Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Millions of Cats and Total Book Lust

My late night browsing revealed this wonderful post from the Children's Picturebook Blog about how to tell if you have a first edition of Wanda Gág's Millions of Cats or not. They estimate its worth at about $4000. Now I am suddenly salivating over this book. (Do owls salivate?) The blog authors write:

The historical importance of the book is underappreciated by the general public, however not so within the bibliophile hobby, as the steep market value will attest. The book is still in print today, which is quite remarkable for a children’s picturebook. How many other picturebooks from the 1920’s are still in print today?

For those of us who can't spring for the first edition, I still recommend it for building your library or your child's library. It's a classic story with fine woodcut (I think?) illustrations - imagine a million cats eating all the grass off a hill! You have to see it to believe it.

Classic Illustrators: Lois Lenski

I'm a huge fan of line art in chapter books - those little drawings that go along with the story, interspersed in the chapters. It's too bad that these illustrators don't often get as much recognition as picture book artists. Surely they have as much to do with how a reader imagines a story as anyone! Just think of Pauline Bayne's line art for the Narnia books. Those books have been through many sets of hideous covers, but fortunately there are editions in print that use Baynes's covers as well.

But the illustrator that really got me thinking about this topic is Lois Lenski. She did the interior art for the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, as well as writing and illustrating many books on her own. I love the whimsical folk-art quality of her drawings. Here's one of Betsy, Tacy, and Tib:

The series are about a group of girls growing up in small-town Minnesota in the early part of the twentieth century. They're classics of the Midwest (Lenski was from Ohio) as well as just all-round classic books. And who doesn't love a series where the main girl wants to be a writer? If Anne of Green Gables got in a fight with Betsy...it's hard to say who'd win.

Lenski also did the cover illustrations for the original books, which the currently in-print editions of the books have completely abandoned:

Not only do the girls in the new series look like grown-up American Girl dolls, they're playing "he loves me, he loves me not." How boring and sweetly Victorian is that? By contrast, Lenski's illustrations conveys the sense of adventure and imagination that the characters in the books actually have. Hmmph. Maybe I'll up and join The Betsy-Tacy Society after all.

Fortunately the in print editions of the Betsy-Tacy books continue to use Lenski's line art in the interior.

And keep your eye out for the old editions and first editions of these books. They're starting to be worth quite a bit.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Books We Love (the Frances books), part 1

Books We Love will be an ongoing service as Owl and the Glass Cat do their utmost to bring you back in touch with the classics you've grown to forget. You don't need to have children to appreciate these books--well written, beautifully illustrated, & funny!

Owl finds the phrase "second childhood" particularly offensive to both children and the elderly, and she respectfully suggests that it be banished from the language. Here at Owl and the Glass Cat Review, we believe that second, third and fourth childhood are all potential stages of development.
Tribute: Best Friends for Frances
The Frances books, written by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban (with the exception of Bedtime for Frances, illus. by Garth Williams), are delightful. All of them. And the badgers look so friendly! Absolutely. In Best Friends for Frances, our heroine is disappointed when her best friend Albert fails to invite her out on his "wandering day," which involves "throwing stones at telephone poles. A little frog work maybe. Walking on fences. Whistling with grass blades," and a spectacular lunch. In response, Frances takes her little sister Gloria out on an absolutely terrific-sounding picnic equipped for egg tosses, frog jumping contests and a veritable feast hauled in a little red wagon. Frances and Gloria march out carrying a sign that reads "Best Friends Outing. No Boys," but Frances relents when Albert apologizes and promises to not to exclude her again. Albert and Frances are great eaters, here and in Bread and Jam for Frances. Check out Lillian Hoban's many drawings of hard boiled eggs in eggcups, accompanied by multiple (even cardboard!) salt shakers.

A Baby Sister for Frances
A Bargain for Frances
A Birthday for Frances
Bread and Jam for Frances
Bedtime for Frances
Best Friends for Frances

The Hobans' full oeuvre may be chronicled later, but here's a special, advance shout out to Lillian Hoban's masterpiece Arthur's Honey Bear. The Arthur books are charming, too, and Arthur the Chimpanzee is so cute and sweet-faced in Hoban's crayon(like) drawings. This story is resonant with another classic, though not a Hoban book, called Ira Sleeps Over. Boys and their bears. Girls who are badgers. The Glass Cat may take a nap now, but first, please admire her lovely pink brains. Audibly. That's it. Good night.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Hoot hoot for free books!

So I forgot that I won free books on the internet, until they arrived in the mail today. I entered a promotional contest from The Brown Bookshelf, a fine blog on, for, and by African-American children's authors. They sent me not one, but TWOOO hardcover picture books:

Snowball by Nina Crews: Illustrated in a cut-and-paste photo-collage-looking style, it reminds me of Ezra Jack Keats' classic The Snowy Day, but with real people.

When the Horses Ride By
by Eloise Greenfield, illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist: A book of anti-war poems with mixed media collage illustrations--looks like paint, pen-and-ink, and photocopies. I really like the illustrations in this one; they feature kids from all around the world and wars from all around the world. It's a heavy subject, but the illustrations and text deal with it lightly in a way that feels honest and authentic. Probably you're not going to be collecting a whole library of picture books about war and peace, but the illustrations make this one worth it.

I'm definitely holding onto these and will probably pass them on to my future niece/nephew!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

And Owl will also post on this blog

I live in a tree in the Hundred Acre Wood.

Coming soon to an internet near you

Don't throw those children's books away or put them out for a garage sale! We'll help you tell heirlooms from junk.

We'll also review children's books--old and new--by the best illustrators and writers. We have an eye for overlooked classics. There's some great art and literature hidden between those skinny spines...

Got a question or trying to hunt down a children's classic? Contact us and we'll do our best!