Saturday, December 29, 2007

Adam Smith and children's books

No, he didn't write The Little Economy That Could.

Adam Smith's well known and little read masterpiece, The Wealth of Nations, is of a kind with Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species; dense, intensely thought through and rewarding of close reading even these centuries later. Though for turgidness and digression, I am afraid that Smith leads the race.

Fortunately, one of our best humorists, commentators and essayists, P.J. O'Rourke, has made the journey through the jungles of Smith's works (P.J. O'Rourke On The Wealth of Nations) and returned to report to us and serve as an ambassador of Smith's thinking in prose that is more comprehensible and definitely more entertaining.

Smith was writing at the time of, and as one of the principal lights of, the Scottish Enlightenment, that incredible flowering of thinkers and doers in Scotland in the latter part of the 18th century.

It is easily forgotten that Smith was a moral philosopher in the widest sense and that he just happened, in his reasoning on moral philosophy, to set the study of economics on a modern foundation. As widely admired (though little read) as The Wealth of Nations might be, even less read is it's predecessor volume, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

But between the two, O'Rourke points out, Smith established one of the most critical principles underpinning his thinking. The following is an excerpt from O'Rourke's On the Wealth of Nations. I have elided many of his humorous comments to try and keep the track headed towards the point at which I wish to arrive, I hope without misconstruing his meaning.

Adam Smith begins The Theory of Moral Sentiments with the riddle upon which all our well-being depends: "How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it." The root of these principles is, according to Smith, sympathy. We are sympathetic creatures. We possess one emotion that cannot be categorized by cynics as either greed or fear. And it isn't love. . . .

Our sympathy makes us able, and eager, to share the feelings of people we don't love at all. We like sharing their bad feelings as well as their good ones. . . .

This sympathy, Smith argued, is completely imaginative and not, like most emotions, a product of our physical senses. No matter how poignantly sympathetic the situation, we don't feel other people's pain. . . . "Our senses," Smith declared, "never did, and never can, carry us beyond our own person." It is our imagination that generates sympathy and gives sympathy its power. . . .

People have the creative talent to put themselves in another person's place and to suppose what that other person is feeling. . . .

But sympathy by itself - be it for humans, animals, . . . - can't be the basis of a moral system. . . .

Imagination, already working to show us how other people feel, has to work harder to show us whether what they feel is right or wrong. Then there's the problem of whether we're right or wrong. We'll always have plenty of sympathy for ourselves. . . .

Our imaginations must undertake the additional task of creating a method to render decent judgments on our feelings and on the feelings of others and on the actions that proceed from those feelings. Adam Smith personified these conscious imaginative judgments and named our brain's moral magistrate the "Impartial Spectator." . . .

According to Adam Smith, the "wise and virtuous man" uses his imagination to create "the idea of exact propriety and perfection." This is "gradually formed from his observations upon the character and conduct both of himself and of other people. It is the slow, gradual, and progressive work of the great demigod within." If, Smith wrote, the Impartial Spectator did not endeavor to teach us "to protect the weak, to curb the violent, and to chastise the guilty," then "a man would enter an assembly of men as he enters a den of lions." . . .

The imagination that Smith describes is the strenuous imagination of an Einstein or a Newton, with all the discipline that this implies. "Self-command is not only itself a great virtue, but from it all the other virtues seem to derive their principal lustre," Smith writes. And, "In the common degree of the moral, there is no virtue. Virtue is excellence."

This hard, creative work that imagination does links the moral sympathy central to The Theory of Moral Sentiments with the material cooperation central to The Wealth of Nations. The imagination also has to make a creative effort to divide labor and conduct trade. Sympathy and cooperation are the more-conscious and the less-conscious sides of what allows civilization to exist. They are the "principles in his nature," that man has, "which interest him in the fortune of others."

All of which, I am afraid tortuously, finally leads me to the real question that occurs to me from this reading.

Among the many benefits that people often credit to early and frequent reading are increased vocabulary, factual knowledge, social awareness, attention spans, self-discipline, imagination, etc. I am sympathetic to all these implied benefits and suspect there is something to most of them.

The one I have always wrestled with is, however, imagination. How do you measure it? How do you know if more reading makes you more imaginative?

Having read O'Rourke's interpretation of Smith though, I think there is something more substantive here than I had reflected on. I do think that the act of reading forces children to project themselves into the circumstances of others and to exercise that sympathy of which Smith speaks. So imagination becomes not just a source of creativity but also a source of social awareness and adjustedness. And that you can begin to measure.

