Saturday, 3 January 2009

Books For Keeps

No, this is not a piece about the magazine, though incidentally it's a great read. This is a very seasonal post about chucking stuff out. Or, um, not.

I can be an enthusiastic chucker-out, but I like to think I know what to hang onto. In this respect I have not yet turned into my mother, who I never forgave for getting rid of my Beatles yellow submarine. OK, I'm over it now. But my point is, beware; there's always the danger that you or your parents might become over-zealous and get rid of something irreplaceable.

The subject is uppermost in my mind because I'm in the midst of a clear-out myself right now. Here are some things I have come across:

How that armband came to be attached to the hanger is a particular mystery to me. Perhaps I should call it Art and have it installed in a gallery somewhere in Hoxton...nah. Bin it, along with the lost Spiderman's head and the random detached limbs and footwear.

Books, though; they're a different matter. My kids are long past the picture book phase, but there are plenty that I hang onto, either because:

a) they have sentimental value;
b) they are just lovely objects;
c) they are signed by the author;
d) they are signed by the illustrator;
e) they are hilarious;

...or, if I'm really lucky, all of the above. Some are American (since both my kids were born in New York) and so have titles like Max Grover's The Accidental Zucchini (that's "courgette" to you and me – which would explain why this book was never published in the UK; it's an A-Z book).

Some of them, to be honest, I probably bought more for myself than for my kids. This is true of Maira Kalman's books (page from Max in Hollywood, Baby left). They're a bit wordy and tricksy for bedtime reading; nevertheless you can see she's having loads of fun, and it's infectious. And the artwork is fantastic. I am a big fan; alas, none of my copies of her books is signed by the author/illustrator; somebody please tell her!

Another artist-who-writes-children's-books is Sara Fanelli, of whom I am completely in awe (I have ONE signed copy). Her books really are works of art; here is a page from her book Dear Diary (right). What can I say? these people are doing what I might have done if I'd ever stuck it out at art college and found a style to stick with.

Still with the books-I-really-bought-for-myself, we have Bernard Stone's mouse books, which are out of print now. In fact I bought these before I ever had kids. They were illustrated by Ralph Steadman; here's a detail from Quasimodo Mouse, featuring Hunter Hipmouse, which my adult readers will recognise as being based on a certain gonzo journalist:

Very mischievous, that: sneak in a reference to your gun-toting, drug-addled maniac friend!

OK, back to favourite stories. I have hung on to Esphyr Slobodkina's Caps for Sale, because it is hilarious and a complete one-off. First published in 1940, it's about a lone travelling cap salesman who falls asleep under a tree. When he wakes up, he finds the caps gone; looking up, he sees that the tree is full of monkeys, each wearing a cap. How he gets them back is ingenious.

Simplicity is all in such books. I absolutely love Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson. This is another vintage title, first published in 1955. With his purple crayon, Harold is able to enter his own drawings (you know, like you do). He goes on a journey on a road of his own creation (what a great piece of philosophy there!), makes a forest – a small one, with just one tree. And a dragon, which he's then afraid of, so his crayon shakes, creating water that he then falls into – but then he's able to rescue himself by drawing a boat! My favourite line in this book is the one where, having created a picnic consisting only of pie (but all nine kinds of pie that Harold likes best), he has lots of leftovers, "so Harold left a very hungry moose and a deserving porcupine to finish it up". I especially like the deserving porcupine.

Then there are illustrated editions of favourite classic tales. I have hung onto lots of those. The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Little Red Riding Hood, Fin M'Coul, Rumpelstiltskin, The Musicians of Bremen...great illustrated versions of all.

But even some of the best of these go out of print. They are collector's items; save them!

I'll finish with an image from Wendy Smith's The Lonely, Only Mouse, because this was also a favourite, and because Wendy is a very special person. She's a family friend, and was the one who first inspired me to have a crack at children's books – and introduced me to her publisher, Caroline Roberts, who became my own first publisher. Thank you, Wendy!

I shall never part with these books.


Candy said...

the books look fantastic. and the boots and armband and spiderman thingie ... how can you throw them out? such a shame.

fionadunbar said...

Oh, man...Candy, if I took that approach I'd have to have another house to put it all in!

Even as I finished up on this post, I thought of half a dozen other books I'd have liked to have included. Another post, maybe.

Anonymous said...

My partner still has his yellow submarine!
I have two huge tubs of lego I can;t bear to get rid of - what about the grandchildren! - but we have no space.
Ahem books - Have you ever come across Donald and The Singing Fish by Peter Lubitch?
ps I am not anonymous I am Catherine Johnson....

fionadunbar said...

Hi Catherine; no, never seen that one but looked it up on Amazon...sounds eccentric! I'm jealous of your partner; Corgi have re-issued them, but that's not the same as having an original one...

fionadunbar said...

Oh Candy, you were pulling my leg, weren't you? Duh.

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