Thursday, April 25, 2013

Guest Post: The Man in the Manhole and the Fix-it Men

A guest post today brought to you by VKBMKLs fan, Ben English. One of Margaret Wise Brown's earliest books (written under her pen name Juniper Sage) and illustrated by artist and former Clown College dean William Ballantine, I've never been lucky enough to score one for myself, so I'm happy to let Ben take the lead. Thanks, Ben, for taking the time to share this wonderful find with us. Welcome him!

Juniper Sage ~ Bill Ballantine ~ William R. Scott, Inc. and E.M. Hale and Company, 1946

The stamp on the inside of this book says ‘Glenside School Library, Muskegon Michigan’, so I guess my grandfather must have swiped it while he was either the band director or administrator there back in the day. Or, more likely, it was a discard and was picked up in a book sale. The first possibility sounds better.

Regardless, I've had this book for as long as I can remember and have always loved the pictures and simple text. Picture books about occupations have their own special place in the history of children’s literature, and this one, while not especially informative, is easily one of my favorites.

Fix it, fix it, where are the Fix-it Men?
Down in the ground in a dark manhole,
Or up in the air on a telephone pole.
Fix it, fix it, here come the Fix-it Men.

That’s the first paragraph and it pretty much sums up the whole story. In wonderful mid-century style, the illustrations depict a variety of ‘fix-it’ men, including a telephone repair man, a wrecking truck man, a steam roller man, a carpenter man, and, of course, a Boss Man.

There’s something I've always been drawn to about the way that picture books depict the big city and the various workers that make it run. Boiling down the complexity of a real city into a simple form and portraying everyone as pretty much content to do their job seems like a perfect sentiment to be found in a 1940s picture book. I can get behind that simplification and the optimism it presents, naive as it may be.

As I said, I have always loved this book, but my appreciation for the simplicity of the designs and the charming approach to the subject matter has increased in recent years. (I wasn't even aware that $65 is about the cheapest price around for a used one these days). I’ll be hanging on to my heavily worn copy to share with my son in a year or two. Track it down through your local library’s Interlibrary Loan program, if you can!

Also by:
Wheel on the Chimney


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Monday, April 15, 2013

The Cat Who Wore a Pot on Her Head

Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler ~ Richard E. Martin ~ Follett, 1967

One of my son's all time favorite children's books is the unforgettable The Hungry Thing. If you're familiar with that book and its sequel The Hungry Thing Returns, then you won't think my family crazy when we excuse ourselves to go to the "mathboom". The combo of Slepian, Seidler and Martin produced a handful of books during the 60s and 70s, including this one, but sifting through entries online, I only found one historical reference to Jan and Ann, but nothing on Richard. (I wonder if he and Charles E. Martin were related?) Anyone who knows anything, feel free to chime in.

Published first in hardcover under the main character's first name, Bendemolena, the story is of a wee little cat who loves the quiet.

There once was a cat named Bendemolena. She lived in a house on Cat Street, where cats and kittens lived all together. Brothers and sisters, cousins and friends were in and out and all about. What a noisy place it was! One day when Bendemolena was playing, she found a shiny pot. She put it on her head. Suddenly all the noise was gone.

She liked that quiet so much, she decided to go about her day with the pot over her ears. Ah yes. Peace and quiet can be a good thing, but a soundless life soon leads to misunderstanding.

When mother cat wants Bendemolena to tell her siblings its "time to put the fish on to bake" words are misconstrued as "put soap in the cake." "Fix my chair" turns into "ask in a bear." "Make something to drink." "Put a horse in the sink."

You get the idea! (Sort of has the same premise as another of my son's all time faves, Seven Uncles Come To Dinner.) Good, silly, awesome fun as words get misheard and hilarity ensues. Fab!

Also by:
The Hungry Thing


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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Great-Grandfather in the Honey Tree

Great-Grandfather in the Honey Tree
Sam and Zoa Swayne ~ Viking, 1949

I know nothing about this book except that I bought it at a book sale and read it to my son shortly thereafter, and he's asked to read it again every night since. Which is pretty impressive considering the book was written in 1949 and includes language like "Thee lay off thine incessant chopping tomorrow and go hunting" and "I know thee needs a new hominy barrel".

I originally picked up the book because the cover was so bright and bold, but probably never would have read to my son had it not just happened to have been the closest book available that night. His passion for it now is great, and when you search the title online, with the price it fetches, I imagine it has other fans as well.

The dust jacket says the author's grandfather used to tell him a load of tale tales, this one included. At some point, family members convinced him to get this story, in particularly, on paper with his wife doing the illustrations and the rest is history. The jacket also calls it "a story that's as American as apple pie" and says that "families will chuckle over it round the evening fire". Seriously? Got bless an era where the marketing copy includes the fact that it can be enjoying "while round the evening fire."

That said, the theme is not for the faint of heart or the vegan animal lover. The story follows a man and his wife, and an episode where one night she complains that they have not eaten meat in three days. So bright and early the next day, the man sets out with a horse, a stoneboat (which is basically a plank of wood that gets pulled behind the horse), a net and a gun with only one bullet. The odds of him catching much are slim... at least until he nets a flock of geese, falls into a honey tree, slaughters a bear just by shoving it, snares a fish with his shirt and a partridge with his button, fells a dear with a tree and a mess of wild turkeys with that aforementioned one bullet.

A veritable Rube Goldberg of slaughter, when he returns with his haul in tow, his wife squeals with delight then gets to work...

