Illustrations that Make the Book – Part 1

Not every book needs illustrations. Let me make that clear.

And yet, there are those books in which the illustrations seem to go hand-in-hand with the written page… So much so that we come to find it hard to think of the book without these illustrations.

When I was coming up with this blog post idea, I noticed that most of the books on my list are OLDER books. Back in the day, it seems like a lot of books came with illustrations. However, there are a few contemporary books that made my list. (You’ll find those books in Part 2.)

The list of books below are all books written by authors no longer living…


The Chronicles of Narnia

44d68d9efe02b0989776792662a92c6aWritten by C.S. Lewis and illustrated by Pauline Baynes. Her pen and ink drawings are still used in the editions published today. Why? Because they are beautiful and amazing and capture the magic that is Narnia. I can’t tell you how much I love these drawings.

Like this iconic moment in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe… Lucy has just entered Narnia for the first time and is walking with Mr. Tumnus and his umbrella. Such a wonderful scene! (And, on a side note, it’s the image that Lewis himself saw in his mind’s eye that inspired him to write the book in the first place!)


Winnie the Pooh

92ffd90047cc7581e73a3707645700bc.jpgThere aren’t illustrations that have become as iconic as A.A. Milne’s masterpiece: Winnie the Pooh. Even the great Walt Disney couldn’t overshadow E.H. Shepard’s illustrations, they are that good! (While I don’t mind the Disney version of the Pooh characters, I’d pick Shepard’s illustrations over Disney’s in a heartbeat!)

I think Shepherd was able to capture the childlike wonder of the Hundred Acre Wood and its inhabitants. Pooh and Piglet are charming in the illustration to the left, as is Christopher Robin.

And it makes me want to find a bridge to play a game of Pooh Sticks…


The Little House books

2014_0708_webimages_53_littlehouseLaura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books show that sometimes books have to wait a bit to find their perfect match in illustrations. While the first edition had other illustrations (by Helen Sewell), the later editions (starting from 1953) were given the Garth Williams touch. These simple pencil, charcoal, and ink drawings have since become inseparable from Wilder’s work. Probably what helps make them so amazing is that, before he sat down and drew, Garth Williams traveled to the real-life locations to get a feel for the prairie scenery world of Laura Ingalls.

I love how Mary and Laura are gazing in awe as Pa plays his fiddle. Pa’s fiddle is such an integral part to the books 🙂


The Betsy-Tacy books

Meeting Miss SparrowThis series by Maud Hart Lovelace, in many ways, can be split into two series. The “younger” books and the “older” books. And interestingly enough, the illustrations follow this divide.

The first four books, beginning with Betsy-Tacy until Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown, have illustrations by Lois Lenski. Beautiful, whimsical, and perfect for capturing the magic of childhood!

Betsy at her writing deskHowever, once Betsy and her friends enter Deep Valley High, Vera Neville takes over the illustrations. And guess what? Hers are perfect, too! I’m not sure if Lenski could have done the high school books. And I’m not sure is Neville could have handled the younger girls. Whoever made the ultimate decision about this, bravo!

Two illustrations are necessary for this series. The first shows young Betsy in the library (I couldn’t resist!). And the second is an older Betsy sitting at her “writing desk” (her uncle’s trunk).


Swallows and Amazons

00048975-300x403These books are written by Arthur Ransome. And he illustrated them too “with the help of Miss Nancy Blackett” (one of the characters in the books!) These drawing are unique to the books. They’re fun and have that child-like abandon of the untrained child-artist… Alluring in their own way.

The illustration I chose for this book is entitled “Despatches”. It’s the answer from the four young Walkers have been waiting for… their father’s permission that they may indeed go camp out on Wild Cat Island. Let the adventures begin!


So, these are just five of my favourite illustrated books. I’m sure there are other books that fall into the same category… Books, that when I think of them, these illustrations come to mind.

Got any that you’d like to add?

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Review: Theatre Shoes

coverBook: Theatre Shoes
Author: Noel Streatfeild
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Sorrel, Mark, and Holly Forbes must go live with their grandmother when their father is found to be missing in action during World War II. They discover that their grandmother is not only a famous actor, but that she expects them to be actors as well. The children are sent to a performing arts academy where they have to navigate their acting lessons and auditions. On top of that, they also discover that they are living with a grandmother who is not as rich as she thinks she is.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This is a companion book to Ballet Shoes. While Pauline, Petrova, and Posy don’t actually make an appearance in the book (aside from letters), their presence is felt throughout. And it’s nice to find out what happened to the three after Ballet Shoes ends.

