Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘Enchanted Lion’

19 DECEMBER, 2014

Take Away the A: An Unusual Illustrated Alphabet Book about How We Make Meaning

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A playful celebration of the magic of language.

As a lover of unusual alphabet books, I was gladdened by this year’s crop of particularly wonderful additions, including Maira Kalman’s imaginative design history primer, Ah-Ha to Zig-Zag and Oliver Jeffers’s magnificent short stories for the letters, Once Upon an Alphabet. Joining them is Take Away the A: An Alphabeast of a Book! (public library) by writer Michaël Escoffier and illustrator Kris Di Giacomo — an irreverent exploration not only of the letters and their alphabetic order, but also of how they come together to form words and convey ideas. Each letter of the alphabet is removed from one word to produce another as the two are depicted in a humorous semi-sensical vignette of confused meanings. A weary pig and chicken hitchhike on the side of the road because without its M, their farm has suddenly gotten too far; a family of snails find themselves bewildered at the dinner table as their aunt loses her U and becomes an ant; a terrified chicken realizes that without the X, the two foxes staring it down become foes. What emerges is a playful celebration of language not as a dry, mathematical exercise in letter-organization but as a living organism, in which letters make meaning through a vast mesh of metaphorical associations driven by the imagination — the very faculty that is the hallmark of children’s minds.

Throughout the story, there is also a subtle, wistful lament about our relationship to animals, its only protagonists. A monkey sits atop a cash register, collecting change, because without his K, he makes money selling bananas; but monkeys — as well as their primate relatives, chimps — have a long and heartbreaking history of being abused as money-makers in the hands of humans, from circuses to labs to the illegal pet trade. Having lost their O, a party of four — a duck, a zebra, an antelope, and a wolf — are fur-clad at tea time; the cruel price of fur garments, of course, is always animal lives.

In another vignette, the polar bears lose their E and find themselves at the zoo, behind bars, as a human father and child ogle them while enjoying their ice cream, sold to them by a displaced penguin.

But rather than embitter the story, these subtleties only enrich and elevate it by offering possible topics of education and conversation so understated as to offer parents the choice of whether or not to gently broach these darker issues with the child-reader. What remains at the forefront is the irreverent sweetness of the story, full of fable-like characters — there is the wolf, and the fox, and the ant, and the mouse — who behave in delightfully unfablelike ways.

A touch of continuity tickles the masterful pattern-recognition machine that is the human mind at any age. I was especially charmed by the ample and imaginative cameos of the orange octopus, always cheeky, and the little white mouse, a perennial cautious bystander and occasional bold partaker in the quirky alphabetic adventures.

Take Away the A, which is sheer delight in its totality, comes from Brooklyn-based independent publisher Enchanted Lion, maker of such timelessly rewarding treasures as The Lion and the Bird, The River, Little Boy Brown, Mister Horizontal & Miss Vertical, The Jacket, and Wednesday, and a strong presence among the year’s best children’s books.

Illustrations courtesy of Enchanted Lion; photographs my own

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12 NOVEMBER, 2014

The Jacket: A Sweet Illustrated Meta-Story about How We Fall in Love With Books

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A gentle reminder that to be somebody’s favorite thing in the world requires a certain quality of thingness.

“A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another,” Rebecca Solnit wrote in her sublime meditation on reading. But how that transplant happens is a matter wholly subjective and deeply mysterious. In the unusual, wonderful, and magically meta picture-book The Jacket (public library | IndieBound), writer Kirsten Hall and illustrator Dasha Tolstikova explore the beauty and terror of falling in love with a book from the perspective of the book itself.

It is also a story about the aching disconnect between merit and confidence, and the way in which love both transforms us and brings us closer to ourselves.

“Book was a book that had just about everything,” the story begins. “He was solid and strong. His words were smart and playful. The problem was, Book didn’t feel special.”

True though it may be that “there’s a difference between wanting to be looked at and wanting to be seen,” Book does want to be noticed — so that he can be truly seen as a child disappears into his pages and falls in love with his story.

And then, one day, it happens. A little girl walks into the bookstore and falls in love with Book.

Book fit perfectly into the girl’s hands.

She took him everywhere, and Book thought he must be the girl’s favorite thing in the whole wide world?

Who doesn’t long to be someone’s favorite thing in the whole wide world?

But Book soon discovers that he must compete for the girl’s affections with her other beloved earthly companion — her dog, Egg Cream.

