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Showing posts with label Harcourt Brace and Company. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Harcourt Brace and Company. Show all posts


On the Day You Were Born (1991)

Written and Illustrated by Debra Frasier

Text set in Goudy Old Style

Harcourt, Inc.

This is a book I feel like I've seen a hundred times, face-out at bookstores and libraries, the kind of book you would give to someone who's having a baby and be done with it, in the same way you might give a college graduate a copy of Dr. Seuss' Oh the Places You'll Go! and be done with it. This might explain why I've always glossed over it, despite the fact that I genuinely admire the cover design: the sphere of space, the sphere of Earth, the beam of birds shining out like a flashlight beam, a Keith-Haring-esque figure prostrate and off-center.

Reading through it, however, taking my time with each of its multi-layered images, I felt overwhelmed by the sense of - as Richard Dawkins would call it - the magic of reality. There's nothing pseudo-spiritual, no false promises of supernatural transcendence. In fact, I felt it matched up very well with my own sense of secular spirituality. No need to invent, the real world is amazing and magical in it own right - an insight appropriate on the occasion of someone's birth, I suppose, or as a wake-up call to anyone mired in daily life.

Within this picture book, we are introduced to such concepts as animal migration, the phases of the moon, the giant jets of fire called prominences which arch a million - a million! - miles above the surface of the sun. The tides, the train, layers of atmosphere, all of the elements of life, the elements which allow us to live, which were all present and in motion on the days of our birth.

Welcome to the Spinning World.
Welcome to the green Earth.


Jump! The Adventures of Brer Rabbit (1986)

Jump!: The Adventures of Brer Rabbit (Books for Young Readers)
Written by Joel Chandler Harris

Adapted by Van Dyke Parks and Malcolm Jones

Illustrated by Barry Moser

Watercolor and ink on Fabriano Classico
Text type set in Cochin by Thompson Type
Display type set in John Peters' Castellar
Designed by Joy Chu and Barry Moser

Harcourt Brace

"People will talk," begins the Storyteller's Note, "and as long as they do, they will tell each other stories."

This is the first volume of a trilogy of retellings of traditional Brer Rabbit stories, illustrated by the great Barry Moser and adapted by Van Dyke Parks and Malcolm Jones.  It includes:

The Comeuppance of Brer Wolf
Brer Fox Goes Hunting but Brer Rabbit Bags the Game
Brer Rabbit Finds His Match
Brer Rabbit Grossly Deceives Brer Fox
The Moon in the Millpond

Also included is the score of an original song written by Van Dyke Parks, "Hominy Grove."

Off the wall, wallflower.  Now the dance has begun.  It's our shining hour til all our dancin' is done.

In all three books, Barry Moser’s medium of choice is watercolor. His illustrations are the definition of jaunty. He pays great attention to their clothing – their top hats and suits which look like they were purchased a decade ago and sit in a dusty closet awaiting Sunday morning. I could easily imagine Woody Guthrie hitching his way through this Hominy Grove, on his way to an open box car.

The Storyteller's Note ends with:

Tempered by hardship and nourished by hope, these tales are a testament to the belief that no one can be wholly owned who does not wish it.

Please read Tales and Their Tellers 4: The Signifyin' Rabbit for more on this series of books.


Iblis (1994)

Retold by Shulamith Levey Oppenheim

Illustrated by Ed Young

Designed by Michael Farmer

Display type hand-lettered by Judythe Sieck

Pastel and watercolor on Canson paper

Text set in Deepdene

Harcourt Brace and Company

This is the story of Adam and Eve in the gardens of Paradise. This is the story of the Serpent, of the Devil, and of the Fall. This is not based on the first book of Moses, however, but on the Islamic version which was written by Jarir-at-Tabari in Baghdad in the 9th century.

For five hundred years Adam and Eve had lived in Paradise. And for five hundred years Iblis, the great Satan, had been trying to get in.

It is the angel Ridwan who stands guard outside the garden, and the first image of the book is of his clenched fist and flaming sword.

Trying to figure out a way to sneak in, Iblis tricks the serpent, promising to tell her the three magic words which will save all who hear them from illness, old age and death. The serpent - both beautiful and vain - allows Iblis to shrink to the size of a speck of dust and sit himself "between her teeth, making them poisonous for eternity."

