Posted in Book Lovers Community

Illustrator Series: Michael Hague

Growing up, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of great art. We didn’t have any rare or unique pieces on our walls; in fact, the oversized picture that hung over our sofa was the exact same print that hung over the sofa at my grandmother’s house—a department store special one year, I think! I also never visited any museums or galleries to view any of the works created by the masters as a child. My parents just did not have an interest or admiration for fine art at all. I never even recall a discussion with them about an artist, painting, or sculpture. I grew up in a total artistic vacuum, in many ways. And yet, to this day, I have a love and appreciation for art that would seem unusual for someone with my (lack of) artistic history. When I finally found my way to the Louvre in Paris, I distinctly remember rounding a corner and stopping dead in my tracks as my eye caught part of a painting by Jacques-Louis David. It was so breathtakingly beautiful, I was moved to tears. I longed to fill my world with the kind of beauty and elegance I felt when I looked at Napoleon’s Josephine. The velvet in her dress seemed so soft and real, I had to suppress the urge to reach out and touch it. I wandered through the museum with a feeling of longing, wanting to hold forever the sense of wonder and joy I felt as I encountered piece after piece of exquisite artistic excellence and beauty.  I felt the same way as I viewed the work of the Impressionists at the Musay D’Orsay a few days later. As I passed by the artists who were painting watercolor pictures of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine on the Left Bank, I wondered where my love for art had come from, considering its void in my life as a child. And suddenly I realized that I had been exposed to countless works of art when I was a girl, even though I hadn’t realized it. I had intently studied the works of many artists, despite my parents’ lack of interest.  Because, even as a child, I was a voracious reader and I came to be a lover of beautiful art through my constant exposure to picture books.

“An adult appreciation of artistic excellence is not a coincidence, nor is a heart that hungers for the beautiful. Values such as those must be shaped from early childhood, woven day by day into the fabric of a child’s thought…with every picture and illustration they encounter, they are building an internal expectation of beauty against which they will measure all future experiences with art.”  -Sarah Clarkson

I believe wholeheartedly in the power of picture book illustrators to shape a child’s affections and love for quality artistic expression, because I experienced it in my own life. I was blessed to grow up in a time when the “classics” of children’s picture books were still very popular. These days, many of the illustrations in picture books can be crude, base, and offensive. A parent who wants to expose their children to high quality, beautiful art has to sort through the dross to find illustrations by artists who will, hopefully, form the child’s affection for true beauty and form. Over the past several years, as I have been collecting picture books for my boys, I have found that there are particular illustrators who consistently produce the kind of lovely art that I want to expose them to. When I fall in love with an illustrator, I begin to seek them out and collect everything of theirs that I can get my hands on! Over the next several months, I plan to share with you some of my very favorites.

Today, I want to share with you my love for Michael Hague. I discovered Michael Hague when I came across his book AlphaBears: An ABC book in a thrift store. I had an infant at the time, and I was smitten with how he used charming illustrations of teddy bears to teach the alphabet. I grabbed it up, and my boys and I have enjoyed it ever since.

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A few years later, I found NumBears: A Counting Book at a used book vendor at a homeschool convention and we have enjoyed it just as much!

 

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Hague is famous for his realistic, yet still fantastical, detailed illustrations.  My boys and I get lost in the pictures of Old Mother West Wind, The Fairies, and East of the Sun, West of the Moon.

 

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Now that my boys are getting a bit older, we can enjoy longer tales, and a one of our favorites is Hague’s Book of Dragons. It is a collection of famous dragon tales, including dragons from mythology and hero epics, tales from Edith Nesbit’s Book of Dragons, and even Lewis’ Eustace. All three of my boys ask for the “dragon book” and will study the pictures for hours.

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Hague has also illustrated many classic books and fairy tales. We have The Velveteen Rabbit (Amazon link unavailable) and The Little Mermaid.  We do not own his illustrated Wind in the Willows, but I love his depiction of Mole, Toad, Rat, and Badger so much that I ordered an art print of the picnic scene to hang in the little boys’ room!

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Compilations and anthologies are always nice to have in a home library, and Hague has illustrated a few of our favorites for children. The Children’s Book of Faith is a lovely collection of stories to help teach children some of the foundational stories of the Christian faith, and The Land of Nod is a lovely collection of famous children’s poems and nursery rhymes. Both get a lot of mileage in our home with our boys.

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Many of Hague’s books are now out-of-print, but they are worth hunting down. You absolutely should snatch it up if you happen to come across one! His beautiful, timeless art will be enjoyed by your children and are worth keeping in your home library for generations to come!

*A note on The Little Mermaid: There are a few illustrations that may be frightening for young children and one illustration that shows a the little mermaid naked from behind when she first gets her legs.