I wonder if anyone has ever done any sort of longitudinal study trying to measure the social adjustedness and the social sensitivity of early and avid readers compared to a random slice of the population? Likewise, I wonder if a child who has had much practice, through reading, of exercising their sympathy, correspondingly demonstrates greater creativity and innovation in other fields of endeavor.

There is of course an issue of sample bias - are children that are prone to early and enthusiastic reading also gifted with sympathy and creativity? Or can reading on its own help build those characteristics. I suspect both might be true.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Shortest Day

One of my favorite authors is Susan Cooper of the Dark Is Rising sequence.

One of my favorite musical events are the performances by The Revels. I have never seen them live, I just have a lot of their CDs, but I look forward to one of these years getting the kids up to Boston to see them.

And what I did not know until recently was that Susan Cooper actually worked with and contributed material to the Revels. Below is her evocative poem which the Revels set to music.

The Shortest Day

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

An orange is not an apple

There is book review in the December 8th, 2007 edition of The Spectator, by Kevin Brownlow, of Paul Merton's Silent Comedy. Reading it, in conjunction with the running commentary in kid lit list servs regarding the recent release of Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass, caused me to reflect on guite what drives us into a frenzy of commentary.

In his article, Brownlow, comments on the varying quality of DVD releases of the old classic films by Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd, etc. and mentions in passing,

Television is not the ideal way to watch silent comedy because it separates the audience. Chaplin expected his comedies to be seen on screens 25 feet wide, not 25 inches, the laughter to be shared with hundreds of people. Nothing can beat the cinema experience, since audiences are as important to comedy as the film itself. . . .

I sympathise. I can remember seeing the Syd Chaplin film The Better 'Ole on a viewing machine. I thought it the crudest film I'd ever seen. A few months later I saw it at the Pordenone Silent FIlm Festival, with a sympathetic audience, and laughed so much I ended up on the floor."

The Enduring Mystery of Mrs. Bathurst

The British journalist, writer and novelist, Allan Massie is a regular contributor to The Spectator. He has an interesting little essay on Rudyard Kipling's Mrs. Bathurst in the December 8, 2007 edition of The Spectator.

Friday, December 21, 2007

His emotions used his face as a field to play on.

George Macy in an article, Arthur Rackham and "The Wind in the Willows".

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Checklist for criticism

From The Horn Book, May 1946 in the essay Criticism of Children's Books.

"Art flourishes where there is sound critical judgment to examine and appraise. The critic must, first of all, have a real point of view about his subject. The essential point of view grows out of acquaintance with the best children's books past and present, and also with the world's best literature for everyone. This point of view - this measuring stick - must also bear some relation to children themselves and their reactions to books today. The critic should have experience of sharing books with children or of seeing them choosing and reading books for themselves. It is a truism - and yet it does not seem to be generally understood - that criticism is just as importantly concerned with pointing out excellence as weakness.

. . .

Comment on children's books is valuable in exact proportion to the judgment, honesty, fairness, and skill expressed by their critics."

Well, that's a pretty good starting point. And a pretty high bar. In summary, a critic should

Measure a book against some stated standards
Care about the book
Be knowledgeable with the body of children's books present and past
Be widely read in general literature and history
Have experience reading to children and how they respond to stories
Have seen how children pick and choose books for themselves
Offer balance with as much empahsis on the positive as on the negative
Judge the book and express that judgment felicitously

Spot on

From this quarter's edition of Slightly Foxed comes this description by Grant McIntyre in his article Strangely Like Real Life.

"Naturally, any addicted reader's greatest pleasure is to discover some new book or author - unexpected, sympathetic, in tune with one's mood. But there are also times when an old favourite will do, something one can rely on for enthralled contentment. To qualify as an absolutely prime old favourite a book needs partcular qualities. It must be capacious enough to immerse the reader completely. The characters must be like old acquaintances, familiar but never absolutely understood, and the events must become almost one's own memories. The best of such books are always fresh because, as one grows older, they provide new insights and amusements in the light of one's wider experience of self and others."

Perhaps this is one reason that books read as a child, when the boundary is still so amorphous between self and world, between reality and imagination, stay with us, influence us and are so dear to our hearts. They have become "one's own memories."