From this perch, Iblis can then speak as the serpent, and is thus able to address Eve incognito.

"Dearest serpent, in this garden of God, have we not all that can be desired?"
"It would seem so. But are you not troubled that the noblest fruit of the garden is denied you by God?"

He goes on to tell her that the fruit gives eternal youth and health. Eve is indeed curious.

"How do you know this?"
"An angel told me as I lay under the forbidden tree."
"I must see this angel!"

Iblis is a master shapeshifter. In a moment, he has flown out from the serpent's mouth and transformed into "a perfect young man with wings like clouds."

"I am a man made into an angel," Iblis told her. "I become an angel by eating the fruit that God has denied us. I was near death, ill and infirm. I ate and lo, you see me a thousand years later."

Eve needs no more convincing. She takes and she eats. She gives to Adam and he eats.

It is not clear why the fruit is forbidden. There is no mention of "the Knowledge Between Good and Evil," which I always found to be one of the most compelling aspects of the Biblical story. Neither is there any mention of Adam and Eve suddenly realizing their nakedness and attempting to cover themselves.

At that moment, the tree comes to terrifyingly life. Young spreads it out over two pages, the terrible, twisting branches of that hideously overgrown tree, like a hundred dark snakes, the form of the humans writhing from within, trying to escape. This is the manifestation of God, and He is not pleased.

"Depart from Paradise, thou Adam, thy wife, Eve, and the animals that led ye into disobeying my command."

It is now, at God's command, that leaves are given to Eve and Adam, and they are expelled. It seems a slight distinction, but I'm certain in the Biblical version they fashion the fig leaves before God comes to find them.

Adam is banished to the island of Serendib, which is now - Oppenheim tells us - present-day Sri Lanka. Eve finds herself exiled in Jeddah. I'm trying to figure out how they went on to produce the human race between them if God sent them to opposite ends of the bus like this.

And Iblis - the star of the book - is flung into the River Eila, which flows into Hell. We see him, screaming, now transformed into his true form, falling into the roaring flame of eternal hellfire.

And they all lived eternally cursed ever after!


Androcles and the Lion (1997)

Retold and Illustrated by Dennis Nolan

I've indexed this one in Aesop's Fables, perhaps out of laziness. A tale retold can resist easy categorization. A version of this story does appear in Aesop's anthropomorphic moralizing, but it was around much earlier than that.

This story was first written by an Egyptian living in Rome in A.D. 40, and was apparently based on eye-witness accounts of a fateful day at the Circus Maximus. It was then included in Apion's AEgyptiaca, was copied by Aulus Gellius in the 2nd Century in Noctes Atticae, rewritten 1300 years after that by Plutarch, and now - some 600 years after that - is again retold in this beautiful edition by Dennis Nolan.

I gleaned that previous paragraph from a nice afterword Nolan includes.

Long ago, on the edge of the Egyptian desert, in the empire of Rome, a slave named Androcles was kept by a cruel master.

Soon Androcles attempts his escape, to run off into the desert with two days worth of stolen food. Nolan shows great detail in drawing his dirty hair, his unshaven face, the bare, calloused feet digging into the dunes. The bitter realism better serves the fantastic forthcoming, as he creeps toward the fateful cave.

From behind, enter the eponymous lion.

Though recoiling in fear, Androcles can see that the lion is wounded by a great thorn. Soon, the thorn removed, they become the best of friends, hunting and sleeping together, and posing for portraits such as the one on the cover.

However, the blissful relationship in interrupted by Roman soldiers, who arrest Androcles and force him to join the sadistic Circus Maximus, there to be torn to morsels by wild beasts for the emperor Tiberious' amusement. But the emperor doesn't count on the relationship between the slave and the best in question.

Androcles marched in triumph through the streets with the lion beside him. As they passed shops and houses the people showered them with coins and threw flowers on the lion's golden mane. And everyone who saw them said, "This is the lion that was a man's best friend, and this is the man who healed the lion."
Click here to read other versions of Androcles and the Lion!
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