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)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Tea for Two (and a Tea Rex!)

(Used with permission by Wild Ginger Photography)

Books and tea somehow belong together, don’t you think? Author C.S. Lewis (born in Ireland and schooled at Oxford), undoubtedly grew up with tea time as a daily ritual. He spoke for many of us when he said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

My daughter and I love discovering local (California) tearooms together.  Two of our favorites are The Four Seasons Tea Room in Sierra Madre and The Tea House on Los Rios in San Juan Capistrano.

As a child, I certainly wished Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia would never end. I also vividly recall wanting to join Lucy Pevensie and Mr. Tumnus for a sip or two of tea, when the kind Fawn invited her for tea and toast in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

But I never imagined myself having tea with a dinosaur...

Have you seen this adorable new picture book about teatime with a Mr. Tea Rex? It's written and illustrated by the talented Molly Idle.

Some tea parties are for grown-ups.
Some are for girls.
But this tea party is for a very special guest.
And it is important to follow some rules . . .
like providing comfortable chairs,
and good conversation,
and yummy food.
But sometimes that is not enough for special guests,
especially when their manners are more Cretaceous than gracious . . .

One thing I really like about this book is that it would appeal to both boys and girls, who - while being distracted by the hilarious artwork - might not realize that they are actually learning a little bit about the etiquette and manners of teatime.

In the midst of a table set with dainty tea cups, the dinosaur creates quite a bit of havoc!
The book trailer is so much fun...a great read aloud for ages 4 and up!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Goodnight Moon! (and Happy Birthday to Claude Debussy...)

We didn't see a cow jumping over Tuesday night's  "Blue" Moon , but nonetheless we could not stop gazing up at it during our impromptu dinner outside by our pool!

It got me thinking about some of my favorite literary full moons...

Best Literary Moons:
Poetry: The Song of the Jellicles, T.S. Elliot
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod (Dutch Lullaby), Eugene Field
A Full Moon is Rising (collection of poems), Marilyn Singer

Picture Books:
Goodnight Moon, and Wait Til the Moon is Full, Margaret Wise Brown
White is the Moon, Valerie Greeley
Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me, Eric Carle
I'll See You When the Moon is Full, Jim and Susi Gregg Fowler
Owl Moon, Jane Yolen

The Moon Book, Gail Gibbons

Do you have any favorites to add?  I hope you got to enjoy the full moon too - the next Blue Moon isn't set to occur until 2015.

By the way, did you see today's Google Doodle, commemorating the birth of Claude Debussy, composer of the beautiful Clair de Lune ("Moonlight" in French)?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

New-Found Appreciation for Randolph Caldecott

I am delighting in a recent book purchase: Caldecott & Co., by Maurice Sendak (a Caldecott Medal winner himself in 1970).  The book, consisting of essays written about several authors and illustrators that Sendak admired, as well as autobiographical essays and interviews by Sendak, is an opinionated, yet thoughtful, observation of some of The Best of what is out there for children.

To be completely honest, I've sometimes wondered if the "Caldecott Medal" was a bit over-hyped - I mean, really, can you judge art?  But in reading Mr. Sendak's chapter about Randolph Caldecott, I've gained a new appreciation for Caldecott himself and a better understanding of the importance of the standard set by this "Father of the Modern Picture Book" and how that standard should be upheld and lauded in the world of children's picture books.

From The Diverting History of John GilpinShowing how he went farther than he
intended, and came home safe again. (1878)
(The illustration on the Caldecott Medal is taken from this book)
Sendak gives a wonderful explanation about what Randolph Caldecott brought to children's books in his opening paragraph about him:

Caldecott's work heralds the beginning of the modern picture book.  He devised an ingenious juxtaposition of picture and word, a counterpoint that never happened before.  Words are left out -- but the picture says it.  Pictures are left out -- but the word says it.  In short, it is the invention of the picture book.

Mr. Sendak goes on to describe in detail the talent and humor of Caldecott's books, something I had really not given full attention to in my own observations of his work!  He sites Caldecott's "rhythmic syncopation of words and images", saying "the characters leap across the page..." and revealing "Caldecott is an illustrator, he is a songwriter, he is a choreographer, he is a stage manager, he is a decorator, he is a theatre person: he's superb, simply."

One of my favorite Caldecott works is one that I've featured before, here: The Milkmaid.  Be sure and notice all that is going on in his amazing illustrations. Below are some more favorite Nursery rhymes...

Cover Art - go here to see all the book's illustrations
Hey Diddle Diddle and Baby Bunting (which Maurice Sendak describes in delightful detail!)
Go here for all the illustrations on Project Gutenberg.

"And the dish ran away with the spoon..." from Hey Diddle Diddle
Cover illustration for Randolph Caldecott's Sing a Song of Sixpence (1880) ,  public domain.
Thank you, Mr. Caldecott the sense of movement, humor, and vitality you brought to children's books!

