Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Bohemian Artist, and the Oldest American Picture Book Still In Print

Wanda Hazel Gág {source}
Wanda Hazel Gág - pronounced "Gog" (1893–1946) was an American artist, author, translator and illustrator.  She is most noted for writing and illustrating the children's book, Millions of Cats, which won a 1928 Newbery Honor award - a rarity for a picture book. It is the oldest American picture book still in print!

I decided to do some research about this author/illustrator after I bought her charming Snippy and Snappy book (1931) for 50 cents at a library bookstore in Indiana when I was visiting my mom.

Just like in Millions of Cats, all the illustrations (except for the cover art) are black and white, with the hand drawn text often rolling across the page, woven in and out of the artwork...

"Snippy and Snappy were two little field-mice.
Snippy was Snappy's sister.
Snappy was Snippy's brother.
They lived with their father and mother in 
a cozy nook in a hay field"

One day Snippy and Snappy wander away from home while playing with their mother's yarn ball. 

While they are sleeping in the woods, a hand reaches down and snatches their ball of yarn.  So ...

Their journey takes them to a large house full of mysterious things, including cupboards full of wonderful-smelling cheese.

Just as Snappy begins to nibble at a piece of cheese in a mousetrap, their father jumps down to rescue them and lead them safely back home.

At the time Wanda Gág began writing children's stories, there was a movement among educators against fairy tales. They said realistic literature was more worthwhile than fairy tales for children.   Wanda Gág disagreed, saying,"I know I should feel bitterly cheated if, as a child, I had been deprived of all fairy lore..."
She translated and published Tales from Grimm in 1936. 

Two years later she translated and illustrated Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as a reaction against the "trivialized, sterilized, and sentimentalized" Disney film version.

You can read and see all of Wanda Gág's illustrations for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs here on Project Gutenberg.  (Do her illustrations remind anyone else of Virginia Lee Burton's artwork?)

To read about Wanda Gág's life, go here, to the website of the Wanda Gág House - her childhood home in New Ulm, Minnesota that is now a museum and interpretive center.


  1. I love Millions of Cats! And her artwork does remind me of Virginia Lee Burton's work - I was just thinking that when I read your comment. :)

    I'm going to have to look up her fairy tale translations - I'm opposed to the sterilized, disneyfied versions too!


    PS My DH is a passionate IU alum. Scary thing was, I knew the IU fight song to sing, on demand, for my children. One smart child asked me to sing the fight song of my alma mater, but I couldn't. Sad day, that.

    1. Haha! That's a great story. :)

      If you go to Project Gutenberg, you'll see that Gag's version of SW&theSD is very "Grimm" indeed. I have to say, reading it now as a grandma, I think I might leave out the part about the Queen cooking and eating what she thought was Snow White's heart! But then again, it shows how evil the Queen really is. And this version is much more suspenseful, since the Queen has to try three times to get rid of Snow White.

  2. I love Millions of Cats as well. I've seen another book of hers or two, but not the ones you've pictured here. Very coo!

    1. I hadn't seen them either - and Snippy and Snappy is so adorable. Another Wanda Gag favorite that I didn't highlight is The ABC Bunny - so vintage and cute!