Monday, March 30, 2015

A Master Illustrator and a Mother-Daughter Writing Team: Tenggren, Gelders-Sterne and King Arthur

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table

Arthurian legend, the body of stories and romances based on King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, is also known as the matter of Britain.  A long list of creative works in every imaginable medium have been inspired by these stories, a few examples being Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series,  Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, the musical Camelot by Lerner and Loewe, the list goes on and on, from literature to opera to film, television and even comic strips - remember Prince Valiant?

What with this wealth of creative output, it serves to have a base of knowledge of the original tales.  While Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur is a classic, it's safe to say that it's a bit of an intimidating read for the purpose of introduction.  As an alternative, consider the subject of today's post.

Book #5:  King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1962) illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren,  
retold by Emma Gelders-Sterne and Barbara Lindsay.  A Golden Illustrated Classic. 140 pages.

Gustaf Tenggren (1896 - 1970) was a Swedish-American artist, illustrator and animator.  He was amazing.  His best-selling illustrated book of all time was The Pokey Little Puppy (1942), another Golden Book.  Tenggren was a designer of numerous Disney films, including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Bambi.  I first read King Arthur over thirty years ago, and while I did forget some of the stories, I never forgot the illustrations.  Tenggren doesn't bypass the gorier aspects of the stories - this was the man who designed the terrifying forest in Snow White - so a sword through the skull will produce blood.  Copious amounts.  You can check out his artwork at the link below:

Gustaf Tenggren's World

Emma Gelders Sterne (1894-1971) was born in Birmingham, Alabama an began writing at an early age.  She was active in women's suffrage and social welfare, and a member of the ACLU and the NAACP.  Many of her books focused on history and biography for children.  In addition to writing King Arthur with her daughter Barbara Lindsay, some of her other notable works included Amarantha Gay, M.D. (1933), Long, Black, Schooner: The Voyage of the Amistad (1953), and I Have a Dream (1965).

Emma Gelders Sterne from the Encyclopedia of Alabama

Beginning with the Sword in the Stone and ending with the death of Lancelot, King Arthur delivers the complete body of Arthurian lore in a highly readable and understandable manner.  The authors don't shy away from medieval terms and phrases, but care is taken to maintain the flow of the narrative, excellently supported by page after page of color illustrations.  Children's and YA fantasy is an extremely popular genre, and present and future readers could only benefit from reading this book, starting in the intermediate grades and up.

Originally published in 1962, the book was reissued with the original illustrations in 2002.

Question #5:

No inquiries so far for this week.  Anyone?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Castle, the Dragon, and the Very Unusual Queen

Rumer Godden's The Dragon of Og

Rumer Godden (1907 - 1998) was a prolific British writer of both adult and children's books with a career spanning nearly sixty years. The bulk of her childhood was spent in India, in a huge mansion on the riverbank in the town of Narayangunj, now Bangladesh.  Several of her adult books were made into films, the most notable being Black Narcissus (1938).

Pauline Baynes (1922 - 2008), the British illustrator of The Dragon of Og, also grew up in India, where her father was in the Indian Civil Service.  She began illustrating children's books in 1948, and is best known for her work with Tolkien, the Narnia books of C.S. Lewis, and her 600 illustrations for Grant Uden's A Dictionary of Chivalry (1968), for which she won the Kate Greenaway Medal.

Book #4:  The Dragon of Og (1981) by Rumer Godden, ill. by Pauline Baynes.  60 pages.

This delightful little book is based on, but not a retelling of, an old legend of Tundergarth and Corrie in Scotland.

Angus Og is a Scottish chieftain with a small estate - a demesne - just over the border from England in the Scottish lowlands.  The last Lord of Tundergarth had died without heir.  As a result, his nephew from the far North, Angus Og, inherited the castle and lands.  After battling other chieftains for his inheritance, the bellicose Angus Og moved in, along with his new young wife, Matilda.

For hundreds of years, the people of Tundergarth had lived at peace with the solitary dragon that lived in the pool of the Waters of Milk.  A fat bullock every few weeks was all the dragon required, and the people and rulers were more than happy to concede.  Matilda also thought this fair.  The queen, who had instituted a series of improvements to the castle and the people, had befriended the lonely dragon, and visited him frequently.

