Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Child's Garden of Verses

by Robert Louis Stevenson with an introduction by William Rose Benét and illustrations by Roger Duvoisin/ published 1944 by The Heritage Press

The book opens with a wonderful introduction (by one of Marjorie Flack's men) on the life of RLS, beginning with the tale of how he was a frail child from birth. The nurse who took care of him throughout his childhood is the person he chose to dedicate this book to in its first edition ~ published in 1885 under a different title. The intro goes on to read that later in life RLS was described as a "hot-blooded, romantic young man, attractive to the opposite sex" with a mother complex. Gotta love that in a guy. The dedication to the nurse in full follows...

To Alison Cunningham
From Her Boy

For the long nights you lay awake
And watched for my unworthy sake:
For your most comfortable hand
That led me through the uneven land:
For all the story-books you read:
For all the pains you comforted:

For all you pitied, all you bore,
In sad and happy days of yore: --
My second Mother, my first Wife,
The angel of my infant life --
from the sick child, now well and old,
Take, nurse, the little book you hold!

And grant it, Heaven, that all who read
May find as dear a nurse at need,
and every child who lists my rhyme,
In bright, fireside, nursery clime,
May hear it in as kind a voice
As made my childish days rejoice.

You were probably reared under a rock if you didn't have at least one version of this book in your youth, as there have to be dozens if not hundreds. The poems within its pages are so touching and dear, that as a grownup, they stir up tons of emotion for me. Check out the final poem... just awesome really.

To Any Reader
As from the house your mother sees
You playing around the garden trees,
So you may see, if you will look
Through the windows of this book,
Another child, far, far away,
And in another garden, play.
But do not think you can at all,
By knocking on the window, call
That child to hear you. He intent
Is all on his play-business bent.
He does not hear; he will not look,
Nor yet be lured out of this book.
For, long ago, the truth to say,
He has grown up and gone away,
And it is but a child of air
That lingers in the garden there.

I have to think that for anyone who writes a children's book (or any book for that matter)... this is the poetry of heart they must all be hoping to achieve.

Also by:
A Child's Garden of Verses - Ruhman edition
A Child's Garden of Verses - Wildsmith edition
The Rain Puddle
Veronica and the Birthday Present
Petuna, Beware!
White Snow Bright Snow
Petunia's Christmas
The Old Bullfrog

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Great Big Happy Book

The Great Big Happy Book
by Caroline and Judith Horowitz with pictures by Margery Deckinger/ published 1947 by Hart Publishing Co

Even though this belonged to my mother, it featured pretty prominently in my own childhood. This was the sort of book that I loved when I was wee. One that is filled with a hundred different stories and adventures and games and fun and puzzles.... just one great big book of happy! I love the author's dedication in the front... "To all the wonderful little kids we know".

The publishers put an introduction in the beginning that promises worlds of educational value in the pages that follow, and it's filled with gems like these:

"This will be a valuable experience in his development, and you will find that he will be able to talk freely in a manner which will sometimes amaze you."

"These particular games will keep your children happily busy without any supervision on your part."

"The Acting Songs & Poems listed on page 7 are particularly suited for recitation."

This drawing is from the story Timi and the Elephant which I remember with particular fondness. The elephant has a house on his back for goodness sake. How cool is that!?! 126 pages of awesome that end with the funniest thing ever... The Silly Sally Song.

I see with my ears,
I hear with my nose,
I walk on my hands,
And wiggle my toes!
I fiddle a faddle;
And then, in between
I diddle a daddle --
If you know what I mean!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Four Stories That Never Grow Old

illustrated by Fern Bisel Peat/ published 1931 by Harter Publishing Co.

This book opens with the famous tale of Little Black Sambo about the boy who loses all his lovely things to a pack of ferocious tigers, but due to the tigers' vanity and greed, he ends up getting them back again. And getting pancakes for his trouble to boot.

So he put on all his fine clothes
and went for a walk in the Jungle.
By and by he met a Tiger.
The Tiger said to him, "Little Black Sambo,
I'm gonna eat you up!"
And Little Black Sambo said,
"O please, Mr. Tiger, don't eat me up,
and I'll give you my beautiful little red coat.
So the Tiger got
poor Little Black Sambo's
beautiful little red coat
and went away saying,
"Now I'm the grandest Tiger
in the Jungle."

Followed by The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Hansel and Gretel and Cinderella, I can imagine a time when books like these were all kids really saw of the rest of the world and how mysterious the stories must have seemed. A part of me would love to chop this one up and frame the lot, but the thought of separating these wonderful drawings from one another is heartbreaking.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Sing Mother Goose

music by Opal Wheeler with illustrations by Marjorie Torrey/ published 1945 by E.P. Dutton & Co.

