Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘children’s books’

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 delicious vintage 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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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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