But Angus Og was a greedy and ambitious man, and not given to listening to the advice of others.  Angus Og decreed that the dragon should not have a single one of his bullocks, and that was when the trouble began.  Angus Og's actions cause the dragon to starve, making the dragon so angry that for the first time in his life, he shoots flame from his nostrils.  Eventually, despite the entreaties of his advisors and the pleas of Matilda, Angus Og hires a knight to kill the dragon.  The knight does so, but then Angus Og refuses to pay him the promised fee.  The knight retaliates by reuniting the dragon's severed head to his body, bringing the dragon back to life.  Angus Og still refuses to allow the dragon any of his bullocks -  the man is the epitome of a slow study - but after a few clever actions by the queen, sees the error of his ways and capitulates to a happily ever after ending.

Godden and Baynes both applied a great deal of research to this book, but never to the detraction of the story. The Scottish mythology of dragons is in full display, and life in medieval times is accurately portrayed, from the wooden castle to the cotter's children. Scottish terms abound, their definitions seamlessly woven into the tale being told.  Baynes intricate illustrations, both color and black-and-white, support the text perfectly.  A wonderful read and read-aloud.

The Dragon of Og cover art at Amazon

Question #4:

A young girl lives with her widowed mother in a small town.  The mother takes in sewing to make a living.  The girl wins a pumpkin and the mother bakes some pies with it.  A prize is involved.  Maybe 1960s?

Anyone recognize this one?

It's A Golden Coach for Callie Rose by Martha Gwinn Kiser, illustrated by Gloria Gaulke, originally published in 1964.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Perfect Match of Author and Illustrator: John Bellairs and Edward Gorey

The Curse of the Blue Figurine

Some authors and illustrators are so inexorably linked that it is almost impossible to think of the one without the other.  The author/illustrator pairings of Roald Dahl with Quentin Blake and  Alvin Schwartz with Steven Gammell are just two of many examples.  We all have our favorites, based on our individual preferences in story and style.

A match that I believe was made in literary heaven is John Bellairs and Edward Gorey.  John Bellairs (1938 - 1991) was an incredibly intelligent man who wrote for both children and adults.  On the adult side, his fantasy novel The Face in the Frost (1969) is considered a classic of the genre. Bellairs started writing gothic mystery novels for younger readers in the 1970s, three different series featuring Louis Barnavelt, Anthony Monday, and Johnny Dixon.  In this post, the focus is on the first of the Johnny Dixon series, The Curse of the Blue Figurine.

Book #3:  The Curse of the Blue Figurine (1983) by John Bellairs; ill. by Edward Gorey. 167 pages.

The year is 1951.  Johnny Dixon is a shy, bespectacled seventh-grader from Long Island whose mother has recently died of cancer.  Johnny's father has elected to resume his career as a jet pilot in Korea and has shipped Johnny off to his elderly grandparents who live in the town of Duston Heights, Massachusetts.  Johnny attends St. Michael's, a Catholic grade school, run by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Johnny finds a kindred soul in his grandfather's long time friend and neighbor Professor Roderick Childermass.  Johnny has an active imagination, a passion for archeology and scary radio programs and chess.  The two bond over the professor's homemade desserts and chess games.

The trouble starts after the professor tells Johnny a story about a former town priest who was suspected of murdering two citizens of Duston Heights through paranormal means.  The rumor was that the priest dealt in black magic. The priest vanished one day, and is said to haunt St. Michaels' church.  Shortly after hearing the story, Johnny, fleeing to the church basement to avoid a schoolyard bully, finds an old box that contains a blue figurine and a note.  The note warns anyone from taking the items from the church, saying that to do so would endanger their immortal soul.  Johnny, or course, brings the box home, and as a result, dark forces are unleashed that, save for the Professor's intervention, would have led to his death.  Instead, the mystery of the blue figurine is solved, the evil spirit of the priest is destroyed, and Johnny and the Professor live on to solve the next paranormal mystery.  Bellairs wrote a total of eight Johnny Dixon books, all with excellent titles, my favorite title being The Eyes of the Killer Robot (1986).  Killer robot?  You just can't top that.