In the United States, receiving the Randolph Caldecott Medal is the highest honor an artist can achieve for children’s book illustration. Established in 1937, this medal is given to the artist who has created the most distinguished picture book of the previous year. It accompanies the prestigious Newbery Medal which is awarded for the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year. 

The Randolph Caldecott Medal is awarded by the American Library Association and was named in honor of the nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph J. Caldecott. Caldecott’s illustrations for children were unique to their time in both their humor and in their ability to create a sense of movement, vitality, and action that complemented the stories they accompanied. 

The Randolph Caldecott Medal itself captures that vitality. Rene’ Paul Chambellan designed the medal in 1937, inspired by one of Caldecott’s illustrations for “The Diverting Story of John Gilpin,” showing John Gilpin astride a runaway horse, scattering squawking geese, chased by yelping dogs, and waved at by startled onlookers. Significantly, the recipient of the Randolph Caldecott Medal is memorialized on the reverse of the medal with engraved name and date of award.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Angels Flight and Lost Victorian Mansions - All in Downtown L.A.

I never knew Los Angeles had a funicular until my recent visit (see yesterday's post about L.A.'s fabulous "Last Bookstore").  Observing this little cable railway known as "Angels Flight" - practically engulfed by the surrounding skyscrapers - I was reminded of Virginia Lee Burton's nostalgic books The Little House and Maybelle the Cable Car.  Both books deal with city growth and urban development.

We started at the lower entrance to the Angel's Flight funicular on Hill Street.

And just like Maybelle, Angels Flight has a story of its own...In 1901 a funicular railway was built to carry passengers down from hilltop homes to the burgeoning downtown area. The funicular ran between Hill St. and Olive Street, a distance of some 300 feet. The railway was dubbed Angels Flight (no apostrophe) and was billed as the world’s shortest railway with a fare of five cents each way. 

It operated uninterrupted until 1969 when it was dismantled and the cars put into storage. In 1996 the railway was rebuilt a block away using the same cars and much of the original structure. However in its new life it serves more as a tourist attractions than a functional part of the City.

Looking up toward California Plaza
Inside the funicular, beginning our ascent.
At the top - anyone going down?

Arriving at the little railway station at the top of the track in an area called "California Plaza", we paid our 50 cents and asked the kind man in the ticket booth, "What used to be here at the top of the hill before the modern skyscrapers, museums, condominiums, and hotels that we see now?"

The little station/ticket booth/information center at the top
of the incline, where you arrive at what is now California Plaza

He told us, "This is part of an area known as Bunker Hill.  By the late 1890's it had become a very wealthy and prestigious neighborhood, full of Victorian homes and luxurious hotels.  People loved the view...

But after World War I, with increasing urban development, wealthy families began relocating to areas like Pasadena. Bunker Hill became pretty seedy, especially after the Great Depression. Many of the old homes were subdivided to accommodate renters...

From Virginia Lee Burton's The Little House

After World War II, the freeways pushed even more people out, finally causing the downtown area to become empty of residents...

During redevelopment in the 1950's and '60's, the abandoned houses were eventually torn down or moved to other neighborhoods."

He finished his little history lesson by saying, "Go home and google 'Bunker Hill Victorian homes' on the internet so you can see how it once looked."

So I did.  And I was sad that at least some of the original areas of Bunker Hill couldn't have somehow been saved in the redevelopment!  All that's left is the funicular.  Look at what's been lost...
Bradbury Mansion, 1890 (Hill Street)
Bunker Hill 1900
And gained...
Bunker Hill today

Interesting side note:  In the 1940's and '50's, Los Angeles - especially Bunker Hill - became the perfect backdrop for Film Noir movies.  This intriguing photo montage video,  from the website American Film Noir, gives you a tour of how Bunker Hill looked back then.  Go here to see vintage photos of Angels Flight from Film Noir.

There is a blog post, "The Lost Victorian Mansions of Downtown LA" with lots of images of the Bunker Hill neighborhood before it was demolished in the late 1950's and '60's -  here.

This website has an amazing progression of photos of the original site of Angels Flight, beginning with how the street looked in 1898 and ending in 2003!

Does your city have any hidden (or lost) treasures?  Get out and explore - on foot, or from your computer!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Welcome to The Last Bookstore (and more) in Los Angeles!

My friend and I planned an outing to downtown Los Angeles yesterday.  Our main goal was to visit "The Last Bookstore" on the corner of 5th and Spring Streets.  What a find!

We decided to take the train to avoid all the traffic and parking challenges.  And it was so much fun to arrive at Historic Union Station.  It feels like you've just stepped out of a time machine.

The Last Bookstore was a pretty long walk from the train station, so we hopped on the Metro and got off at Pershing Square.  We quickly found the bookshop,  just a couple of blocks away, and squealed with delight at the first thing we saw upon entering:  a checkout counter constructed of old books!