With less than two weeks to go at my mom's house, I am panicked that I'm not gonna get the best books catalogued in time. ACK! So in the coming days I'll be reaching back and hitting the remainder of the really old ones belonging to my mom and her late sister. (My childhood books are for the most part headed back to San Antonio with me, so we'll have all the time in the world.)

Inscribed in scrawl with my aunt's name and her childhood address (as well as ancient crayon scribbling throughout) this book couldn't be more lovely. As the title says, it is a compendium of Mother Goose rhymes all set to music, and the drawings are superb. This picture in particular goes with Ride A Cock Horse.

Ride a cock horse
To Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady
Upon a white horse.
Rings on her fingers
And bells on her toes,
And she shall have music
Wherever she goes.

All the classics are covered from Baa Baa Black Sheep and There was a Crooked Man to Old King Cole and ~ my personal favorite ~ Bobby Shaftoe. I wish I had the time to scan the whole dang book as all the drawings are lavish and breathtaking. Even my little snap shot here doesn't do them justice. I imagine it will be pretty expensive to track down these real oldies, but here's hoping at least some of you have mother's attics of your own to ransack.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Paper Zoo

A Paper Zoo
selected by Renée Karol Weiss with pictures by Ellen Raskin/ published 1968 by Macmillan Publishing Co.

Always one to love the animal books, my son has attached himself to this read. Bought at a local library sale here in the great state of Virginia, I am so all about new places and the places to find books in those new places. Let's call them "virgin locations" that haven't yet been plundered by treasure seekers like me. Love it!

I have recently been feeling like I don't have enough poetry in my life anymore, so finding this tome couldn't have been better timed. Subtitled: a Collection of Animal Poems by Modern American Poets, it is a well-selected mix that covers all the heros... e.e. cummings ~ T.S. Eliot ~ Robert Frost ~ Wallace Stevens ~ William Carlos Williams. Such a great introduction for kids to some of the masters. One fave... a quirky ode to The Sloth by Theodore Roethke.

In moving-slow he has no Peer,
You ask him something in his Ear;
He thinks about it for a Year;

And, then, before he says a Word
There, upside down (unlike a Bird),
He will assume that you have Heard --

A most Ex-as-per-at-ing Lug.
But should you call his manner Smug,
He'll sign and give his Branch a Hug;

Then off again to Sleep he goes,
Still swaying gently by his Toes,
And you just know he knows he knows.

I love the modern design of the drawings ~ all swirly three-tone in orange, lime green and white. Very groovy.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Wonders of the Seasons

The Wonders of the Seasons
by Bertha Morris Parker with pictures by Eloise Wilkin/ published 1966 by Golden Press

Will the treasures never cease? Yet another Big Golden Book and this one by one of my all time faves. Ms. Wilkin is pretty much IT in my book when it comes to illustrators of my childhood. Unlike important classics where the book or the story is what sticks in your mind, with Ms. Wilkin it is her illustrating style in general that is so miraculous. The perfect faces on the children and how they are always close to nature no matter what the situation... be it helping daddy take care of the lawn, going to kindergarten for the first time, or here, discovering the wonder of the seasons.

Spring is a time
for baby animals.
Baby birds hatch out
in their nests in the trees.
Lambs and colts and bunnies
frolic about.
Polliwogs swim in the ponds.
Caterpillars are busy
eating and eating
the new green leaves.

I am all about frolicking and polliwogs.... I especially love the end papers on this one... Little vignettes. A Spring Morning. A Summer Evening. A Fall Afternoon. A Winter Night. Nothing less than precious. (Too bad they don't have a page for Roasting Your Ass Off. It might help me explain the current weather situation to the little guy.)

Also by:
We Like Kindergarten
Wonders of Nature

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Do you know what I'm going to do next Saturday?

Helen Palmer ~ photographs by Lynn Fayman
Random House, 1963

Ah, Virginia and its blessed antique malls. In keeping with the photo kids' book theme of yesterday.... I've been searching out a copy of this little ditty, and I scored one for $2.50 just down the street from my mom's house. (I won't even mention the pristine 60s Fisher Price Little People Farm I nabbed for $6.) Like Ms. Seuss' other books, it features often hilarious photographs by Lynn Fayman.

