Tuesday, April 29, 2008

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.

1 comment:

Beth said...

You are probably already aware of this, but the Special Collections Department at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro has a fabulous collection of Lois Lenski materials. http://library.uncg.edu/depts/speccoll/lenski/