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Showing posts with label Little Brown and Company. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Little Brown and Company. Show all posts


New Baby Train (2004)

Written by Woody Guthrie

Illustrated by Marla Frazee

Gouache on French recycled Speckletone

Text set in Opti Powell Old Style

Little, Brown and Company

I love it when interests intersect, but with a medium as wide-ranging and far-reaching as picture books, I shouldn't be at all surprised when they do. Case in point: Woody Guthrie, whom I righteously love, and is one of those artists who seemingly just keeps giving, not even letting something as shitty as death get in the way.

New Baby Train was only recorded for the first time in 1999 by Kim Wilson on the album Daddy O Daddy, and then, five years after that, given the illustrative treatment by Ms. Frazee.

This book was our first experience of Marla Frazee, but we've always looked for her books since. She seems like she really gets it. The book jacket tells that she "visited train museums, studied photographs of the Dust Bowl, and listened to a lot of Woody's music while working on this book."

It really shows. I feel that every page is filled with comical body language and fun movement, but is also filled with wonderful details.... the oversized hand-me-downs on the barefoot children, the epic swaths of empty, dusty plains, the great twisting, geometric steel of the locomotive. Lots of texture. I can feel everything with just my eyes, feel the granular dust between my teeth.

If the setting for a Woody Guthrie song is desolate, the language is anything but, and this is no exception. It's tempting to just write out the whole thing, as it's hard to stop once you start.

You know, a lot of people ask me
I bet you'd like to know,
How do brand-new babies
get into the house?

The flowers bring some.
the trees bring some,
the birds bring some,
the cars bring some,
and everything else brings some.
I guess maybe the trains bring some.

And so the story-song begins, and so it goes, following our pint-sized Guthrie stand-in as he infiltrates said Baby Train to observe first-hand this extraordinary engine and report back. The babies are all wearin' their diapers, got their makeshift hobo sticks in hand.

All the little babies are lookin out the windows
wonderin' which house they're
gonna get off at, you know?

It occurs to me now that the whole thing kind of reads like a folksy antithesis to The Polar Express. Regardless, my beautiful wife bought this book when my son - Arlo - was just a few years old, and it has served as a great way to introduce him to the world of Woody Guthrie.


Tatterhood and the Hobgoblins (1993)

Retold and Illustrated by Lauren Mills

Pen-and-ink and watercolor

Text set in Horley Old Style

Little, Brown and Company

It's a nice bit of meta-storytelling, I thought, for Lauren Mills to begin her book with the dedication: "For twins." This is a story about twins, and what an awful lot of twists and turns the tale takes before arriving at is final destination.

It begins in Norway, in which a barren Queen - at the behest of a young beggar child - has ventured into the midst of a fairy-ridden forest, and there to find two flowers.

"One will be very beautiful, and the other will be an ugly weed. You must eat the beautiful flower and leave the weed there," instructs the beggar child. "Go alone and do not tarry. If you reach the flowers before the sun has set, no harm will befall you."

The Queen journeys into the woods.
I like this presentation of magic: matter-of-fact yet inexplicable. There are no rules to this magic, or if there are, they are well beyond our understanding. The narrative doesn't attempt to bring us up to speed. It just is what it is. The Queen, of course, does not reach the fateful flowers until after the sun has set. As if that weren't enough, she then proceeds to consume both the beautiful flower and the weed. Clearly, she is not good at following directions.

Faries disperse. Enter hobgoblins.

Twelve of them - a good number - small and cunning and wicked. Later in the text they are referred to as "demons."

"You will have two daughters," declares the leader of the hobgoblins, pointing a gnarled finger at the terrified Queen. "One will be very tame and beautiful, and the other will be wild and strange. Bring the wild and strange one here to us on her twelfth birthday. Now be gone!"

It is this wild and strange child who is the hero of the tale. "Tatterhood," she is called. She wears only ragged clothes, has wild, unkempt hair, and spends her days waving a wooden spoon about and riding upon her pet goat. And it is this Tatterhood who does battle, journeys across stormy seas and arrives at the Island of the Hobgoblins for the grand climax.

And if that wasn't empowering enough, at the end she is crowned Queen!

The twins.


This Land is Your Land (1998)

Written by Woody Guthrie

Tribute by Pete Seeger

Illustrated by Kathy Jakobsen

Oil on canvas

Little, Brown and Company

This is a beautiful book which should be on everyone's bookshelf, not just because of its cultural significance, but because its just beautiful to look at.

Maybe everyone knows the chorus and the first verse of the song- and they may even know that it was written by a guy named Woody Guthrie, but its a good bet that they don't know all six verses - which this book reproduces and illustrates, and that the verses become progressively more challenging as they go along, a song which begins as a pastoral appreciation of America's beauty becomes an indictment and a call to Freedom.
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