It is easy to see why there's a small controversy swirling around this book, as it's not often that you find a children's title with a full quarter of its text featuring the US Marines ~ where the main character little boy sports a selection of handguns and rifles on various pages. If you can step outside your modern day PC momma mindset, I have to imagine that a generation ago, little boys would have loved reading a book where one of their own gets to don a machine gun. (I've been hestitant myself to linger too long on those pages as I'm loathe to purchase so much as a water gun for my son. Irony at this point is still slightly beyond his grasp.)

But for those who love camp and all things old school, you'll find this title a must-have for the serious kids' book collector. Plus, the story is pretty crazy and fun. You see, there's this cocky little boy who is bragging to his buddy....

Do you know what I'm going to do next Saturday? Well sir....... let me tell you! I'm going to do some things no one ever did before. First of all, I'm going to eat a big, big breakfast. Next Saturday is going to be a big, big day. Next Saturday... wow! I'm going to do some tricks no one ever saw before. I'm going to dive some dives no one ever dived before. yes, sir! That is the kind of thing I'm going to do next Saturday.

Yes, from a kinder and gentler era... looking back longingly on that time when grownups were allowed to smoke in books for kids under 15. Those were the days.

Also by:
I Was Kissed By a Seal at the Zoo
Why I Built the Boogle House


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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Very Young Dancer

A Very Young Dancer
by Jill Krementz
Alfred A. Knopf, 1977

Originally my sister's book, A Very Young Dancer was pivotal in her wanting to be a ballerina (and doing as such until she hurt her leg while on toe when she was around 12). I have to say, this book had a lot to do with me wanting to be a performer. That said, this one is slated a little older than I usually read for, but I figure any child who is the least bit interested in dance will be as enthralled as my sisters and I were by this enchanting tale.

More of a photo essay then anything, the story follows a real life little girl who attends ballet lessons at Lincoln Center and is cast as the lead in the NYC Ballet production of The Nutcracker. Really, there are so many reasons why this book is awesome, that it is hard to communicate just how much it touched me when I was young and impressionable. It was almost an obsession. Its pages so familiar, looking back now, they almost seem my own memories rather than the tale of a girl I've never met.

I love ballet. I've been taking lessons since I was six. I'm ten now. My sister Andrea, who is twelve, started when she was eight. We both go to The School of American Ballet. She's taking toe this year and she lets me try on her slippers. Next year I'll take toe for five minutes at the end of each class. Andrea says it makes you feel big but that's just the beginning. After a while it just hurts. You get blisters and bunions. Her feet are a mess. You should see them.

In spite of the horrible feet and inevitable nicotine addiction all dancers face, it is hard to be a little woman and not read this book in awe. From the girl's smart attire attending lessons to the anxiety of the auditions to the roses on closing night ~ all photographed intimately and lovingly ~ she is, quite literally, living the dream, and it is hard not to get swept up. She's one "where are they now" that I would die to know.

NOTE: Jill Krementz. Who knew she is Kurt Vonnegut's widow? AWESOME.

Also by:
A Very Young Circus Flyer

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Tall Book of Nursery Tales

The Tall Book of Nursery Tales
pictures by Feodor Rojankovsky/ published 1955 by Harper & Brothers

These original Tall Books fetch a pretty penny, so I was psyched to find this one in my old collection. When I'd read about the freakishly collectable and expensive Tall Book of Make Believe illustrated by Garth Williams, I knew the format seemed familiar and I suspected we'd had at least one like it. All the favorites are here... The Three Little Pigs, The Gingerbread Boy, Little Red Riding Hood... and some not-so-familiar... The Three Bid Sillies, The Pot That Would Not Stop Boiling and The Straw, the Coal and the Bean. (The pot story was the one that really floated my boat way back when.)

"This is a magic pot, my dear," said the little old woman. "Whenever you are hungry, just say to it, 'Cook little pot, cook!' and you will have sweet porridge. When you have enough, all you need to say is, 'Stop, little pot!' and it will stop."

As you can imagine, the girl's mother cooks up some porridge one day when the girl is away and forgets the proper "stop" command. The next thing you know the town is swimming in the stuff. Awesome!

The tall, skinny format of the book makes it really fun to look at, and as always, Mr. Rojankovsky's pictures are stellar, if not a wee bit strange. His animals are dead on, but his people always looked to me slightly kookie and desperate. Not to be missed if you can come across a copy for cheap.

Also by:
Over in the Meadow
The Golden Bible

Friday, July 18, 2008

Never Talk to Strangers

Never Talk to Strangers
Irma Joyce ~ George Buckett
Golden Press, 1971

Another found in my mother's attic, I'm loving these Big Golden Books. It seems like my sisters and I had a million of them. The memories that this one evokes are really intense. I remember I LOVED IT! My son is pretty crazy about it too, which makes me really happy. My mom is probably gonna be pissed when I load all these titles up en masse and ensconce them into the back of my car, but too bad, too sad, my friend.

