Monday, November 30, 2009

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas
Story by Russell Hoban with pictures by Lillian Hoban
Parent's Magazine Press, 1971

Hello Christmas! Once again I'll tap the children of the 70s to remember this classic with me. Although I never owned this book as a girl, I doubt there are many 30-somethings out there who don't remember the 1977 television adaptation of the book by Jim Henson and his clan. It's a Christmas classic and one that my son already knows by heart (though sadly without the Kermit the Frog narration that was removed from recent releases due to legal reasons.) It's only since I started collecting that I've come to love the original book created by the much-loved husband and wife team, and understand why this darling tale was chosen as a stand out in the first place. It's amazing how closely in style and story the film does mirror the book, and flipping through the pages now, it's hard to not weep as this "Gift of the Magi" story unfolds.

Emmet Otter's father was dead, and his mother took in washing. There was no electricity out in Frogtown Hollow, and Mrs Otter did her washing with a washboard and a washtub, all by hand. Emmet rowed up and down the river from Turtle Bend to Osprey Point, picking up laundry that Ma's customers left on their boat landings, and delivered it when it was done. Emmet hauled the water and did the chores. He cut the firewood and he stacked it. He went out with the tool chest Pa had left him, and he did odd jobs around the neighborhood. Everyday he went out fishing. So there was always something on the table, and between the two of them Emmet and his mother paid the rent and scraped along somehow.So yeah, things are pretty grim for the pair, but with a few happy songs and a ton of love, the two muddle through. When Christmas comes around, Emmet wants nothing more than to buy his mother a piano and Ma dreams of getting Emmet a guitar with real mother-of-pearl inlays. When they each hear separately of a talent show with a big cash prize in the next town over, they decide to take a chance on winning. Ma hocks Emmet's tool chest to buy a nice dress to wear for her singing debut, and Emmet puts a hole in Ma's washtub so he can join a jug band. However, all does not go well when an act called The Nightmare upstages them both with fancy costumes and electric instruments, and they are left empty handed with no winnings and no way to earn a living.I won't give away the happy ending that comes here, but just know, it's a great story to open up the conversation of poverty with your child and get them talking about what sort of things they can do this holiday to help others. The drawings are so incredibly dear and the sentiment so heartfelt, the book is a must-have addition to your library to help combat the consumerism and excess that plagues the season. In the end, no matter what you have or don't have, it's true love that conquers all. Well, that and a little snake oil faith.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pilgrim Thanksgiving

Hey gang... My Dad is flying in tomorrow so I'll be taking a few days off to be with him and finish loading the store for the holidays. You might find me checking in here and there, but in the meantime, have a very Happy Thanksgiving and enjoy some of these gorgeous Leonard Weisgard illustrations from Pilgrim Thanksgiving by Wilma Pitchford Hays ~ Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1955.

Also by:
The Quiet Noisy Book
Little Chicken
The Little Island
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
The Big Book of Nursery Tales
Treasures to See
Sir Kevin of Devon
The Secret River
Pilgrim Thanksgiving
The Mouse and the Lion
Cynthia and the Unicorn

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dr. Goat

Dr. Goat
Georgiana ~ Charles Clement ~ Whitman, 1950

A very famous and highly collectible book, it first came to my attention in the Loganberry Books "Most Requested" pages. Though I've coveted a copy, the few available online are always way beyond my means. Enter Peter Bondante, Charles Clement's nephew who contacted me and opened up the Dr. Goat flood gates. (Check out my interview with Peter here.) So we begin...

Dr. Goat put on his coat and went out to make some calls.

... D.G. goes out and administers to his animal patients. He gives a walrus a mustard plaster, a bat some red pills and a turtle with a broken leg a skate to ride around on. Well, when D.G. gets sick himself and is confined to bed, all the animals show up to take care of him. In the end, of course, D.G. is healed and gets well enough to go out and take care of his friends again.

A simple tale that obviously struck a cord with alot of former little people as copies of the wee book can go for upwards of $75. According to Peter, the author Georgiana (or Georgie as his Uncle Charlie used to call her) was a close friend and also acted as Charles' book agent. Who knew that a friendship from more than 60 years ago would still be alive so strong today, if nowhere else than the hearts and minds of those who remember Dr. Goat and his helping ways. Above is the original cover of the book, and below are scans of the reprint cover, some pages from the book, and some photographs of the original artwork that still hangs in Peter's home.