South Seas memories

Here is a wonderful example of the magic door. This brief description was written a century ago, by a Pole who did not become fluent in English (his third language) till he was twenty-one, about his memories as a seafarer in the South Seas. All those potential barriers, and yet, reading the words, we are wafted back in time and place and stand with him experiencing what he felt.

A strange name wakes up memories; the printed words scent the smoky atmosphere of today faintly, with the subtle and penetrating perfume as of land breezes breathing through the starlight of bygone nights; a signal fire gleams like a jewel on the high brow of a somber cliff; great trees, the advanced sentries of immense forests, stand watchful and still over sleeping stretches of open water; a line of white surf thunders on an empty beach, the shallow water foams on the reefs; and green islets scattered through the calm of noonday lie upon the level of a polished sea, like a handful of emeralds on a buckler of steel.

Joseph Conrad, Karain: A Memory

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

IQs Rising

Following on the heels of the Scientific American article recently posted about, there is another very interesting article that dove-tails closely with the Scientific American message - Effort Counts.

The New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell in the December 17th, 2007 edition is titled None of the Above.

The basic message is that we still don't have a good grasp on measuring IQ; there are some interesting phenomenon in that process that we can observe that reflect as much on how IQ tests are designed and administered as they do on what is actually being measured; and that effort, values and context cannot be ignored when attempting to predict outcome.

Monday, December 17, 2007

"You mean I don't have to be dumb?"

There is an interesting article in this month's Scientific American, The Secret to Raising Smart Kids.

I have always been deeply skeptical of the emphasis some people place on the importance of self-esteem for children. I have always felt that rather than focusing on making them feel good about themselves regardless of what they do, it is more important to equip them with the values that allow them to respect themselves based on their behavior and performance.

Self-esteem has metaphorically struck me as the powdered donut of life. Tasty and desirable but no substitute for a balanced meal and in the long run undermining one's good health.

This article relates the results of this particular scientist's researches. While somewhat tainted with academic jargon, it does, more than most, suggest productive things that a parent can do to help their child, and should be praised for that. We need all the help we can get.

And of course I zeroed in on the most pertinent part of the article:

How do we transmit a growth mind-set to our children? One way is by telling stories about achievements that result from hard work. For instance, talking about math geniuses who were more or less born that way puts students in a fixed mind-set, but descriptions of great mathematicians who fell in love with math and developed amazing skills engenders a growth mind-set, our studies have shown.

My emphasis added.

Let me know (through the comments button) the books you think capture the ethos of success through effort rather than success through innate talent alone.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Holiday Traditions

Our children are growing up in a complex pond where the waters are stirred by religion, government, society and tradition, each being a lever for beneficence or trouble and we as parents trying to steer them as best we can. The holidays bring two of these currents, religion and tradition, together and often it is hard to tell quite where the one begins and the other leaves off.

You only have to look at what would nominally seem very similar pairings of countries such as Britain and the Netherlands to see how big a role tradition can have distinct from culture, religion, etc.. Both countries have somewhat comparable governmental systems, both are Protestant countries with long histories of sea-faring and mercantilism, and there has been much sharing of peoples, culture and even royalty between them over the centuries. Yet, as close as these countries would seem to one another, their Christmas traditions are unmistakably different.

The British traditions are reasonably well known (Santa Claus, stockings by the fireplace, Christmas trees, etc.). Fifty short miles away in the Netherlands, Sinterklaas arrives, not from the North Pole, but from Spain. He arrives not with elves but with Zwarte Pieten (black Peter), and not in a sleigh but in a steamboat. And he arrives not on December 25th but on December 5th.

When I lived in England in the mid to late sixties, it never struck me as particularly odd that England had a national tradition in which the country effectively shut down between Christmas and New Year's. I don't mean slowed down. I mean shut down. Train and bus services were cut dramatically, most stores were not open at all, and those that were had restricted hours. You had better have what you needed for the next couple of weeks because you were unlikely to be able to get anything in the meantime. It was only some years later when I was in the US (where everything is back in full swing again the morning after Christmas) that I realized how distinctive the English shut down was. Four decades on there has been some convergence. In England there is no longer a complete shut-down, but there is certainly still a recognizable lull.

Traditions of the holidays are shaped at a national, local and family level, each subject to surprisingly quick change. Old traditions fade away and new ones arise. Sometimes they fade away only to gain a new lease on life.

