March 14, 2019

Robin Hood by Nicky Raven - Illustrated by Anne Yvonne Gilbert

The legend of Robin Hood gets a fresh retelling in this action packed adventure. Having missed the first printing of this book, I was so pleased to find out it is available again through Racehorse for Young Readers this year. The foreword is by Otto Bathurst, director of Robin Hood, released late 2018. Timing for this edition is a little off however, it is not a movie tie-in. Fast paced with short background information on the characters and setting, this edition rises into action fairly quickly and does not slow down the momentum until the very end.

Robin of Locksley is a war veteran whose land has been seized, is the leader of a band of outlaws. While Robin is the main character, he does not overshadow the secondary characters like Friar Tuck, Little John and Will Scarlet; they also get good character development. There are only two strong female characters: Maid Marian, smart and very lady-like and Alyn, a member of the outlaws who is a good fighter and ace archer. The Sheriff of Nottingham performs his duties justly while the new villain here is his lackey, Guy of Gisburn.

The cover illustration has a Kevin Costner look-alike from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves 1991. Nicky Raven's story will have a more lasting impression than that movie. Anne Yvonne Gilbert uses coloured pencil and ink for her illustrations and an earthy colour scheme to match the settings of Sherwood forest and the medieval ruggedness of the era. Her characters look real and less "Hollywood". This is a small book with many beautiful illustrations. Recommended for readers looking for a new interpretation of this legendary hero, ages 12+.

Amazon | Bookdepository
Racehorse for Young Readers 2019
Hardcover 104p
6" x 9"
RedCapeTales Robin Hood by Nicky RavenRedCapeTales Robin Hood by Nicky RavenRedCapeTales Robin Hood by Nicky RavenRedCapeTales Robin Hood by Nicky RavenRedCapeTales Robin Hood by Nicky RavenRedCapeTales Robin Hood by Nicky RavenRedCapeTales Robin Hood by Nicky RavenRedCapeTales Robin Hood by Nicky Raven

February 15, 2019

Judging a Book by Its Cover

During the late 19th century, the advancement in printing and engraving technology produced an influx in book production. Publishers were able to produce material inexpensively and cater to more than just the higher class.
With this increase in demand for books, artists were allowed more freedom of creativity; excelling in book design and illustration like never before. At this time, dust jackets or wrappers were an uncommon addition. Unlike modern times, with reviews of all sorts available for new books, buyers have little information about the new titles. A great deal of weight is placed upon the covers of these books to entice potential readers. Some higher end books usually have gold stamping with embossing or debossing applications. Below are fifteen examples of elegant book covers created during the golden age of illustration. Which is your favourite?

February 12, 2019

The Love Story of Cupid and Psyche

In the month of love when displays of affection are encouraged especially commercially through the gifting of chocolates, sweets, flowers and Valentine cards. Symbols of love such as the heart, doves or a chubby cherub with wings depicting the god of desire, Cupid (Amor/Eros) is plentiful. Cupid is often portrayed as the son of the goddess Venus and the god Mars. His most memorable appearance in mythology is from the love story of Cupid and Psyche.

In many fairy tales the protagonists meets their love interest near to the end of the story with no real reason to fall madly in love. The tale of Cupid and Psyche is perhaps a little more romantic as it provides evidence and reason for the attraction. Having Greek origins, the earliest record of this tale lies within a Roman novel, Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis. Published in Latin some time in the latter half of the second century CE. The story goes as follows...

A king and queen have three daughters, all were very lovely but Psyche was the most beautiful. Word traveled throughout the lands of Psyche's unearthly beauty that some even mistook her for the goddess of love, Venus herself. This angered Venus and as punishment, she ordered her son Cupid, whose golden arrows can cause love at first sight at the slightest touch to avenge her. He was to make Psyche fall in love with a monster.
Edward Burne-Jones
Click to view full image.
Cupid enters Psyche's chamber one night, ready with bow in hand. When he sees her and is startled by her beauty, he accidentally nicks himself with his own arrow. Cupid falls in love with Psyche instantly and flees the scene. Venus then instructs an oracle to deliver Psyche to the mountaintop where she will be wed to a hideous monster.

