Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘children’s books’

08 APRIL, 2013

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Made More Wonderful by Graphic Artist Michael Sieben

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“Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable.”

As a lover of beautifully illustrated children’s books, especially fresh takes on works by literary legends, I was thrilled to come across a brand new edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (public library), L. Frank Baum’s indispensable addition to the best children’s books with timeless philosophy for grown-ups, featuring gorgeous illustrations by skateboard graphic artist Michael Sieben, co-owner and head deck designer of Roger Skateboards.

Sieben’s singular style — at once grotesque and charming, eerie and endearing, a refreshingly odd cross between Edward Gorey, anime, and Lynd Ward’s vintage woodcuts — comes through once again here as it did in his 2009 fine art monograph, There’s Nothing Wrong With You (Hopefully).

Thanks, Anique; images courtesy Michael Sieben

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04 APRIL, 2013

The Bed Book: Sylvia Plath’s Vintage Poems for Kids, Illustrated by Quentin Blake

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“Most Beds are Beds for sleeping and resting, but the best Beds are much more interesting!”

In 1959, Sylvia Plath — celebrated poet, little-known artist, lover of the world, repressed “addict of experience”, steamy romancer — penned a lovely children’s story about the perils of self-consciousness. But it turns out it wasn’t her only: In 1976, Faber published The Bed Book (public library) — a series of fanciful poems about different kinds of beds, written for Plath’s own children, sprinkled with fantasy and escapism. The original British edition, of which I was fortunate to track down a copy, was illustrated by the celebrated and prolific children’s book artist Quentin Blake, best-known for illustrating Roald Dahl’s stories as well as the first Dr. Seuss book not illustrated by Seuss himself.

Alas, the American edition, published in 1989 by HarperCollins, did away with the Blake illustrations — but used copies of the British one can still be found online or borrowed at some libraries.

Complement The Bed Book with other lesser-known children’s books by literary titans, including William Faulkner, James Joyce, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, Mary Shelley, Leo Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley, Gertrude Stein, James Thurber, Carl Sandburg, Salman Rushdie, Ian Fleming, and Langston Hughes.

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03 APRIL, 2013

Advice to Little Girls: Young Mark Twain’s Little-Known, Lovely 1865 Children’s Book

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“Good little girls always show marked deference for the aged. You ought never to ‘sass’ old people unless they ‘sass’ you first.”

In the summer of 2011, I chanced upon a lovely Italian edition of a little-known, playful short story young Mark Twain had written in 1865 at age of 30, with Victorian-scrapbook-inspired artwork by celebrated Russian-born children’s book illustrator Vladimir Radunsky, mischievously encouraging girls to think independently rather than blindly obey rules and social mores. I was instantly in love. So I approached my friend Claudia Zoe Bedrick of Brooklyn’s Enchanted Lion Books, whom I’d befriended through her beautiful books and with whom I’d already begun collaborating on another side project, to see if she’d be willing to take a leap of faith and help bring this gem to life in America. It took a bit of convincing, but we eventually joined forces, pooled our lunch money to pay Vladimir his advance, and found a printer capable of reflecting the mesmerism of the Twain/Radunsky story in the book’s physicality — rich colors, crisp text, thick beautiful paper with a red fabric spine.

I’m enormously delighted to announce that Advice to Little Girls (public library) is officially out this week — a true labor of love nearly two years in the making. (You might recall a sneak peek from my TED Bookstore selections earlier this year.) Grab a copy, enjoy, and share!

While frolicsome in tone and full of wink, the story — like the most timeless of children’s books — is colored with subtle hues of grown-up philosophy on the human condition, exploring all the deft ways in which we creatively rationalize our wrongdoing and reconcile the good and evil we each embody.

Good little girls ought not to make mouths at their teachers for every trifling offense. This retaliation should only be resorted to under peculiarly aggravated circumstances.

If you have nothing but a rag-doll stuffed with sawdust, while one of your more fortunate little playmates has a costly China one, you should treat her with a show of kindness nevertheless. And you ought not to attempt to make a forcible swap with her unless your conscience would justify you in it, and you know you are able to do it.

One can’t help but wonder whether this particular bit may have in part inspired the irreverent 1964 anthology Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls and its mischievous advice on brother-sister relations:

If at any time you find it necessary to correct your brother, do not correct him with mud — never, on any account, throw mud at him, because it will spoil his clothes. It is better to scald him a little, for then you obtain desirable results. You secure his immediate attention to the lessons you are inculcating, and at the same time your hot water will have a tendency to move impurities from his person, and possibly the skin, in spots.

If your mother tells you to do a thing, it is wrong to reply that you won’t. It is better and more becoming to intimate that you will do as she bids you, and then afterward act quietly in the matter according to the dictates of your best judgment.

Good little girls always show marked deference for the aged. You ought never to ‘sass’ old people unless they ‘sass’ you first.

There are no words to describe how much Advice to Little Girls makes my heart sing — let’s make a choir.

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