When we married, I discovered that Sally's family had a tradition with which I was unfamiliar. On Christmas morning, the objective for each family member was to be the first to cry "Christmas Gift!" to each of the other family members. I happily joined in. Some years later, my mother shared with me an eighty page memoir that my great-grandmother had written in the 1930's, late in her long life. She was a young girl in the 1850's growing up on the banks of the Pearl River in Mississippi. In this memoir she relates her memories of Christmas in those far off years and in describing them she mentions the excitement of trying to creep up on other family members first thing Christmas morning to be the first to shout "Christmas Gift!" So oddly enough, our respective families had once had the same tradition. It had died out in my family but it had stayed alive in hers, and now the rivers of tradition have rejoined.

Each family crafts its own traditions, passing down those most meaningful to them, developing new ones as they go along. One of the beauties of traditions is that they do not necessarily have any grounding in logic. Why do we in our family still put tangerines and walnuts in the kids' stockings? Certainly not because anyone is clamoring for tangerines and walnuts. We do so because we always have. The tangerines always get eaten but not everyone is particularly keen on them. As for the walnuts, those that don't get recycled year to year, end up in the back of some drawer in the kids' rooms or elsewhere. We probably should have marked the hard shell nuts with the original dates of purchase to see just how many Christmases some of them might last.

Each family usually has their particular Christmas cooking traditions, singing traditions, traditions related to when and how gifts are given out, what music is listened to, etc. Cooking in particular marks the season, not only because it is a communal activity where everyone has their role to play in a cooperative effort but because the smells of cooking infuse the house so that the event lingers for days. This is especially the case for the young whose senses are so much more attuned to their environment than ours are.

And in reading families there are the traditional books. We have four boxes of them that live in the attic most of the year and that are brought down in early December (except for those years when the packing away never gets gotten to). It is like a reunion with old friends as the books are removed from their boxes and set upon the shelves cleared for them. Each book has a special resonance to it, calling back the memories and emotions of particular Christmases when they first joined the family.

There are often particular titles that get reread either by individuals or collectively. As our children get bigger and bigger and they do most if not all their reading to themselves, it is the one time in the year we can, as parents. count on pulling their ever larger selves up close to us to read a book where they once sat on our lap.

In our family some of the titles that are each year refreshed with reading and sharing include The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, The Christmas Candle, The Cajun Night Before Christmas, The Nutcracker illustrated by Maurice Sendak, etc. I have a copy of a book from the Metropolitan Museum of Art from some years ago. It is selected passages from the King James Bible telling the Christmas story matched to medieval and renaissance paintings of the same. I love this book. Each year I try to dragoon one or more kids into sitting and listening to these beautiful passages and feasting their eyes upon such impassioned paintings. Each year I can hold the little barbarians close only for a passage or two before they are off, rolling their eyes. This, too, has become a tradition.

Following are books that are especially evocative of the Christmas season. We think they are especially touching or helpful in communicating and explaining the holiday traditions.

Picture Books

The Jolly Chistmas Postman by Allan and Janet Ahlberg Suggested

Madeline's Christmas by Ludwig Bemelmans Recommended

Christmas Trolls by Jan Brett Suggested

The Twelves Days of Christmas by Jan Brett Suggested

A Small Miracle by Peter Collington Highly Recommended

Carl's Christmas by Alexandra Day Recommended

The Christmas Candle by Richard Paul Evans and illustrated by Jacob Collins Highly Recommended

The Light of Christmas by Richard Paul Evans and illustrated by Daniel Craig Recommended

Cat in the Manger by Michael Foreman Recommended

Wombat Divine by Mem Fox and illustrated by Kerry Argent Recommended

The Elves and the Shoemaker by Paul Galdone Recommended

The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman and illustrated by Maurice Sendak Recommended

Great Wolf and the Good Woodsman by Helen Hoover and illustrated by Betsy Bowen Recommended

Santa Calls by William Joyce Recommended

I Spy Christmas by Jean Marzollo and illustrated by Walter Wick Suggested

Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian-Carlo Menotti and illustrated by Michele Lemieux Suggested

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore and illustrated by James Rice Suggested

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore and illustrated by Christian Birmingham Recommended

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore and illustrated by Tasha Tudor Recommended

Rocking Horse Christmas by Mary Pope Osborne and illustrated by Ned Bittinger Recommended