Also by:
The Night Before Christmas

Dr. Goat, Charles Clement & the Wonderful Art of Immortality

One of the best parts about running this blog is getting contacted by relatives of children's book authors, so when the nephew of illustrator Charles Clement reached out, I jumped at the chance to learn some of his background. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, his book Dr. Goat is one of the most mentioned titles on this blog. I get e-mails all the time from people citing Dr. Goat and his antics as their favorite childhood book memory. (Just get a look at the Loganberry Books' "most requested book" page for the title.) Though he was not hugely prolific in the world of children’s book illustration, he left an incredible legacy that keeps collectors scrambling for a piece of it more than 60 years later. That said…

Charles Clement was born in New York City in 1921. He studied art there in his 20s, first at the Franklin School of Professional Arts, then Brooklyn College and The New School before spending some time abroad studying ceramics in Aix-en Provence, France and eventually landing at the University of Arizona. It was in the late 40s that he first began illustrating books for children starting with the titles Little Red Hen and Chicken Little in 1946 for Maxton Publishers. He went on to publish Toy Hunt and Busy Bill before illustrating Dally the Firehouse Dog, The Night Before Christmas and Dr. Goat (written by the allusive Georgiana) for Whitman as well as some educational puzzles and maps.

Charles’ nephew, Peter Bondante, spent a great deal of time with his uncle, and as Charles and his wife had no children, they both had a large hand in helping to raise Peter and his sister along with his parents. Here, I ask Peter a few questions about his Uncle Charlie and his art.

How close were you to your uncle?

Charles moved to Tucson, Arizona in 1951 to build a house in the Tucson Mountains. My parents followed two years later. (I was Born in 1950 in New York, so Dr. Goat was always considered "my" book.) We lived with Charlie and my Aunt Louise (my mother’s sister) in their home out in the desert while our house was being built closer to town. Since Charlie and his wife Louise had no children, my sister and I were raised by my mom and dad as well as my uncle and aunt. It was a great childhood - out in the beautiful Sonoran desert, growing up with birds and lizards and bugs. I’m still, at 59, a big believer in conservation of the land, for all critters, big and small.

When did your uncle stop illustrating children’s books?

Charlie's last illustrations for children’s books are The Night Before Christmas, published in 1955. He was too busy doing ceramics and murals to focus entirely on illustrating from then on. The rest of his career consisted of doing public art, ceramics and murals. He did a mural for the Nebraska State Capitol Building in '66 along with several public art installations in Tucson and numerous private and public art installations around the United States. He taught an art course at Kansas State University for several summers and worked with a local artist, Ted DeGrazia on several other art objects around Tucson.

(Some of Charles' ceramic work at Peter's home.)

Tell me about your uncle and the life he lived with his wife?

I believe my uncle met my aunt in 1939 in New York City. They were both involved in the Hudson Craft Guild and met in class. They were married in 1944. Unlike my father, Charlie did not go into the army due to his asthma. My uncle, aunt, mom and dad were all very close before the war, during and after. Both my mom, my aunt and my father where born in Italy, and came through Ellis Island in the late 1920s, with my grandmother and father. It’s ironic that after my dad went into the Air Force, he ended up in a bomber, bombing near the town of Torino, where he was born.

Aunt Louise was an artist as well, working mainly in fabric. The photograph of the two of them together is actually in front of a fabric mural she created. After she passed away in 1976, Uncle Charlie lost a lot of momentum, and he began slowing down in the number of commissions he took on. We all missed her very much. Charlie passed away from complications due to his asthma in Turkey in 1981 while visiting some ruins. My mom and dad passed away in 2000.

Can you tell me how your uncle influenced your life and how you think he would like to be remembered?

Charlie taught me to pursue whatever made me happy. Money was not very important to him, happiness was. I remember once when I was about eight or nine, he spent most of the money he made on an art project on groceries. We loaded it all up in his car and drove into the Indian Reservation here (a rough trip), and distributed it to some of the needy Native American families scattered in the desert.

My uncle and aunt were literally second parents to my sister and me. They constantly kept my sister and me busy, helping with their art projects. The six of us were very close, traveling here and there in Arizona seeing art and nature anywhere they could afford to bring us. I don't know what our life would have been like without Charlie and Louise. They taught us to love life, nature and people. We were always around interesting people and artists from around Tucson. My mom played violin in the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, so music (also one of Charlie's loves) played a big part in our upbringing.

I can honestly say, my childhood was wonderful. I think about my parents, uncle and aunt almost every day. I know Uncle Charlie would like to be remembered as a person who passed on his considerable knowledge of life and art to others, so that they could pursue and continue his love of art and life. He was the most generous man (with his time and knowledge) that I knew. He felt like if things could not be passed to someone else, they were wasted.

End note: Peter now works in commercial landscape design in Tucson and his sister, Chris, teaches medical/biological illustration at Pima Community College. She also teaches a pen and ink course at the Sonoran Desert Museum.