Book could see why the girl adored her dog.

He was wild and funny, furry and sweet.

He scratched at the door.

He rolled around on the floor.

He did neat things with sticks and balls.

He was warm and cozy. And he loved the girl.

For Book, though, Dog was a big problem.

A big, clumsy problem with scary teeth and a huge slippery tongue. He was messy and wet, and he licked and drooled.

No, Book didn’t like Dog one bit.

Then, sure enough, as Book is enjoying a quiet picnic with the girl “one perfectly lovely afternoon,” Dog-begotten disaster strikes. Suddenly, mud splatters from all sides and smothers him. Distraught that he has ruined Book, the girl screams at Egg Cream.

That night, her mother helps clean Book up, but the girl is “too sad and gloomy” to read.

As Book watches her sleep, he sinks into wistfulness as he contemplates no longer being her perfect book.

But when the girl opens her eyes in the morning, “something had changed.”

She has a plan.

With quiet excitement and optimism, she sits down at her desk with some art supplies as Egg Cream and Book wonder what she’s working on.

And then, the reveal: a colorful handmade jacket for Book, which she wraps around him as she beams a smile.

The book’s final spread features delightful hand-drawn instructions for how to make your very own book jacket.

Underpinning the sweet story is also a gentle clarion call for holding onto the intangible joys and tactile rewards of old-fashioned spine-and-paper books — an ebook, after all, can’t return the embrace of a handmade jacket, nor can it really be someone’s “favorite thing in the whole wide world” when its very thingness is so woefully nebulous.

Maira Kalman, wise as always, put it best: “When you hold a (real) book in your hands, the molecules in your body rejoice.”

The Jacket comes from Brooklyn-based Enchanted Lion Books, by far the most intelligent and imaginative picture-book publisher today, whose remarkable roster includes such treasures as The Lion and the Bird, The River, Little Boy Brown, Mister Horizontal & Miss Vertical, Wednesday, and Advice to Little Girls.

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20 OCTOBER, 2014

Mister Horizontal & Miss Vertical: A Minimalist Picture-Book about How We Become Who We Are

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A brilliant conceptual graphic story about how we get our stripes of character and identity.

It is said that “who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love.” But it depends perhaps even more on who loved each other before they came to love us — parenting shapes not only our psychological constitution, from our capacity for fertile solitude to our relationship with achievement, but perhaps most palpably our physical. Genetics bestows its blessings and curses upon us with more uncompromising despotism than any of the other cards we’re dealt in life.

How parents shape our own becoming is the premise, explored with remarkable subtlety and ingenuity, behind Mister Horizontal & Miss Vertical (public library) by French writer Noémie Révah and Italian illustrator Olimpia Zagnoli — a conceptual, minimalist, maximally delightful graphic book that calls to mind Norton Juster’s vintage classic The Dot and the Line in its geometric metaphors for temperament, yet is completely original in both substance and style.

It is also a beautiful celebration of art and science — the idea was inspired by French poet and photographer René Maltête’s iconic image of a boardwalk-strolling family’s visual metaphor for genetics:

We meet Mister Horizontal, who “loves everything that glides” and “a warm soak in a big bathtub” and “walking in the desert, with sand as far as the eye can see.”

We meet Miss Vertical, who loves “looping through the air” and “is crazy about rockets” and “can often be found on staircases.”

Zagnoli — who also illustrated a recent exquisite edition of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz — uses flat primary colors to bring bewitching dimension to Révah’s words.

After listing all of Mister Horizontal and Miss Vertical’s varied likes, the final pages ask:

Now what do you think…

…their child would love?

On a subtler level, the book is also a reminder that we are the combinatorial product not only of our parents but of what William Gibson so memorably called our “personal micro-culture” — that we become who we are in large part based on whom we surround ourselves with.

Mister Horizontal & Miss Vertical is an immeasurable delight to have and to hold. It comes from the wonderful Brooklyn-based indie picture-book publisher Enchanted Lion Books, an unending source of treasures like the immeasurably tender The Lion and the Bird, the lyrical Fox’s Garden, the vintage gem Little Boy Brown, Mark Twain’s Advice to Little Girls, and the imaginative geometric allegory Wednesday.

For a very different perspective on the metaphorical geometry of parenting, see Andrew Solomon on “horizontal” vs. “vertical” identity.

Illustrations courtesy of Olimpia Zagnoli / Enchanted Lion Books; photographs my own

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.