The Cajun Night Before Christmas by James Rice Highly Recommended

Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet Highly Recommended

How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss Highly Recommended

Santa's Snow Cat by Sue Stainton and illustrated by Anne Mortimer Suggested

Look-Alikes Christmas by Joan Steiner and illustrated by Ogden Gigli Suggested

Corgiville Christmas by Tasha Tudor Recommended

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski and illustrated by P. J. Lynch Highly Recommended

Who Is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate and illustrated by Ashley Wolff Recommended

Independent Readers

Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies Suggested

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson Recommended

Why Christmas Trees Aren't Perfect by Richard H. Schneider and illustrated by Elizabeth J. Miles Recommended

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas and illustrated by Fritz Eichenberg Recommended

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder and illustrated by Garth Williams Recommended

Young Adults

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and illustrated by Arthur Rackham Highly Recommended

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco & Magery Williams and illustrated by William Nicholson Highly Recommended

Silent Night by Stanley Weintraub Suggested

Feodor Rojankovsky

Born December 24, 1891, died October 12, 1970

Coming to the USA in 1941 not only as an émigré but as a refugee, the early life of Feodor Rojankovsky reads as if he were some character that had just wandered off the set of the movie Casablanca looking for Rick's bar.

He was born in Mitava, Russia, December 24, 1891, the son of a high school administrator. His father's position meant that the family moved extensively around the Russian empire. He had four siblings, and between them they were born in five separate cities which later became parts of five different countries (Rumania, Ukraine, Russia, Estonia and Latvia) -"So we had five different nationalities in one family."

All the children were encouraged in their pursuit of education and the development of their artistic skills. Having been born in Latvia, Rojankovsky had a particular fascination with the Baltic sea and the forests of that region. Rojankovsky made the decision to become a painter and in pursuit of that goal, entered the Moscow Fine Arts Academy in 1912. Two years later with the beginning of the First World War, he left school to become an infantry officer in the Russian Army, in which capacity he was wounded. During his service and his recuperation he produced sketches and paintings of the war; these became his first published work.

The advent of the Russian Revolution found Rojankovsky in Ukraine. It was here that he produced his first illustrations of children's books for the Ukrainian Republic. In 1919 he was drafted into the White Army, subsequently being captured and held as a prisoner of war in Poland.

With the cessation of hostilities, he was released but as a former officer in the Imperial Army and then the White Army, he was unable to return to Revolutionary Russia. He remained in Poland for a number of years before moving to Paris in the mid 1920's. In Poland he worked as a stage director in the theater as well as art director for a number of different magazine and publishing firms.

It was in Paris that he first connected in a professional way with the American publishing business when he met Esther Averill. She and a partner published his Daniel Boone: Historic Adventures of an American Hunter Among the Indians. It is easy for us to think of our current period as unprecendentedly globalized but there was a period between 1920 and 1935 when there was a similar interconnectedness when a Russian illustrator living in France could illustrate a book about an American folk hero, for an American publisher.

Rojankovsky again became a refugee with the German invasion of France in 1940, at which point he emigrated to the USA. This disruption in his life is hardly reflected in his output: he produced seven illustrated books in 1942. Over his professional career he produced more than seventy-five illustrated children's books, a half dozen of which he also wrote. While we think of him primarily as a children's illustrator, it is worth recollecting his status as a war artist. While little noted, it should also be mentioned that he established something of a reputation as an erotica artist in Paris.

With his move to America, he became somewhat typecast as an illustrator of animals for children's books. It is not clear whether this pigeonholing bothered him all that much. As he explained in his Caldecott acceptance speech, "I became an illustrator of children's books. I did it because I was an artist and loved nature and loved children."

Rojankovsky was noted in particular for his strong use of color. This trait is particularly evident in one of his books that is still in print: Over in the Meadow by John Langstaff (of Revel's fame). This book also illustrates his wonderful talent for depicting animals and nature.


Rojankovsky died in 1970. Having been born in Russia, lived in Poland, France and finally the US and having started as a war artist, then an artist with a line in erotica he finally made his biggest impact as a children's book illustrator. Anybody growing up in the fifties and sixties in the US is likely to recognize his work from Frog Went a Courtin', The Tall Book of Mother Goose, Gaston and Josephine, The Holy Bible, or any number of Golden Book titles.

Only three of his books remain in print at this time but they are wonderful exemplars of his work.