If you are hanging from a trapeze
And up sneaks a camel with bony knees,
Remember this rule, if you please --
Never talk to strangers....

But... if your father introduces you
To a roly-poly kangaroo,
Say politely, "How do you do?"
That's not talking to strangers
Because your father knows him.

The rhymes are fun, but the illustrations just rock my world hard. It was re-illustrated in a perfectly wonderful edition, but you know me. I'm all about the old school. Luckily, Random House reissued the original a while back with a different cover, so for now, at least, this charmer's back in print. I still love everything about this book, though the woolly, purple llama has always kinda given me the creeps. Ten thumbs up!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Magic Jewel

by Roderich Thun with illustrations by Edith Kiem/ published 1960 by The Viking Press

Not sure where this book came from (I don't remember it being around when I was little), but it was packed up in the attic with the rest of the oldies. Regardless, the story is one of the sweetest and most exotic I have ever run into with a children's book. Check it. A storm brings a tree down on the train tracks that carry the Orient Express. A boy comes by to inspect the action and meets an Indian princess who shows him her magic box with powers to make all the wild animals your friends.

Right away they made friends with each other, and Peter invited the little princess to play in his garden, which was nearby. There she put her precious case on the ground and carefully took off the cover. Peter was astonished, for inside there shone a great red precious jewel. And, wonder of wonders, from all around them the animals of the forest came running!

When the track is cleared and the little girl is on her way again, it is too late before the boy realizes she has left her magic box behind, kicking off a series of events that lead the little boy himself to India to return the box by hand.

Originally published in Germany, this story is utterly magical and dear. The ink line and smudge chalk drawings are simple but divine... I can't believe this book isn't some underground cult classic or at least still in print. I would have to think Wes Anderson would dig it hard.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Time to Keep

A Time to Keep: The Tasha Tudor Book of Holidays
Tasha Tudor ~ Rand McNally and Company, 1977

One of the first books I bought for my son when he was born, I stumbled across my sister's copy inscribed to her from my dad ~ March 1978 ~ in the guest room at my mom's house. Subtitled The Tasha Tudor Book of Holidays, it is in the top three of my favorites from childhood. My son loves it for the animals, but I was enchanted by the many puppet shows and costumed games and holiday parties that flood the world of Ms. Tudor. As mentioned in a previous post, Ms. Tudor lived (and still lives) the world that she draws... and raised her brood in a house that was frozen in time.

Covering the fun of every month of the year, each section begins with a famous quote and is illustrated with detailed paintings of the festivities.

Midsummer's Eve comes in June. That's when we had a marionette show. There were many, many rehearsals -- marionettes to make -- scenery to paint -- and programs to print and color. The play was at night in the carriage shed. Grandmothers had the very best balcony seats. Refreshments were served at the intermissions and everyone had a wonderful time.

The scene when the little girl's birthday cake floats down the river followed by a sea of candles is just about as magical as it gets. And the Easter tree with the live bunnies caged beneath... forget about it. Reading about these celebrations will get any parent jacked up to celebrate May Day and Midsummer's Eve... even if the handmade May baskets and fully-constructed marionettes are way too much for the contemporary parent to swing. We can dream though, right?

NOTE: Readers just let me know she passed last month. May she rest in peace for sure.

Also by:
A Time to Keep
Pumpkin Moonshine
First Graces
Five Senses
A Tale for Easter

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Funny Bunny

Funny Bunny
Rachel Learnard
pictures by Alice and Martin Provensen
Simon and Schuster, 1950

Culled from the attic that holds the seeds of my youth, Funny Bunny is IT as far as my son is concerned. This oversized Big Golden Book is the new fave at Gee Mee Mee's (Grandma's) house, and I remember being rather fond of it myself back in the day (thus the super-crusty cover). Now that she's home from the hospital, and my son and I are nursing her back to health, I'm sure she's gonna get an earful of it in the days to come. Possible the cutest story ever about a bunny with no tail and following his adventure to find one is a big bowl of fun with a fuzzy, little cotton ball on top.

Long years ago, when the very first bunny came to the forest, he didn't have any tail at all. All the other animals had tails and thought he looked pretty funny without one, so they called him Funny Bunny.