2) I love the story of Holly and the borrowed (or is it stolen?) attaché case. The children don’t have the money for attaché cases and feel embarrassed because this marks them as different from the other students. The way Madame deals with the whole situation is beautiful. It’s fair to the children and it’s a fair way to deal with Holly’s misdemeanor.

3) Alice is a delightful character who uses Cockney rhyming slang throughout the book (referring to money as “bees and honey” or feet as “plates of meat”). She helps the children deal with their aloof grandmother. I found it especially amusing that she always refers to the grandmother using the Royal-We!

4) Other characters I really like… Uncle Cohen is great, along with his wife Aunt Lindsay. And of course, Madame.

5) The family dynamic between the three children (Sorrel, Mark, and Holly) is nice. They stand up for each other, but the story is realistic enough to show their little tiffs and petty arguing moments.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The story of Miranda acting high and mighty, and then losing her role to Sorrel (the understudy) is almost exactly the same as that of Pauline and Winifred in Ballet Shoes. Now, to be fair, Streatfeild does make note of this “history-repeating-itself” in the book itself. (And this is or can be a big problem in theatre in general, so this isn’t a major criticism.)

2) The ending felt a tiny bit rushed to me.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – This book is a re-read for me, and it’s been many years since I first read it. I love, love, love Ballet Shoes by the same author. While this isn’t quite Ballet Shoes, it is definitely worth the read.

When Books Disappear

You know what makes me really sad?

When books go missing from the library.

Now, I’m not talking about books that have been lost or books that are overdue. I’m talking about books that used to be at the library, but are no longer there… Because they have been deemed “no longer relevant”.

I’m talking about classic children’s books.

Elizabeth Enright is one such victim. I grew up with her classic The Saturdays. But does my library carry this book anymore? Nope. Why not? Well, it’s old. It’s set in the past (in the 1940s if memory serves). But so are a lot of other books written today. In fact, I’d say it’s more realistic because a modern author tends to put modern spin on a time period they did not live through.

btbh-032Another victim… Maud Hart Lovelace. Now, I did not grow up with the Betsy-Tacy books, so nobody can accuse me of nostalgia here. (I did grow up with B is for Betsy books, but that’s by a different author.) I discovered Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books in my 20s. And I loved them. They are set in the early 1900s and are marvelously written.

Fortunately, I own a few of them in paperback. About a year and a half ago, I read Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown to my nieces (aged 8 & 9 at the time). We loved it. The horseless carriage. The theatre production. The secret revealed at the end.

Now, here’s the sad part. I went to my library and asked: “Could you please get these books? They have brand-new released versions for sale! It’s not like they’re out of print.  These are wonderful reads and kids deserve to read them! I want my nieces to read them!”

Maybe I picked the wrong librarian. She was probably in her 20s. Her response to me was: “Have you tried inter-library loan?”

For kids?! Really? I wanted my nieces to be able to get these books out for themselves. How realistic is it for them to jump through all the hoops in order to use inter-library loan!

Here’s the thing. I didn’t just come to the librarian with my request that the library buy the  Betsy-Tacy books. There were quite a few other titles on the list (other books I wanted to read but noticed that my library still had not ordered). These other books  were written more recently. Actually, within the past 2-5 years. Like Sammy Keyes and the Kiss Goodbye (by Wendelin Van Draanen), and Spy Camp (by Stuart Gibbs). And there were at least three more books on my request list (but I can’t remember the exact titles any more).

And you know what? They ordered every single one of those books. But, they did not order a single Betsy-Tacy book.

Now, I like Van Draanen. I like Gibbs. I like modern authors.

But what about Maud Hart Lovelace? What about Elizabeth Enright? What about the other authors that have disappeared into the library’s discard pile? Now, I don’t think every book ever written should be made untouchable. Remember B is for Betsy (the other Betsy books by Carolyn Haywood)? My library does have that one. I picked it up recently. Unfortunately, B is for Betsy has not aged well. I would not classify that book as classic. As an adult, I couldn’t even finish it. Not even for nostalgia’s sake. (Please recall that I have fond memories of reading this book as a child.)