As for Charles Clement, it's no small feat to create something that's remembered by so many so fondly after so many years. Of that, Peter and Chris have a great deal to be proud of.

Thank you Peter for sharing that pride and his memory with us.

(Various covers and original drawings from Charles' books.)

Great Monday Give: Velveteen Rabbit

Now, as this is a holiday edition of the Great Monday Give, I'll be extending the drawing for two weeks instead of the usual one. That said, this week's give is a sweet little vintage paperback of one of my all time favorite children's books, The Velveteen Rabbit, the original edition with pictures by William Nicholson. All you have to do to be entered to win is comment on this post before midnight, December 6th, Sunday. A winner will be selected at random and announced the following day.

As for last week's Great Monday Give of a copy of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, that treasure goes to Genevieve P. Congrats and simply e-mail me your info to webe(at)soon(dot)com. Thanks and have a great one all!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Seven Little Monsters

Seven Little Monsters
Maurice Sendak ~ Harper & Row, 1977

I'm often shocked to find wonderful books by famous authors out-of-print, but seeing as this one is so closely related to a famous book (Where the Wild Things Are) it is even more shocking. Perhaps Sendak himself is keeping it out of print, who knows. All I know is that from a book lover's point of view it makes no sense, as this followup up to what the Wild Things seem to be doing now is wicked and wonderful and worth getting a second look at.

I'd only heard of this title before so it came as a delightful surprise when the boy and I stumbled in off the street into a bookshop to escape the pouring rain and there it was, all wonderful and perfect staring back at me from the shelf. So for this, what is for me, the rainy last day of school before the holidays really begin, please enjoy a little bit of rarely seen Sendak and hope that someone comes to their senses and gets this little bugger back into print.

Also by:
A Very Special House
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present
Moon Jumpers
What Do You Say, Dear?
Pierre: A Cautionary Tale
Some Swell Pup
Let's Be Enemies
Chicken Soup with Rice
Lullabies and Night Songs
Outside Over There
Where the Wild Things Are
The Giant Story
I'll Be You and You Be Me
The Juniper Tree
Open House For Butterflies
Dear Mili
In the Night Kitchen

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Creepy Castle

Creepy Castle
John S. Goodall ~ Atheneum, 1975

Another wonderful half page flip book from John S. Goodall. Mine is a '98 reprint of the original, but it didn't lose any of the WOW power I remember from childhood. Again, our heroes are mice and the action finds them wandering into a strange castle only to be locked in by a mysterious rat. Drawn to pass through spooky room after spooky room, the pair finally escape and get revenge on their red tormentor. The story is told without words on full and half pages that turn to reveal hidden action within. I included a few of the sequences here.

I loved these books when I was little. Their pages offered such excitement and grace. Their delicate English creatures always intriqued me, and I never tired of mulling them over, breathless and excited with each page turn. My son feels the same way, all these years later. How cool is that?

Also by:
The Sleeping Beauty
An Edwardian Christmas

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Boy Who Ate Flowers

The Boy Who Ate Flowers
Nancy Sherman ~ pictures by Nancy Carroll
Platt & Munk, 1960

Had no idea this book was as collectible as it is until I Googled it just now. I tried to find a reasonably priced copy to link to, but no can do. Though mine is without dust jacket, it's still in great condition with the pictures as vibrant and bright as they must have been on first read way back in good 'ole 1960. The story is wild and imaginative, while at the same time speaking to something most kids can relate...

So, there's this boy see, and he refuses to eat his oatmeal so his father insists...

"Your tummy's fine. It's not the heat. Until your oatmeal's eaten right, you'll get it morning, noon and night." At every meal three times a day poor Peter pushed the bowl away.

As you can imagine, the boy grows mighty, mighty hungry and while walking in the garden..One day some lovely flowers caught his eye. "How beautiful," he thought. "They look so nice, they smell so sweet. They must be good enough to eat."

With that he quickly plucked a white Chrysanthemum.....

And so begins the addiction. He loves the blooms so much his parents send away for a French chef named Algernon who's schooled in the culinary wonders of flowers. (Man, I need one of those.)

So Algernon cooked long and late, and Peter ate and ATE and ATE. He loved to have petunia stew with morning glories poached in dew, escalloped hearts of peony and forsythia fricassee.

After Peter has tasted every flower (almost) in the world, he finds his way back to a steaming bowl of oatmeal. Having a four-year-old self-proclaimed vegetarian in the house, I feel the parent's pain. There are only so many white beans your child will eat before the iron options run out. Easy to see why a few generations have fallen in love with these drawings, so if you stumble across a copy as I did, hold it close!
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