Cupid is now unable to obey his mothers orders, rescues Psyche. She is swept down safely by Zephyrus, the west wind to a magnificent castle. Inside the castle, Psyche had everything she could ever desire with invisible servants and a mysterious host who became her husband. She was instructed to never see the face of her husband who visits and makes love to her in the dark of night.
William Say
Click to view full image.
Before long, Psyche grows lonely and asks to have her sisters visit her in the castle. Psyche's jealous sisters demand she discover the identity of her secret husband for he may be the monster the oracle had predicted. With this planted doubt, that night while Cupid was asleep, Psyche holds a candle near him and sees not the face of a monster but that of a handsome god. While in her discovery, a drop of hot wax falls on Cupid and wakes him. He is infuriated at her betrayal and abandons her.
Henrietta Rae
Click to view full image.
Psyche is miserable and enters the temple of Venus to attempt atonement. To gain forgiveness, Venus assigns three impossible tasks for Psyche. First, she must sort through great mounds of mixed grains. With the help of ants, she completes her first task. For her second task, she is to retrieve golden fleece from dangerous sheep down by the river. A river god aids Psyche this time by telling her to collect the fleece that have been left behind on the bushes when the sheep leave for shade. Psyche's second task is complete and this angers Venus even more.
John Roddam Spencer Stanhope
Click to view full image.
For her third task, she is given a box and commanded to request some beauty from Proserpine, queen of the underworld. Cupid unable to let his love enter the underworld to never return, aids psyche in her last task. He instructs her to pay Charon, the ferryman of the river Styx with a gold coin from her lips so he will not know she is alive. Psyche is careful not to eat or be distracted by anything whilst in the underworld. She receives the beauty from Proserpine within the box and returns to the land of the living successfully. Before returning to Venus, Psyche's curiosity gets the better of her and she decides to open the box and get a little beauty for herself. Once the box is opened, she discovers that there is no beauty in the box; it contains only the sleep of death. Instantly, Psyche falls to the ground. When he sees his love fall, Cupid flew to her side and drew the sleep from her body and places it back into the box.

The lovers asks each other for forgiveness and Cupid pleads to Jupiter, king of the gods to allow Psyche into Olympus. Psyche then drinks a cup of ambrosia and becomes immortal. Soon after, Cupid and Psyche have a daughter named Voluptas meaning 'pleasure'.

Kinuko Y. Craft
HarperCollins 1996
Hardcover 48p
9" x 11"

There are not many modern retellings available for the story of 
Cupid and Psyche and even slimmer pickings for children's picture
books. A recommendation for this title is by M. Charlotte Craft and
illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft.

December 16, 2018

Battle of the Books: P. J. Lynch/Sonja Danowski Illustrate The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

Every year around this time, I like to take out some holiday classics to read over again. One favourite of mine is The Gift of the Magi, a short story by American writer William Sydney Porter (1862-1910) under the pen name O. Henry. First published in 1905, it has been enjoyed and retold for over a century. Selected here are two picture books that I simply adore and while they may not be the most recent, I feel they illustrate this love story in the best way. I cannot decide which I prefer so here goes my first Battle of the Books. In this post category, two books telling the same story will be weighed against each other. Since the text is identical in both books, this part is omitted in the comparison. Things considered are: visual appeal, illustrative impact, quality of print and paper, size and number of illustrations. The check mark () denotes my preference.

Book A
Book B
The Gift of the Magi Book A
The Gift of the Magi Book B
Illustrated by Sonja Danowski
Illustrated by P. J. Lynch
minedition 2013
Candlewick Press 2008
Hardcover 32p -  8.6" x 13"
Hardcover 40p - 7.8" x 9.4"