No, the books by Maud Hart Lovelace and Elizabeth Enright are in a different category entirely. They belong with the Jane Austen books. And L.M. Montgomery books. And the C.S. Lewis books. And the Beatrix Potter books.

It made me sad to realize that these librarians couldn’t recognize a book worth keeping.

And when they disappear, I think we miss out on some wonderful literature.

P.S. So far, my library still has many of the books by E. Nesbit (like The Treasure Seekers) and Edward Eager (like Half Magic). I fear these books might end up like the Betsy-Tacy books. I try to make it a point to take these books out every now and then. Just to show those librarians that people do want to keep the classics alive.

Review: A Little Princess

littleprincess.jpgBook: A Little Princess
Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Basic plot: Sara Crewe comes to a boarding school by her rich papa where she is treated like a little princess. Tragedy strikes when her father dies, leaving her penniless and at the cruel mercy of the headmistress of the school.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Sara SHOULD be a spoiled brat. But she isn’t. She really is a princess, but in the best of ways.

2) I liked the friendship between Sara and Becky, Lottie, and Ermengarde.

3) Miss Minchin is a character that you love to hate. Her hypocrisy is evil! Definitely a memorable character :/

4) The scene with the bun lady is a beautiful scene. She is everything that Miss Minchin is not. I was actually glad when she shows up at the end of the story once again.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) Miss Minchin. Yes, she appears above in the “What’s Cool” section, but she also appears here. Could a headmistress be this evil? I suppose she could, but really, this character almost doesn’t seem real. I wish Burnett would have given some redeeming quality, even if just to make her a more rounded character.

2) Sara is too good! Consider her next to Burnett’s other heroine: Mary Lennox from The Secret Garden. Mary is a spoiled brat who is NOT likeable at all in the beginning of the story. But she has a character arc. Sara really has no character arc. She’s good and wise at the start of the book. She’s good and wise at the end of the book. I like Sara, but I don’t love Sara. Certainly not in the way that I love Mary Lennox.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 3.5 Stars (out of 5) – A re-read for me. I still hate the Miss-Minchin-treating-Sara-badly parts… actually to the point of me not wanting to read the book. Overall, it’s a good book, but not a great book. If you want a great book by this author, check out The Secret Garden.

Reading Pride and Prejudice Backwards

20170305ma_6050
I’ve read it many times over. It’s one of the books that I’ll just pick up and “spot read”.

I don’t know if anybody else does this, but for me “spot reading” is when I re-read my favourite parts of a favourite book.

Pride and Prejudice definitely qualifies.

This time I started near the end… when Elizabeth first reads Jane’s letter about Lydia and Wickham. I got so engrossed with the story, that I just kept on reading to the end of the book.

That’s when I started to read the book “backwards”. I went back to read about how Elizabeth and the Gardiners first go to visit Pemberley. When I reached the Jane’s letter regarding Lydia, I went back further to the part where Elizabeth visits Charlotte and Mr. Collins.

It’s certainly an interesting way to read a book. I wouldn’t recommend for any book other than one you’ve already read countless times before.

And for me, that’s Pride and Prejudice.

Rating the Chronicles

20160204ma_0260If I had to rate the books in the Chronicles of Narnia in order of my favourite to my least-favourite, I could do it. It’d be hard, but yes, I could do it.

Mind you, the order has changed over the years. As a kid, I did not really like The Silver Chair or The Horse and His Boy. I’m pretty sure the reason for this is simply because neither of these stories feature the Pevensie children. (Okay, The Horse and His Boy has King Edmund, Queen Susan, and Queen Lucy, but they’re minor characters.) Fast forward to today, and those two books rank much, much higher in my estimation.

My Ranking (as a kid)

#1 – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
#2 – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
#3 – The Magician’s Nephew
#4 – The Last Battle
#5 – Prince Caspian
#6 – The Horse and His Boy
#7 – The Silver Chair

My Ranking (as an adult)

#1 – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
#2 – The Horse and His Boy
#3 – The Silver Chair
#4 – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
#5 – Prince Caspian
#6 – The Magician’s Nephew
#7 – The Last Battle (Sorry, I think this is due to how Shift treats Puzzle!)

Please note: I love ALL the books. Just because one is ranked lower on the list doesn’t mean I hate it. No indeed. It just means I’d prefer to re-read the other ones first. 🙂

And if I had to give the books ratings, they’d all be either 4 or 5 Stars!