.

For nearly two decades, Indian independent publisher Tara Books has been giving voice to marginalized art and literature through a commune of artists, writers, and designers collaborating on beautiful books based on Indian folk art traditions, including some extraordinary handmade gems that made it into my recent collaboration with the New York Public Library. Now comes Alone in the Forest (public library), illustrated by the celebrated Gond tribal artist Bhajju Shyam. It tells the tale of Musa, a young Indian boy, and his frightening foray into the dark forest to fetch firewood after his mother falls sick. Somewhere between Lemony Snicket’s The Dark and Tara’s magnificent The Night Life of Trees — in which Shyam’s expressive illustrations also appear — this exquisite piece of storytelling speaks both to our crippling fear of the unfamiliar and our ability to transcend it and emerge somehow enriched by that experience.

The Gonds of central India, among whom Shyam came of age, are a community of exceptionally visual people with a heritage of forest-dwellers. Though their art tradition originates from the decorative patterns painted on the mud floors and walls of their homes — a medium widely used across rural India and also employed by the Warli and Meena tribes — it has blossomed over the centuries into a visual language of extraordinary richness and storytelling capacity.

Complement Alone in the Forest with more of Tara’s treasures, including their two crown jewels, The Night Life of Trees and Waterlife, their homage to cats, and my personal favorite, the ever-empowering Drawing from the City.

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26 SEPTEMBER, 2013

T.S. Eliot Reads “The Naming of Cats,” 1947

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“A cat must have three different names.”

Unlike other famous authors who, unbeknownst to many, also wrote for kids — including Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, James Joyce, Sylvia Plath, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Anne Sexton, Toni Morrison, and John Updike — the children’s verses T.S. Eliot (September 26, 1888–January 4, 1965) penned in the early 1930s in a series of letters to his godchildren went on to become a cultural classic. Published in 1939 as Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the collection inspired the Broadway musical Cats in 1981 and was famously illustrated by the great Edward Gorey the following year.

In this recording from 1947, remastered in 1992 and found in T.S. Eliot reads T.S. Eliot, the author himself reads the utterly delightful first poem of the collection, “The Naming of Cats,” which brings to mind its modern-day prose counterpart, Lost Cat.

THE NAMING OF CATS

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey –
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter –
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover –
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

This particular cat is named Lucy. But she herself knows, though would never confess, that it's short for Lucifer.

T.S. Eliot reads T.S. Eliot is an absolute treat in its entirety. Complement it with Edward Gorey’s fantastic illustrations of Eliot’s beloved verses and Eliot on idea-incubation.

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25 SEPTEMBER, 2013

The Hole Book: Politically Incorrect, Charmingly Illustrated Verses from 1908

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When kids with firearms were still a source of humor, not horror.

Norwegian artist Øyvind Torseter recently brought us The Hole — an exquisitely illustrated existential meditation, incorporating a die-cut hole running through the entire book. It turns out, however, that this wasn’t the first instance of a cover-to-cover hole employed as a storytelling device. More than a century earlier, in 1908, American artist Peter Newell, known for his humorous drawings and poems for such esteemed publications as Harper’s Bazaar, Scribner’s Magazine, and The Saturday Evening Post, published The Hole Book (public library; public domain) — the story of little Tom Potts who, while playing with a gun he didn’t know was loaded, shoots an unstoppable bullet that punches holes of humorous havoc through various scenes until it finally comes to rest in an unrelenting cake. (What tragicomic commentary on an era that was both unconcerned with gun control and untainted by the grief of armed kids producing outcomes far more devastating than devastated cakes.)

Full of Newell’s topsy-turvy illustrations and charming verses, the book is an absolute delight for children and irreverent grown-ups alike.

The Hole Book was preceded by Newell’s 1893 debut as a children’s author and illustrator, the equally wonderful Topsys and Turvys, which he penned when he was only thirty-one.

Thanks, Graham

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