Monday, July 30, 2012

Make Believe Summer

Fred Cody 1980
illustrations by Arthur Boyd Houghton

I think this book was such a clever idea- I wish I had thought to do something like this! Fred Cody takes the beautiful black and white illustrations by Arthur Boyd Houghton (1836-1875) and crafts a story around them. These illustrations, quintessentially Victorian, show the life of children in the English countryside. Cody writes in the introduction:

The pictures are also notable for the way the artist has entered wholeheartedly into the world of childhood. The children are seen at play, but their activity is portrayed on their own terms; they are unselfconsciously absorbed in a realm apart. The pattern for such a separate state of childhood took form in the latter half of the nineteenth century, though only among families of means. It is the way, of course, that we are accustomed to seeing children in our own time.

The story Cody crafts is about a widowed young mother who returns with her three daughters to her family in England. Told through one daughter's eyes, the girls experience change and an unfamiliar life in a country house filled with boisterous cousins. They visit the seaside, explore the woods and make friends. Meanwhile their mother falls in love with an artist (the artist who has drawn these pictures, it is later explained) and the little family is set to embark on a new phase of their lives.

The book opens with this:

Often, now that I am older and have children of my own, I take up the pictures you will see here and talk of the story they tell. And always they carry me back to a long-ago summer, which my sister Beth and I came to call our make-believe summer. I suppose I think of it in that way because it was a time between the end of one chapter in our lives and the beginning of another. It was a summer so full of wonder, of fear and strangeness, that it seems to have been not quite real- a kind of dream of fantasy.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The City-Country ABC

Marguerite Walters
illustrated by Ib Ohlsson 1966

Here's a unique ABC book, a "turnabout" book that has "My Alphabet Walk in the Country" on one side and "My Alphabet Ride in the City" on the other. Charmingly illustrated by Ib Ohlsson, it follows a boy through the city and all the noise and people, and then a girl through the country with animals and nature all around.

Georgia Music

This book is sweet and a little bit sad.  It made for nice late afternoon reading yesterday.

Helen V. Griffith
illustrated by James Stevenson 1986

I'm always drawn to James Stevenson's pictures though they're not particularly the style of illustration that I like. I think I must have had some books as a child with his illustrations, so when I see them they stir something familiar.

This story is about a little girl who stays with her grandfather in his cabin in Georgia one summer. They garden and make music and enjoy the sounds of a Southern country life. When the grandfather gets ill and has to move to Baltimore he becomes depressed and misses his old life in Georgia. But his granddaughter finds a way to make their old music, Georgia music, and lift both their spirits.

After a few days she had to get back to Baltimore, but she left the girl there with her grandfather for the whole long summer.  The old man never said how he felt about that, but he didn't seem to mind.  The girl didn't mind either.   She liked it right away.  She liked the hot garden patch with its green rows of seedlings, and she liked the little cabin that shook when the trains thundered by.  When she stopped being shy of her grandfather she liked him, too.

They would work all morning, their hoes going chink, chink up and down the rows, while a mockingbird flew from fence post to fence post flapping his wings and singing noisy songs at them.
"Sassy old bird," the man would say, and the girl would say it, too, "Sassy old bird," and they would look at each other and laugh out loud.

There was nothing wrong with their home in Baltimore, but the old man wasn't happy there.  He sat in a chair looking worried and sad, and the girl knew he was thinking of the old cabin and the garden that didn't get planted that year.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

This Is London

In anticipation of the London Olympics we picked up this fun book.

Miroslav Sasek 1959

Published in 1959, I love the vintage illustrations. Our new version has been updated to correct some of the information-- like London being the largest city in the world, that title belongs to Mumbai, India now. The pages show many different landmarks and give a feel for the sights and sounds of the city.

One of these days I'll get there....

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

We Went Looking

Aileen Fisher 1968
pictures by Marie Angel

Small beautifully detailed pictures accompany this sweet rhyming book. The refrain "We went looking for a badger" is repeated throughout but all sorts of other animals are seen instead. Charlotte liked identifying the creatures on the pages and I liked the cute ending- they finally saw a badger when they went out looking for shrews.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Humblebee Hunter

Last night we found a cicada nymph out on our back step.  They crawl out of the ground and then shed their skin to transform into the winged adult.  Charlotte and I quickly got a jar to put him in and brought him inside.

It was very late and we had to go to bed. So after looking up what cicada's eat (Charlotte wanted to know) and watching a mini video of how they emerge from their nymph skin, we went upstairs to sleep, leaving our jar on the kitchen counter.

This morning, there clutching the twig we put in for him, was the now transformed cicada.  I showed Henry, the first one up, and then when Charlotte tiptoed down the stairs bleary-eyed I told her I had a surprised for her.

I think this is amazing, how children can experience first hand the wonders of the natural world.  I confess I don't know much about Charles Darwin (I've a biography on my 'to read' list), but I love this picture book and hope that it's true.  What a gift to give your kids the joy of curiosity and wonderment about the world around us.  This is why we spend afternoons at the creek, find bugs and have to identify them, look at moss in the backyard through a magnifying glass, collect leaves, point out animals and birds we know. I hope my children are always as curious and amazed as I am about nature.
Inspired by the Life and Experiments of Charles Darwin and his Children
Deborah Hopkinson
pictures by Jen Corace 2010

In this story, told by one of Darwin's daughters, he enlists his kids in helping with his bumblebee experiment (they were called 'humblebees' in the Victorian days). He sends them around the garden to count how many flowers a bumblebee visits in a minute. 

One summer afternoon, Mother and Cook tried to teach me to bake a honey cake.  But raspberries glistened in the sun, and birds brushed the air with song.  More than anything, I wanted to be outside.

Later this morning, when Madeleine finally woke up (close to 11am) we brought the cicada outside and watched his first awkward clumsy attempts at flying.  He buzzed his wings and fell over on his back a few times.  Charlotte got a stick and was just about to help him, when he lifted his body in flight slowly around our heads then higher into the air.  Higher and higher he flew, past the big oak tree and beyond our sight.  Charlotte said he was going to find his family but I expect he was going to join his brothers' singing.