Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘children’s books’

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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24 SEPTEMBER, 2013

If Dogs Run Free: Bob Dylan’s 1970 Classic, Adapted by Illustrator Scott Campbell

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“If dogs run free, then why not we / Across the swooping plain?”

As a lover of canine-centric literature and art, an aficionado of lesser-known children’s books by luminaries of grown-up culture — including gems by Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, James Joyce, Sylvia Plath, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Anne Sexton, T. S. Eliot, and John Updike — and a previous admirer of Bob Dylan’s music adapted in picturebook form, I was thrilled for the release of If Dogs Run Free (public library) — an utterly delightful adaptation of the beloved 1970 Dylan song from the album New Morning by celebrated illustrator Scott Campbell.

Pair If Dogs Run Free with this visual rendition of “Forever Young,” then complement with dog-doting children’s books by John Lithgow and Jane Goodall.

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16 SEPTEMBER, 2013

The Hole: An Existential Meditation in Simple Scandinavian Illustrations and Die-Cut Magic

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“Hello, I’ve discovered a hole in my apartment… It moves… If you could come take a look… Bring it down, you say? What? Hello?!”

Brooklyn-based independent publisher Enchanted Lion Books has given us countless gems, including my labor-of-love pet project, young Mark Twain’s Advice to Little Girls. Now comes The Hole (public library) by artist Øyvind Torseter, one of Norway’s most celebrated illustrators and the talent behind the lovely My Father’s Arms Are a Boat — the story of a lovable protagonist who wakes up one day and discovers a mysterious hole in his apartment, which moves and seems to have a mind of its own. Befuddled, he looks for its origin — in vain. He packs it in a box and takes it to a lab, but still no explanation.

With Torseter’s minimalist yet visually eloquent pen-and-digital line drawings, vaguely reminiscent of Sir Quentin Blake and Tomi Ungerer yet decidedly distinctive, the story is at once simple and profound, amusing and philosophical, the sort of quiet meditation that gently, playfully tickles us into existential inquiry.

What makes the book especially magical is that a die-cut hole runs from the wonderfully gritty cardboard cover through every page and all the way out through the back cover — an especial delight for those of us who swoon over masterpieces of die-cut whimsy. In every page, the hole is masterfully incorporated into the visual narrative, adding an element of tactile delight that only an analog book can afford. The screen thus does it little justice, as these digital images feature a mere magenta-rimmed circle where the die-cut hole actually appears, but I’ve tried to capture its charm in a few photographs accompanying the page illustrations.

Complement The Hole with Enchanted Lion’s equally heartening Little Bird and Bear Despair, then revisit Torseter’s My Father’s Arms Are a Boat.

Page images courtesy of Enchanted Lion Books; photographs by Maria Popova

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