The pictures here are nothing short of awesome, and design wise ~ considering they were sketched some fifty years ago ~ they are pretty cutting edge. They may, in fact, be my favorite children's book animal drawings of all time. Plus, the floral end pages drive me wild! I can't imagine any kid not digging this ditty. Have a look!

Also by:
A Child's Garden of Verses
Roses are Red. Are Violets Blue??
Fireside Book of Folk Songs
The Mother Goose Book
Animal Fair
My Little Hen
Our Friends at Maple Hill Farm


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Monday, July 14, 2008

Our Best Friends

Our Best Friends
by Gyo Fujikawa
Grosset & Dunlap, 1977

Did some rooting in the attic yesterday and found the mother load. This was a present given to me by my father the first Christmas after my parents split. As you can imagine, I coveted it pretty hard.

The super weird thing is, the story completely mirrored what I was feeling at the time. We'd just moved to a new place, my daddy was a thousand miles away, and I felt pretty isolated and alone.

"I love you Smudge," said Mary.
"And I love Doll and Mouse, too.
I love you all forever and ever.
But we are lonely.
We need new friends.
Don't you agree?

Mary does find new friends... in the form of two cute boys, a dog, a bird and a bunny rabbit... every young girl's fantasy, right? I've always dug Fujikawa's drawings -- the round heads of the children and the almost human expressions on the animals.

This page with the house in particular, the scene of perfection with Mary's awesome little play shack out back down the winding dirt path. God, how I wanted to live there. I've been thinking about when to share this one with my son... but you know, there might be a few stories I need to keep just for myself.

Also by:
A Child's Garden of Verses
A Child's Book of Poems
Let's Grow a Garden
Baby Animals
Oh, What a Busy Day!
Come Follow me
Fairy Tales and Fables


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Great Monday Give... Stay Tuned for August

Monday is here again, and I have some disappointing news. Being in Virginia taking care of my ailing mother/ornery grandmother is proving to be too much, so I have to suspend the Great Monday Give until I get home to San Antone sometime in August. Fear not however, I will continue to post daily as the selections from my childhood collection here are endless! I imagine that the Give will be back sometime around the second week of August so stay tuned...

And in the meantime, the winner of the last Great Monday Give for a short while is.... The Bookworm!

Just send an e-mail to with all your mailing details and I'll have my husband send out your copy of the awesome Whistle for Willie ASAP via the slow boat to China. Congrats!

Thanks again for reading guys, and I promise the gems I've uncovered at the old homestead are gonna be phenomenal. Know that these postings are perhaps saving me from losing my mind so thanks for joining me on the ride.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Child's Calendar

Child's Calendar
John Updike, illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkett/ published 1965 by Knopf

Inscribed by Mr. Updike himself to my two sisters, I don't remember this book from growing up, but it must have been hanging around. I found it tucked away on a shelf in my mom's library a few days back and have been entranced by it ever since. 12 simple poems ~ one for every month of the year. All pretty interesting and vivid. Take August for instance...

The sprinkler twirls.
The summer wanes.
The pavement wears
Popsicle stains.

The playground grass
is worn to dust.
The weary swings
Creak, creak with rust.

The trees are bored
With being green.
Some people leave
The local scene

And go to seaside
And take off nearly
all their clothes.

The poems are really great, but I am all about these illustrations. Very evocative of an era... very Ice Storm... very hip without trying ~ smooth without being too cool. A great pick for the English lit buff or someone who loves stark line drawings with a ton of personality.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wiggle and Waggle

Wiggle and Waggle
Ethel M. Rice with illustrations by Albert Kay/ published 1939 by Sam Gabriel Sons & Co.

My son had never seen Wiggle and Waggle until last night at bedtime, and one read-through led to a small tantrum to read it again…and again… and again. Mom says this copy actually belonged to her sister, but that it passed between them on regular rotation all the same. I love the illustrations… the adorable kitten and the dopey-faced pup, but it’s the super sweet storyline that gets me every time.

This is the story of Wiggle, the Cuddley Kitten who was all white and soft and roly-poly, and Waggle, the Pedigree Pup, who was all black and shiny and waggley, and of how they started out to find the nicest place in the world, and really truly found it!

The two do a barnyard poll looking for the most delightful spot in all the universe… But for the curious pup and his kitten friend, ultimately, there’s no place like home.

I’m so psyched to be getting my hands on all these books from my mom’s collection, especially since most of them were her childhood favorites. The only one of her original collection that I have at home is Billions of Quacks… which is AWESOME… but the books from this era are all really bright and touching. The best part is imagining my mom when she was small, snuggling up in her bed and getting an eyeful of all these cute creatures.
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