The cavernous inside of building, which originally housed a bank, is quite grand - complete with columns and gorgeous painted high ceilings. We explored the main floor a little bit on our way to the back staircase. I'd read that the upper mezzanine level is literally a labyrinth of used books, with many priced at just $1.00!   This is what greeted us going up the stairway...

There were crazy paper sculptures and artwork everywhere, but the best part of the whole place was a tunnel made of books, leading to the rooms with all the $1.00 books!  We found thousands of books, organized loosely into sections - but not alphabetically by author - so be ready for a search. In some areas we had to navigate around boxes of books (the owner buys books from local non-profit organizations who've had them donated). 

Meandering our way past the shelves and shelves of books, we found a fun area full of hardbacks organized by color. I bought several children's books, including  Dogger, by Shirley Hughes, as well as a book - Film Music, A Neglected Art: "The History and techniques of a new art form, from silent films to the present day" - for my son who has a degree in film animation.  He's going to love it!

My treasure find was a hardback copy of Caldecott & Co. (1988), by Maurice Sendak.  I got if for just $6.00 in the lower level of the store. The book is an anthology of Sendak's essays on writing and illustrating for children. The ''Caldecott'' of the title is the Victorian illustrator Randolph Caldecott, one of Sendak's great heroes.  He also highlights Beatrix Potter, Walt Disney, Maxfield Parrish, George MacDonald, Jean de Brunhoff, and Mother Goose (to name a few).

Our next stop was Grand Central Market for a quick lunch.  Right around the corner was a building I'd been wanting to see ever since watching the movie "The Artist".  I loved the stairway scene, and I was so pleased to discover that it was shot on location in a building in Los Angeles: The Bradbury Building.  It was pretty plain looking on the outside, but walking in the door, I gasped and smiled at the same time as the lobby opened up before me into a space that I wished I could enter everyday!
Why can't we design places like this anymore???  Think how happy people would be to walk into a workplace such as this every morning, as opposed to the stale, municipal structures of today!  Seeing old buildings makes me SO nostalgic for the past (more on that in my next post).

My friend had never been to the Los Angeles Public Library, so we walked there next.  If you saw my blog post from two years ago, you'll remember that I had a fun jaunt there with my daughter and her friend (who happens to be the daughter of my fellow sight-seer on this trip!)
The outside of the Los Angeles Public Library is surrounded
by an iron gate full of book quotes.
This is the breathtaking ceiling in the rotunda where the children's library is located.
We had one more interesting historic place to see before heading home.  More about that in my next post...

Friday, August 9, 2013

Finding Those Old Childhood Favorites...

Do you love rare vintage and collectible children's books?
photo source - OldChildrensBooks.com
If you're looking for a favorite children's book that is out of print,  I've got some great resources for you:
OLD CHILDRENS BOOKS.COM - An online source, they stock more than 10,000 scarce, collectible and out-of-print books, for readers, teachers and collectors. 
A second excellent resource is LOGANBERRY BOOKS - you can search for a book from your childhood that you might not even remember the title of! 
You can also do an "Advanced Search" through ABE BOOKS.
Describing a Book:
-Basic Information:
    The latest possible year of publication, i. e. before (date).
    Your estimate as to the range of possible publication dates.
    Picture book or children's novel
    Source: Library? School? An older family book?
- Anything at all you remember about the book:
    Phrases or refrains,
    Bits of plot.
-Illustrations: the quickest way to ID, the hardest quality to describe.
    Separate plates or in text?
    Other illustrators the pictures call to mind?
Choose your search words carefully:
Unusual words really help: wallaby works better than bear as a search word.
Names which could be spelled in various ways are hard to search; Peatie Peety Petey Peetie Peaty
Words which could be hyphenated or not also take time, especially with older books which may follow different conventions: dog house, dog-house, doghouse
Avoid abbreviations, they could be spelled out or not: Dr/Doctor. Mr./Mister Co./Company  Inc./
Avoid possessives, although sometimes it doesn't matter.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

I've Got Harry Potter's Back! (...Back Cover Art, That Is)

From the original first edition cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

The seventh (and final) paperback editions of the Harry Potter series will be released by Scholastic on August 27, 2013. Illustrated by New York Times bestselling author and illustrator, Kazu Kibuishi, they are being printed in celebration of September's 15th anniversary of the first U.S. publication of J.K. Rowling's first book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. (Mary GrandPré's original art will continue to be featured on the hardcover and digest paperback editions of the books.)

From the 7th edition cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

How well do you know the Harry Potter books? - take this quiz.

There is lots of excitement about Kubuishi's new book covers.  If you haven't already seen them, you can view them in detail here.

Lately, even the back covers are getting press (they're great, in my opinion - I love the use of  the visual perspective and how it focuses attention on the significance of the memorable quotes to the plot of each book).

What do you think of the artwork for the final paperback editions of HP?
For a new generation of HP readers - Are you a parent on the fence about letting your child read Harry Potter?  Stay tuned...