The cover is very beautiful with this close-up image of Della moping around on the couch staring at the pennies she has saved. I love the detail on the couch and Della's hair. The title above the image is easily noticeable.
B: This cover image is from the ending showing the couple in a loving embrace with a packaged gift on the table. The title is a bit subdued with the script type and little contrast to the background. There is a lot of emotion conveyed on their faces which works better with the story. Tie
The Gift of the Magi Sonja Danowski The Gift of the Magi P.J. Lynch
A: Opening the book displays a lovely art nouveau flower pattern on the endpapers. This rose image is used adjacent each picture; growing taller with every turn of the page. The layout of the book is more structured with text on the left side and picture on the right side of the spread. Script type is used for the text and white space used for overall framing. The illustrations use a muted palette that resemble colourized old photographs; the effect is vintage and elegant. 
B: This book begins with a view from Della's window. The poor neighbourhood is shown by the laundry line drying outside. Della is counting her pennies and looking distraught. The apartment and surroundings are better displayed. Warm browns and golden hues are used and a varied layout consisting of mostly full page images.
The Gift of the Magi Sonja Danowski The Gift of the Magi P.J. Lynch
A: Della slumps on a chair while her hair is being examined for purchase. Both figures are wonderfully drawn and the detailed background is superb. 
B: Mme. Sofronie looks much colder here with her pale face and stern look. There is movement and interesting figure placement but the background is a little bare.
The Gift of the Magi Sonja Danowski The Gift of the Magi P.J. Lynch
A: Della stares longingly through a store window and again great detailing in the background; this time with the buildings and added figures but Della looks a bit too fashionable for her budget and the illustration is similar to a previous one.
B: Della's joy shows through here by her expression and the busy streets filled with shoppers adds to the excitement of finding Jim's present. 
The Gift of the Magi Sonja Danowski The Gift of the Magi P.J. Lynch
A: Della is pictured with her newly cut hair and while I like seeing her use that old fashioned curling iron, the shape of her head seems off. It could be that I too miss seeing Della with her luxurious locks.
B: Della looks at her new hairstyle in the mirror trying to like it. The hopefulness in her eyes says volumes. 
The Gift of the Magi Sonja Danowski The Gift of the Magi P.J. Lynch
A: The rest of the illustrations follow a similar pattern with great detailing however, some of the figures can look a bit stiff and posed; sometimes looking right at the viewer. This style may not work as well for a story that is written in the third person. Near the end, the couple is shown in an embrace and Della looking slightly happier.
B: There are more illustrations showing Della and Jim's interaction here. The exchange of gifts, the surprise looks and the emotional realization, all add significant support to the story. The facial expressions are lively and real with figures that carry natural body language. The book ends with a view of the cold winter night with the happy couple shown through a small lit window. 

The Gift of the Magi Covers P.J. Lynch Sonja DanowskiA: Tall format with twelve large illustrations on medium weight stock. Spot varnish for the title with decorative title page and end papers. A stylish and elegant looking book. My favourite illustration is the one selected for the cover.
B: Wide format with twenty illustrations of varying sizes. Embossed title on cover and medium weight stock. I don't have a favourite illustration for this book, they all carry the same weight but I do enjoy the city scenes; it adds to the coldness of the environment, making Della and Jim's love burn a little bit brighter and warmer. 
Do you agree with these comparisons?

November 29, 2018

An Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben Hoare - Illustrated by Daniel Long, Angela Rizza, Daniela Terrazzini

This mini encyclopedia of animals is a nonfiction book but it was too gorgeous to pass on. More than a hundred animals are featured, ranging from all six groups: mammals, fish, reptiles, birds, amphibians and invertebrates. Each animal is displayed in a spread with a paragraph or two of descriptions accompanied by a close-up photograph and smaller illustration. Did you know that king cobras don't hiss but growl like dogs do? Or that a newborn koala is the size of a jelly bean? This is some of the information presented and while short, the text is fun to read and focuses on the most interesting facts. Ben Hoare keeps readers engaged with his light and humorous writing, holding interest in this thick book until the last page.

The animal illustrations by Daniel Long are vector based graphics. It's clean crisp look juxtapose nicely with the accompanying photographs and visually aids in the guide where all the animals are displayed together. Angela Rizza's delicate illustrations of foliage and patterns decorate the end pages and background with quiet charm, adding elegance and softening the overall look. Daniela Terrazzini illustrates the covers with ornate images consisting of animal shapes and foliage. The image is stamped in gold on a teal background; the result is striking. This technique is carried along to the spine and often neglected back cover which includes a different illustration. To match the cover, the edges are gilded in gold. There are two different covers available for this book. The image on the left is US and Canada versions. The image on the right is for the UK version-I prefer this one.

Extras in the back include an illustration showing how the animals are related to one another, a glossary and a handy visual guide. Use the guide to search for a favourite animal or simply open the book to any page to be pleasantly surprised. A ribbon marker is included. This is essentially a reference book for children but can also be a coffee table book. Recommended for ages 7+.

Amazon | Book Depository
DK Children 2018
Hardcover 224p
8.8" x 11.2"
An Anthology of Intriguing Animals Daniela TerrazziniAn Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben HoareAn Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben HoareAn Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben HoareAn Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben HoareAn Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben HoareAn Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben HoareAn Anthology of Intriguing Animals by Ben Hoare