Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘children’s books’

12 FEBRUARY, 2014

The Little Prince as a Pop-Up Book

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“One should never listen to the flowers…”

“The Little Prince will shine upon children with a sidewise gleam,” a 1943 review of the beloved classic proclaimed. “It will strike them in some place that is not the mind and glow there until the time comes for them to comprehend it.” And so it did, shining its sidewise gleam on generations of children and ageless spirits alike.

Given my soul-anchored affection for Saint-Exupéry’s gem — especially after glimpsing its remarkable creative journey — and my soft spot for pop-up books, imagine my delight at discovering The Little Prince Deluxe Pop-Up Book (public library), which reimagines Saint-Exupéry’s already beautiful and enchanting story in magical paper engineering.

The Little Prince Deluxe Pop-Up Book is an absolute treat. Complement it with Alice in Wonderland as a pop-up book.

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11 FEBRUARY, 2014

Lemony Snicket and Lisa Brown’s Charming Illustrated Allegory about Curiosity, the Imagination, and the Subjectivity of Observation

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What children’s imaginations reveal about our relationship with reality.

Few children’s book writers today could compare in humor, sensitivity, and sheer creative irreverence to Lemony Snicket, the young-readers pen name of grown-up author Daniel Handler, under which he has penned such magnificent creative collaborations as 13 Words, illustrated by the great Maira Kalman, “Who Could That Be at This Hour?,” illustrated by celebrated cartoonist Seth, and The Dark, one of the best picture books of 2013, illustrated by Jon Klassen. Now comes 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy (public library | IndieBound), illustrated by the inimitable Lisa Brown — a project all the more charming for the heartening fact that Handler and Brown are married and a living echelon of a romantic relationship that’s also a creative collaboration.

It tells the story of a little girl, a little boy, and their little dog, who grow intensely fascinated with the mysterious Swinster Pharmacy of the neighboring town and begin pondering what it might sell. Beneath it is a lovely allegory about the capacity of children’s imaginations to see enigmatic wonder in even the simplest things and find multiple meanings in the most mundane.

First, the small party journeys to the next town to investigate in person, surreptitiously observing the white-coated employees and even following one of them home one night, to his house right across the pharmacy.

Rumors around town say there are four secrets about the Swinster Pharmacy, but no one knows what any of them are.

Everything is cause for suspicion: The fruit bowl on the Pharmacy counter contains grapes that aren’t cut in half; strangers walk by casually, “just snacking or whispering or something,” and stop when they pass the Pharmacy; a news story about arson in the town pans the street on which the Pharmacy resides; they measure the building and it turns out to be a perfect square; “something about the door is electric.” All very, very suspicious.

The threesome decide to sneak behind the trees across the street from the Swinster Pharmacy and quietly scope out the comings and goings of the pharmacy’s customers. Again, very suspicious activity ensues:

A woman went in once and came out fifteen minutes later wearing the exact same outfit.

The pharmacy begins to haunt the children’s dreams:

In all of our dreams, the Pharmacy squats in the middle of the block like something blue and hungry. In the morning it is on the corner.

And still the mystery of what the Pharmacy sells endures.

What makes 29 Myths on the Swinster Pharmacy most enchanting is that, whether intentionally or not, it serves as a cautionary parable for the subjective ways in which we decide what is true and what is real — a reminder that without the essential tools of critical thinking, we warp the art of observation into a subjective filter that colors our perception of the world to paint it as what we want it to be rather than what it is.

Illustrations courtesy of McSweeney’s

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06 FEBRUARY, 2014

David Hockney Illustrates the Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm

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The beauty of ugly and the whimsy of negative space.

As a lover of fairy tales — especially little-known gems like those E.E. Cummings wrote for his only daughter or beloved classics illustrated by creative legends like Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, and Alice and Martin Provensen — I was delighted to discover Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm with illustrations by David Hockney (public library), in which the celebrated contemporary artist and pop art icon adds to history’s finest visual takes on the Grimm tales. This tiny treasure, originally published in 1970 by the British Royal Academy of Arts and reissued in 2012, features Hockney’s weird and wonderful drawings for The Little Sea Hare, Fundevogel, Rapunzel, The Boy Who Left Home to Learn Fear, Old Rinkrank, and Rumpelstilzchen.

What makes Hockney’s visual interpretation especially enchanting is that while traditional fairy tale images tend to rely on beauty and color to create magic and contrast the beautiful and the ugly to distinguish between good and evil, even the princesses in his black-and-white illustrations are unassuming, ugly even; where ornate, detailed imagery would ordinarily fill the traditional visual vignette, Hockney’s ample use of negative space invites the imagination to roam freely. Perhaps above all, his haunting, scary, architectural illustrations serve as a testament to J.R.R. Tolkien’s assertion that, even if they might appeal to the young, fairy tales are not written “for children.”

Here are a few favorite etchings.

'The Princess in her tower' (The Little Sea Hare)

'The boy hidden in an egg' (The Little Sea Hare)

'The boy hidden in a fish' (The Little Sea Hare)

'The Princess searching' (The Little Sea Hare)

'The cook' (Fundevogel)

'The older Rapunzel' (Rapunzel)

'The tower had one window' (Rapunzel)

'Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair' (Rapunzel)

'A black cat leaping' (The Boy Who Left Home to Learn Fear)

'Inside the castle' (The Boy Who Left Home to Learn Fear)

'Pleading for the child' (Rumpelstilzchen)

'Riding around on a cooking spoon' (Rumpelstilzchen)

'He tore himself in two' (Rumpelstilzchen)

Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm with illustrations by David Hockney is an absolutely wonderful little tome, doubly so for the gorgeous fabric-bound red cover and the elegant, minimalist black-white-and-red typesetting of the story text. Pair it with the best illustrations from 130 years of Brothers Grimm fairy tales and how Hans Christian Andersen changed storytelling.

For more famous artists’ illustrations for literary classics, see Matisse’s 1935 etchings for Ulysses, Milton Glaser’s art for Lord Byron’s “Don Juan,” Picasso’s drawings for a naughty ancient Greek comedy, William Blake’s paintings for Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Salvador Dalí’s prolific illustrations for Don Quixote in 1946, the essays of Montaigne in 1947, Alice in Wonderland in 1969, and Romeo & Juliet in 1975.

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