Children and their parents are drawn to the silver and gold stickers on picture books. The most important of these stickers designate the Caldecott Medal-winning books. Have you ever wondered where that sticker came from? The Huntington Library Press answers this question with a new offering, Randolph Caldecott's Picture Books. Nineteenth-century British illustrator Caldecott is credited with being the father of the modern picture book, and these reproductions of his published works from the Huntington's ample art collection shows that the credit is well-deserved. Turning the pages of this rich volume is to return to another era, one filled with nursery rhymes and wordplay, fairy tales and poetry. Today's readers have gotten used to seeing saturated colors in picture books, but the technology of earlier times produced subdued but beautiful etchings and watercolors. This delightful collection would be a lovely addition to any family's library.
INTO THE GARDEN
W.W. Norton, creator of many critical editions for high school and college students, brings us the gorgeous The Annotated Secret Garden edited with an introduction and notes by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina. Her well-researched commentary will add to any reader's knowledge of this classic children's book and its author, Frances Hodgson Burnett. Gerzina is an expert on all things Burnett, having written both a biography of her and the Norton Critical Edition of The Secret Garden. Readers interested in the life of Burnett will devour the introduction, a biography that recounts the soap-opera life that Burnett lived. Her early reading material was mostly penny dreadfuls and the popular magazines of the British household servants Gothic tales and romances. As she matured, moved to Tennessee and began writing short stories for mainstream magazines, her reading preferences and style changed.
The annotated story itself is sprinkled generously with illustrations by the many artists who have interpreted the beloved story of Mary and Colin, the redemptive power of nature, and the ability of a broken spirit to heal and prosper. The annotations themselves, in green type in the side margins, are child-friendly. No three-page treatises on the state of colonial India here just explications of vocabulary and insights into the times. It's hard to reread The Secret Garden without having that familiar lump in my throat when Colin and his father are reunited and Colin, at last, walks on his own two legs to Misselthwaite Manor. Pass the tissues.
FOLLOWING A DREAM
My very favorite book of the season, and one I have already tucked away for a few special friends, is Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children about Their Art. Part advice book, part art book and part peek into the lives of 23 of the most beloved children's book illustrators, this is a volume for all ages. A wonderfully diverse crowd it is, too, from Mitsumasa Anno, Quentin Blake and Ashley Bryan through the alphabet to Jerry Pinkney and finally to Paul O. Zelinsky. Each page contains a self-portrait, a letter from the artist to children who dream of being artists and, behind a deft foldout page, examples of the artist's work.
Especially compelling are the carefully saved bits of art and photographs from the artists' childhoods. Who knew that kindergarten Jane's crayon drawing of Eskimos would lead to the familiar illustrations of Jane Dyer? But perhaps the best gifts contained here are the moving letters of the artists themselves. Never condescending, their words seem directed at the fledgling artist in all of us.
As Maurice Sendak puts it, "it's not that I draw particularly better than other people I've never fooled myself about that. Rather it's that I remember things other people don't recall: the sounds and feelings and images the emotional quality of particular moments of childhood."
The artists encourage young people to create stories and to stick with art, no matter what adults might tell them. Barry Moser puts it best: "So, my young friend, never let anyone tell you that you cannot do something. You can. All it takes and this is a lot is the desire to do it, the persistence to learn how to do it well, the courage to stand strong when people around you are discouraging your dreams." Indeed.