Picture Books

Frog Went a Courtin' by John Langstaff and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky Highly Recommended

Over in the Meadow by John Langstaff and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky Highly Recommended

The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky Suggested


Daniel Boone: Historic Adventures of an American Hunter among the Indians by Esther Holden Averill and Lila Stanley and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1931
Powder: The Story of a Colt, a Duchess and the Circus by Esther Holden Averill and R. Hass and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1933
Les petits et les grands by Rose Celli and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1933
Flash: The Story of a Horse, a Coach-Dog and the Gypsies by Esther Holden Averill and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1934
Panache l'ecureuil by Lida and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1934
Froux, le lievre by Lida and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1935
Plouf, canard sauvage by Lida and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1935
The Voyages of Jacques Cartier by Esther Holden Averill and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1937
Bruin, the Brown Bear by Lida and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1937
Scuff, the Seal by Lida and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1937
Children's Year by Y. Lacote and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1937
Tales of Poindi by Jean Mariotti and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1938
Old Man Is Always Right by Hans Christian Andersen and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1940
Spiky, the Hedgehog by Lida and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1940
Adventures of Dudley and Gilderoy by Algernon Blackwood and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1941
The Tall Book of Mother Goose by and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1942
How the Camel Got His Hump by Rudyard Kipling and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1942
How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin by Rudyard Kipling and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1942
How the Leopard Got His Spots by Rudyard Kipling and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1942
The Elephant's Child by Rudyard Kipling and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1942
Cuckoo by Lida and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1942
The Kingfisher by Lida and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1942
Golden Book of Birds by Hazel Lockwood and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1944
Tall Book of Nursery Tales by and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1944
Animal Stories by Georges Duplaix and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1944
Pictures from Mother Goose by and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1945
The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1945
Golden Bible: From the King James Version of the Old Testament by Jane Werner Watson and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1946
The Butterfly That Stamped by Rudyard Kipling and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1947
The Cat That Walked by Himself by Rudyard Kipling and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1947
Cortez: The Conqueror by Covelle Newcomb and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1947
Gaston and Josephine by Georges Duplaix and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1948
Big Farmer Big by Kathryn Jackson and Byron Jackson and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1948
A Name for Kitty by Phyllis McGinley and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1948
Our Puppy by Jane Werner Watson (writing under pseudonym Elsa Ruth Naster) and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1948
The Three Bears by and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1948
Favorite Fairy Tales by and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1949
The Big Elephant by Kathryn Jackson and Byron Jackson and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1949
The Great Big Animal Book by Feodor Rojankovsky and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1950
The Great Big Wild Animal Book by Feodor Rojankovsky and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1951
Treasure Trove of the Sun by Makhail Mikhailovish Prishvin and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1952
All Alone by Claire Huchet Bishop and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1953
Giant Golden Book of Cat Stories by Elizabeth Jane Coatsworth and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1953
Giant Golden Book of Dog Stories by Elizabeth Jane Coatsworth and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1953
My Friend Yakub by Nicholas Kalashnikoff and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1953
Trouble at Beaver Dam by Florence Esther Tchaika and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1953
Horse Stories by Elizabeth Jane Coatsworth and Kate Barnes and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1954
I Play at the Beach by Dorothy Clarke Koch and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1955
Frog Went A-Courtin' by John Langstaff and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1955
Balboa: Swordsman and Conquistador by Felix Reisenberg and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1956
Over in the Meadow by John Langstaff and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1957
The Outside Cat by Catherine Woolley (writing under pseudonym Jane Thayer) and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1957
More Mother Goose Rhymes by and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1958
Wild Animal Babies by Kathleen Daly and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1958
The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1958
Catholic Child's Bible by Jane Werner Watson and Charles Hartman and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1958
Little River by Ann Rand and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1959
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1960
Holy Bible by Jane Werner Watson and Charles Hartman and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1960
Ten Little Animals by Carl Memling and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1961
The Whirly Bird by Dimitry Varley and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1961
Animals in the Zoo by Feodor Rojankovsky and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1962
So Small by Ann Rand and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1962
The Dog and Cat Book by and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1963
A Cricket in a Thicket by Aileen Lucia Fisher and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1963
The Cow Went over the Mountain by Jeanette Krinsley and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1963
I Can Count by Carl Memling and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1963
The Tall Book of Let's Pretend by and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1964
Christmas Bear by Marie Collin Delavaud (writing under pseudonym Marie Colmont) and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1966
Animals on the Farm by Feodor Rojankovsky and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1967
A Crowd of Cows by John Graham and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1968
The Falcon Under the Hat: Russian Merry Tales and Fairy Tales by Guy Daniels and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1969
To Make Duck Happy by Carol E. Lester and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1969
F. Rojankovsky's ABC: An Alphabet of Many Things by Feodor Rojankovsky and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1970
Rojankovsky's Wonderful Picture Book: An Anthology by edited by Nina Rojankovsky and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1972
A Year in the Forest by Bill Hall and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1975
Three Best-Loved Tales: The Three Bears; The Cow Went Over the Mountain; Hop Little Kangaroo! by and illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky 1992