She cooled the partridge for their Sunday dinner. She dried the deer meat and smoked the bear's hams. She salted down the fish and preserved all the turkeys and wild geese, half cooked, in bear grease. She made feather dusters from the turkeys' tails. She made feather beds out of the goose feathers so that years afterward all her nine children slept on feather beds.

Whew. That's even exhausting to read, but a delight to share despite the animal body count. Not sure what draws you in, but this book has something that translates even to a seven-year-old boy of today.

Simple magic.


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Peter Workman

My thoughts and prayers are with the family and colleagues of my old boss Peter Workman tonight. He was a stand up guy and a publishing genius who always did what he thought was right, always loved what he did, and always always always championed the backlist. He was tough but fair and has a sixth sense for knowing what worked and what didn't. In a world where more and more things are owned by fewer and fewer companies, he was an independent publisher in every sense of the word.

The book world lost a prince today. The real genuine article.

Damn. The industry just got a whole lot less awesome.

Peter Workman
October 19,1938 - April 7, 2013

Friday, April 5, 2013

Guest Post: The Wizard of Oz

Another guest post I've been lax in putting up is this little gem from favorite blogger and novelist (shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in the mystery category, no less), Ariel S. Winter. He is always a joy to get an e-mail from and if you haven't read this, this or this, get to it!!! 

That said, have you guys seen Oz yet? We'll get there eventually, though I have to admit I've become CGI weary of late. Still, it has James Franco in it, so no matter. If you have a hankering for a bit of the Emerald City and don't want to do it in 3D, you can always turn back to the books. I never read the full novel when I was a girl, but I did have this edition, and I read it to pieces over and over again. So I was delighted to see these pictures again after so long. Welcome Ariel the Awesome, finder of wonderful things!

The Wizard of OZ
L. Frank Baum ~ Tom Sinnickson ~ Wonder Books, 1951

I've had this Wonder Books edition of The Wizard of Oz sitting on my desk for a year with plans to scan it. With the release of the movie Oz recently, I thought it was time to finally get it up online. I can't provide my usual level of scholarly detail, largely because not a whole lot of information popped up on illustrator Tom Sinnickson in my very basic searches.

He seems to have illustrated about ten juveniles, seven of which were for Wonder Books, and four of those were Raggedy Ann and Andy stories. I'm Learning to Share has a post with some of Sinnickson's magazine illustrations. The April 27, 1952 issue of The New York Times mentioned Sinnickson's The Wonder Book of Trains in a children's roundup that included two books illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, one of which was by Charlotte Zolotow, and the classic Little Golden Book The Seven Little Postman.

Of The Wonder Book of Trains, the Times said "it's not very original but it should reach a younger audience of train-fans than do most train books." It's hard to reconcile that dearth of information with these illustrations, which are so stunning, and in some instances strikingly original for a work that had already been visualized many times over by 1951, that I couldn't help breaking my self-imposed (as a Little Golden Books collector) rule to not pick up any Wonder Books. It makes me wonder why he didn't illustrate more fantastical children's books. Anyone with more info should chime in.

For Oz, the great and powerful, enjoy. I posted the whole book here.


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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Guest Post: Harquin: The Fox who went down to the Valley

Many I'm-so-sorries for my absence, but we've been in full-blown home renovation for the last month or so and it takes my almost-full attention to keep the part of the house that is in upheaval from spilling out all over the rest of our little world. (Not to mention, it's Thingummery's birthday this week, and I just had to steal her away from her family to take her out for beer and a picture show!) 

I know you all love things of old, so check out the adorable wallpaper we uncovered behind the walls in our kitchen. My house was built in 1937, so I imagine this is the original wallpaper, and surprisingly, once you pull away the sheet-rock, it seems our entire house is made of cedar. Who knew? 

Anyway, I'm just here to announce a few guest posts I've been hoarding in my inbox. 

First, the lovely reader from Ireland Lucy Mitchell returns with this post of a John Burningham fave.

John Burningham ~ Jonathan Cape, 1967

This isn't out of print, thankfully, but it does have a different cover now. The copy pictured here, owned by my parents-in-law, is a 1967 edition. It’s a beauty. Each lush and wonderful illustration is better than the last and the peaceful, knowing expressions on the fox’s face are just perfect.

Harquin is the only one of his siblings who ignores his father's sensible advice not to venture down to the valley below his home. Like Peter Rabbit before him, no warning is frightening enough. 

You will be shot and eaten! You will be torn apart by dogs!

Nope, he has the optimism of youth. He is bored with playing on top of the hill. So he explores the valley, smells the flowers, steals the chickens, and is, inevitably, seen by a gamekeeper. As his father warned him, the people in the valley hadn't known there were foxes in the area, and never hunted there, but once Harquin was spotted that all changed. Not long after, the hunt is out in force. 

As luck would have it, they are no match for Harquin, who cunningly (he was a fox, after all) leads them astray, and, after a nail biting chase, leaves the local toffs stranded, wet, and hatless, blaming everyone but themselves. And peace is returned to the top of the hill.

At the end of the story, we discover that Harquin has cubs of his own now, one of whom is bored with playing on top of the hill. He wants to go down to the valley. (Of course.)

The typography and title page (isn't it beautiful!?!) of this edition is designed by Jan Pienkowski (fabulous!) and, listed under other publications by Burningham are the earlier titles; Borka, Trubloff, Humbert, Cannonball Simp and ABC. Also tantalizingly mentioned are The John Burningham wall friezes – Birdland, Storyland and Lionland, but sadly, I have yet to find them on sale anywhere.

Also by:
Cannonball Simp
The Snow
gackern bähen
John Patrick Norman McHennessy - the boy who was always late


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