The Curse of the Blue Figurine at

This is a plot driven novel, with action taking precedence over character development.  Johnny has suffered a tremendous loss, of his mother to cancer and his father's abandonment to the military.  The author drops an occasional reference to Johnny's being sad, but delves no further.  Many references are made to the practice of the Catholic religion, archeology, and classic texts.  Smoking and drinking are portrayed as accepted behaviors, which they certainly were in 1951.  Psychiatry is viewed with distrust and a certain mockery, and people, particularly adults, express themselves bluntly. Very bluntly. The book was considered YA at the time of its release, but today's YA readers would probably find Johnny a little too young as a protagonist.

Edward Gorey was born in 1925 and died in the year 2000.  For some, he is an acquired taste, but he is one of my personal favorites.  The reason I first read Bellairs' books was Gorey's deliciously creepy cover art.  No other artist does gothic like Gorey, and in his long career his artwork can be found in nearly every medium from books -(Amphigorey (1972) is a great place to start), television (PBS Mystery series), and stage (Dracula stage sets for the Broadway production).

Examples of Gorey's artwork

Question #3:

An old man who is an inventor creates a one-of-a-kind magical umbrella.  The umbrella is stolen, and two children and their dog help him find it again.  Late 1950s, early sixties, maybe.  Three color illustrations.

Anyone recognize this one?

It's not magical- it's musical!  The book is Mystery of the Musical Umbrella by Friedrick Feld, illustrated by Doris Jackson.  Published originlly in German in 1958, it was translated into English in 1962.  Mr.  Adelmar invented the musical umbrella, lost it, and then found it again with the help of Martin, Helen, and their dog Brownie.

Cover art for The Mystery of the Musical Umbrella at Amazon

Plus - Any thoughts on your own favorite author/illustrator teams?  Who are your personal favorites?

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Bill Brittain and the Coven Tree series

Dr. Dredd's Wagon of Wonders

Last week's lost story is still unidentified, but many thanks to Jinx, another children's librarian, for the mention of The Man Who Didn't Wash his Dishes by Phyllis Krasilovsky.  The author passed away in 2014 at the age of 87.  Dishes was illustrated by Barbara Cooney.  Krasilovsky worked with a number of illustrators, including Peter Spier on her most popular book, The Cow Who Fell into The Canal.

I will always try to provide links to a book's cover art in my posts. I don't upload the images myself because I prefer to err on the side of caution when it comes to copyrights.  

Children's Book #2:  Dr. Dredd's Wagon of Wonders by Bill Brittain.  Illustrator Andrew Glass. 179 pages.

Dr. Dredd's Wagon of Wonders, published in 1987, was the third in the four book Coven Tree series, set in the fictional New England village of Coven Tree in the not so distant past.  Brittain was a prolific author of both children's and adult literature. The second book of the Coven Tree series, The Wish Giver: three tales of Coven Tree published in 1983, was a Newbery Honor book.

Dr. Dredd's is a familiar plot.  A stranger comes to town bearing gifts, but the gifts come at a very high price.  Think The Pied Piper of Hamelin, or, to be more contemporary, Stephen King's adult novel Needful Things.  In the case of Coven Tree, the stranger is the tall, gaunt, Dr. Dredd, and in his wagon of wonders lie the seeds to the town's self-destruction.

As narrated by the town's lone shopkeeper, Stewart Meade, known as Stew Meat, it was a sorry day when Dr. Dredd rolled into Coven Tree, a town named after a huge oak tree- the Coven Tree - where in days gone by witches would gather to perform their mystic rites.  Only one witch remains, Old Magda, by her own reckoning some three hundred years old and possessing only a hint of her former abilities.  The town and surrounding farms are suffering from a severe drought, and rain is on everyone's mind.  Enter Dr. Dredd, who, after offering the town a free preview of his wares, including the wrestler Antaeus and the young boy Bufu, the Rainmaker.  