Monday, December 10, 2007

The reader's life has pleasures that bookless folk never know

To para-phrase the Australian poet, Banjo Patterson in Clancy of the Overflow, - For the reader's life has pleasures that bookless folk never know.

Used book stores are wonderful places of discovery. With the decimation of the independent bookstore in communities across the country, used book stores (along with libraries) become increasingly important for the sustenance of our cultural heritage, but with a twist.

You can't necessarily go into one knowing that you will find what you seek but sometimes you find that which you did not know you were looking for. I love spending time in used book stores for this very reason: the chance for the unexpected and often improbable discovery.

This past week I was in one my favorite used book stores in Atlanta, The Book Nook, and came across a sea story of which I had never heard, Blackwater A True Epic of the Sea. No, not that Blackwater that's been in the news. Blackwater as in blackwater fever.

The book was written by H.L. Tredree and published in Britain in 1958 and recounts his early maritime career in a tramp steamer at the end of World War I. How this book came to be in the Book Nook in Atlanta, Georgia in 2007 would be a story in itself but that is a different tale.

The fact that it takes place in 1918 is pretty incidental. The upshot though, is that after loading and unloading cargo in the West Africa port of Dakaar, their ship, the S.S. Normandier set sail with a handful of the 49 person crew already coming down with the symptoms of blackwater fever.

In short order the entire crew has succumbed to the fever, all debilitated and many dying each day. With no one fit to stand shift or tend the engines, their engines die as well and they are left drifting and without power or heat in the North Atlantic. Without power, they are unable to end a wireless signal of distress.

With the first few deaths, they have proper burials at sea. As the fever takes its toll though, they end up barely being able to dispose of the bodies overboard and in a handful of instances have to leave the person where they expired, no one having the strength to move them.

The author, an eighteen year old wireless operator is among those stricken. The symptoms are prolonged bouts of fever, pustules, delirium, hallucinations, with some members of the crew appearing to recover into lucidity and then quickly relapsing and dying.

In some ways, this account could be criticized for how it is structured, the drifting in between third person and first person narrative and other minor infelicities. These deviations from artful telling in fact build the verisimilitude of the story.

In the end some eighteen members of the forty-nine member crew survived. At the time of their rescue, only two members, Tredree and the First Mate, were able to move in even the most limited fashion. Among the eighteen rescued were four who were thought to have already died but who in actual fact were in a deep coma from which they were revived. One is left, in a Poe-ish twist, to wonder about the actual status of the thirty-one who had already been committed to the deep.

If you enjoy maritime sea stories at all, add this one to your list to look for. I am delighted to have discovered it.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Art and Stories

At this time of year, the chaos of creativity tends to reach some sort of high water mark in our household. There are so many crafts associated with Christmas; baking, cooking, decorating the house, making new decorations, piano playing with carol singing, etc. The kids get out of school and take a deep fresh breath of doing things on their own and not at someone else's beck and call.

One son has an especial aptitude for creating the most amazing things out of the most mundane materials. Last week he made a faux Tazer out of some cardboard, trash wire and black paint (and then spent a fair amount of time threatening his siblings with it.)

It is truly startling to me both how gripped children can be by the visual and how attentive and retentive they can be of what they are seeing. It is also startling just how brimming with native talent they can be. At our children's school there are long halls covered with art work from the earliest grades. Walking down those halls there are many examples of the artwork for which you understand why parents are the appreciative audience. But there seem to be also a disconcerting number of paintings, drawings and crafts that bespeak a level of talent that is astonishing.

Children imbibe their world through all their senses but especially through their eyes.