Dr. Dredd strikes a deal with the mayor and other town leaders.  Bufu will provide the needed rain, and in return, Dr. Dredd will receive a small recompense, but not in the form of money.  The mayor agrees to the deal despite Dr. Dredd's evasion on the nature of his payment.

But Bufu, who is really a runaway named Calvin Huckabee taken captive by Dredd, knows only too well the nature of Dredd's payment. He escapes from Dredd, and is taken in and hidden by young Ellen McCabe and her mother.  Dredd, claims Calvin, is in league with the Devil himself, and he will destroy the town of Coven Tree the same way he's destroyed others.  He does so by infecting the population with overwhelming greed.  Instead of thinking about their town and neighbors, their only thought will be  I…Want…More.  Bickering and fighting will follow, and the town will self-destruct.

But Dredd can't do any of this until Calvin delivers the rain, and the townspeople, after a few setbacks, protect Calvin from Dredd's wrath.  They are the first town to do so, and by doing so, they destroy Dredd, who is reduced to ash, along with his wagon of wonders. 

The book pulls heavily from the New England traditions of witchcraft and the townspeople's accents and actions reflect the different personalities of the isolated rural village.  Antaeus is taken straight from Greek mythology, and his fight with Sven the village blacksmith parallels Antaeus' fight with Hercules.  Most of the items in the wagon are also from legend and myth, and it's interesting to see how many younger readers might recognize. Probably more than a few, thanks to Rowling and Riordan.

Question #2:  

A young boy loses his sight in an accident with a fire cracker.  He has a hard time adjusting until he gets a seeing-eye dog.  His name might be Johnny, and he has a little sister.  Mid-sixties, maybe.

Anyone recognize this one?

The answer is Follow My Leader by James Garfield, published 1957, identified by the fantastic school librarians on ISLMANET-I

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Welcome to Second Look Books, a blog for lovers of children's literature.

Have you ever tried to remember a favorite book from your childhood?  Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's not, and sometimes when the book falls into the when-it's-not category it can be well nigh impossible.  You know the book, you can see the cover art, sort of remember the plot, but even with that you still can't recall a title, author, or illustrator.

Been there, done that, many times over.  As a children's librarian, I'm often asked to find the blue book with the dog on the cover, or the story about the girl with the garden and the magic stick, I think it came out in the sixties, maybe, could have been earlier, with a red cover, do you know the one I mean?  It gets interesting.

What I'm hoping to do with Second Look Books is create a home for all these lost stories.  Every week, I'll post a short synopsis of a children's book from the past, and post a question regarding a lost story.  Hopefully, one of you will be able to identify the story, or post a question about your own lost story.  Stories matter.

 Children's Book #1:  Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright.  Original illustrators Beth & Joe Krush.

Before the days of organized sports, scheduled play-dates, and cell phones with GPS tracking, kids would leave the house in the morning to play outside and only return home for lunch and dinner.  GAL, was a 1957 Newbery Honor book that tells the story of tween cousins Portia and Julian and the summer they discovered an abandoned summer colony in the country at Gone-Away Lake.  It turns out that the colony was not completely abandoned.  Two former residents, brother and sister Minnehaha Cheever and Pindar Payton, have returned.  Now well into their seventies, the two live in separate houses and wear old-fashioned clothes stored for decades in trunks in the attic.  The siblings befriend the cousins, telling them stories about the past, allowing them to build a clubhouse, and teaching them all about nature.  Eventually, a crisis involving Portia's little brother Foster leads to the discovery of the cousins' summer distention and friendships by their respective families.  It's a happy ending for a quiet story that celebrates friendships of all kinds and one very special summer.

Sequel:  Return to Gone-Away Lake ,  1961.

Gone-Away Lake at Wikipedia

Question #1:  

A picture book about a man who cooks.  He wears a chef's hat, and everyday he cooks just one item.  He always cooks too much, and then has a problem about where to put all of the leftover food.  I think at the end of the story, he decides to share his food with others, but I'm not sure.  Book is from the 1960s (maybe).

Anybody recognize this one?