Growing up, we moved about frequently and therefore my parent's personal library of books was somewhat constrained in number. There was however, one book that I well remember, down on a shelf in the living room. Partly what made it memorable was its sheer size. It covered my whole lap and more, spilling out to the sides, propping against the arms of the overstuffed chair. I don't know exactly what the nature of the book was, History of the World or Archaeology perhaps. What I do remember were the huge and beautiful illustrations of ancient rock art. There were drawings of giraffes from ancient rock cliffs in the middle of the Sahara; paintings, beautifully colored and apparently as fresh as if they were done yesterday, from caves in France and Spain; the peculiarly stylized but fascinating Egyptian paintings, etc. I would sit for what seemed hours at a time, losing myself from the here and now into these magical portals of yesterday and away. It was an exercise in observation, tracing every detail, hue, and shading of the pictures. But it was also an exercise in imagination - who were they that painted these vignettes from another time and place, what were the circumstances under which they were painted, what would it have been like to be there, could I paint something similar?

Barbara Helen Berger mentions something similar in a keynote speech she made to the Mazza Summer Institute in Ohio in the summer of 1999:

As a child, of course, any distinction between fine art and illustration was totally irrelevant. I simply loved looking at pictures. On walls, or in books. Especially in books. We didn't have so many children's picture books then, nothing like nowadays, but there were illustrated books. My mother, a poet, was great at reading out loud. With her voice providing the music of words, I would gaze at every part of every picture on every page. I did the same with my Dad's big art books, which I pulled from the bottom shelf of the bookcase in the living room. No one was reading out loud to me then, and what child would enjoy all that dry art history anyway? None of that mattered to me. I simply loved sitting there on the sofa alone, legs sticking straight out, the heavy book open across my lap, losing myself in the pictures. Most of them had stories in them, I could tell from the faces and gestures of the people. I recognized some: David and Goliath, Mary and her baby, Venus stepping from her shell. But even when I didn't know what the story was, I could still "read" the picture for itself. And that's what I loved.

Having a few big art books around is a wonderful way to begin to expose children to the many experiences of art. Not books that you necessarily want to read with them, but, rather, books they can pick up as the spirit moves them, found art as it were.

Many children's books are in my view, works of art in themselves. But holding that thought in abeyance, there are also many books in which art is some pivotal part of the story. These are great ways for children to not only enjoy but also absorb much knowledge of their wonderful visual heritage. Stories about artists, their works, the process of creating, etc.

Picture Books

Camille and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt Suggested

Linnea in Monet's Garden by Christina Bjork and Claude Monet and illustrated by Lena Anderson Recommended

Tell Me a Picture by Quentin Blake Recommended

Come Look With Me by Gladys S. Blizzard Suggested

The Shape Game by Anthony Browne Recommended

Babar's Museum of Art by Laurent de Brunhoff Suggested

Toulouse-Lautrec: The Moulin Rouge And The City Of Light by Robert Burleigh Suggested

Liang and the Magic Paintbrush by Demi Suggested

The Art Lesson by Tomie dePaola Suggested

Round Trip by Ann Jonas Suggested

Painting the Wind by Patricia MacLachlan & Emily Maclachlan and illustrated by Katy Schneider Recommended

Weaving the Rainbow by George Ella Lyon and illustrated by Stephanie Anderson Suggested

Katie Meets the Impressionists by James Mayhew Recommended

Matie's Sunday Afternoon by James Mayhew Recommended

The Fantastic Drawings of Danielle by Barbara McClintock Suggested

Why Is Blue Dog Blue? by George Rodrigue & Bruce Goldstone Suggested

The Sign Painter by Allen Say Recommended

Look! Zoom in on Art by Gillian Wolfe Suggested

Independent Reader

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett and illustrated by Brett Helquist Recommended

Emily's Art by Peter Catalanotto Suggested

The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley and illustratde by Brian Selznick Recommended

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg Recommended

The Art of Keeping Cool by Janet Taylor Lisle Suggested

A Picnic With Monet by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober Suggested

I Spy Shapes in Art by Lucy Micklethwait Suggested

A Place in the Sun by Jill Rubalcaba Suggested

Degas and the Dance by Susan Goldman Rubin Suggested

The Magic Paintbrush by Laurence Yep and illustrated by Suling Wang Suggested

You Can't Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and illustrated by Robin Preiss-Glasser Suggested

Young Adult

Escher on Escher by M. C. Escher and J. W. Vermeulen Suggested

100 Great Artists by Charlotte Gerlings Suggested

Lust for Life by Irving Stone Suggested

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone Recommended