Posted in Book Lovers Community

Illustrator Series: d’Aulaires’ Biographies

I’ve always loved history. I remember how, during school, students would complain about how boring and dry it was, and (to be fair) most of the history textbooks that we used consisted mostly of long paragraphs with lists of names and dates. I would slog through those textbooks along with my classmates, but I had a secret weapon that my young peers did not have—a resource that totally transformed the stark retelling of events from those books into vibrant, interesting narratives that piqued my curiosity and imagination: my father. What I learned from him totally transformed my view of history and made me love it to this day. He taught me that history isn’t a timeline of names, places, and events like my teachers taught it. He showed me, instead, that history is a story. When I would come home from school with the dates and the names of the major players of an historical event I had to memorize, my father would fill in the details with tales of exciting battles, spies, adventures, and sometimes even legend. I would be riveted as he painted a picture with his words.

Now that I am a homeschool mom, I want to make history come alive for my boys the way that my father did for me. Instead of dry, boring textbooks, I have been strategically collecting history books that are dynamic and engaging–books that teach history the way I believe it should be taught—as a story. And some of my absolute favorite resources for these types of living history books are the biographies by Edgar and Ingri d’Aulaire.

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The d’Auliares were immigrant artists in the mid-Twentieth Century. After publishing several books that captured some of the mythology and folklore of their native lands, they began writing and illustrating children’s books about some of the major figures from American history. There are seven biographies in total: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Leif the Lucky, Pocahontas, Benjamin Franklin, Buffalo Bill, and Columbus. Our family owns three of them so far, so this review covers George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Buffalo Bill, though I have also read Abraham Lincoln.

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These books are absolutely beautiful. Oversized and full of vibrant full-color and black and white illustrations, the pages capture in detail the intricate artwork originally produced on giant lithograph stones.  The images are a cross between realistic renderings and stereotypical caricatures, whose end result is utterly charming. The effect has a somewhat primitive, folk-art feel, which matches the text perfectly.

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The text, written in narrative form, is utterly delightful. The d’Aulaires capture not only the major milestones of each person’s life, but also the legends that outlived them and helped make them into famous people that we study today. The historical figures come alive as the reader learns about the famous events that shaped them, and lesser-known biographical details. The d’Aulaires tell the stories of these famous people from American history, including all of the colorful folklore that has been passed down for generations. Rigid historians may take issue with some of the details portrayed in these books. (For example, although Washington does not chop down the cherry tree, they do paint an idyllic picture of his childhood and emphasize how he learned not to tell a lie.) Facts and myths are interwoven to provide a charming, culturally relevant introduction to these famous figures from American history to young readers. The books focus a lot on the childhoods and formative years of the subjects, making them especially engaging for early to middle elementary aged students, as they walk in the little shoes of these eventual giants of history. Questionable, upsetting, or disreputable details of each person’s life are omitted. Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and Ben Franklin’s indiscretions are not covered, for example. Slavery is mentioned as a matter-of-fact without any explanation, and the treatment of Native Americans is typical of a 1950’s “cowboys vs Indians” narrative. In other words, these are traditional American stories that spark the imaginations of children while protecting and maintaining their innocence. And they also learn a lot about several important people in American history in the process!

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I love these books as an introduction to important people in American history for young children. My boys are 7, 5, and 3 and they love to hear these books read aloud as they pore over the huge, colorful, and detailed illustrations.  Although they were out of print for many years, Beautiful Feet Books has recently re-published these gems in paperback, so they are readily available and affordable as an addition to a home library.

 

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(And good news! At the time of this posting, Beautiful Feet Books is offering a sale on all seven biographies! You can grab them for only $10 each, which is an absolute STEAL! Our family will be adding the other four that we are missing to our library this week!)

Posted in Book Lovers Community

Illustrator Series: David Macaulay Architecture Books

My son has been bitten by the architecture bug. I’ve written before about his love of geography and landmarks, and he has been attempting to build copies of some of those landmarks using blocks, various toys, and even things like toast and marshmallows since he was two years old.  I have tripped over block castles, books stacked like pyramids, and cathedrals made out cups more times than I can count.  After using various media to build his little landmarks, it wasn’t long before he came to me and said “Mommy, how did they really build that?” Fortunately, award-winning illustrator David Macaulay has published an exquisite series of picture books that accurately answer his question and fit the bill perfectly!

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Macaulay is a Caldecott medal winner with a background in architecture, and he showcases his talent and extensive knowledge through outstanding pen and ink drawings in his architecture-themed books. The first book that we acquired, and the first one that Macaulay published, was Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction. It chronicles the building of a fictional medieval cathedral in France, from its conception to completion.  It wasn’t long before we collected Castle, which traces the planning and construction of a fictional castle in 13th Century Wales, and City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction, which explains how a typical Roman city was designed and built. We also own and love Pyramid, where Macaulay unravels the mystery of how the ancient Egyptian pyramids could have been constructed. Mill is on our wish list. All of these books are similar in style and are outstanding for so many reasons.

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Illustrations

Each of Macaulay’s architecture books is exquisitely illustrated with black and white pen and ink drawings. The detail that he captures is extraordinary! He uses cross-hatching and other artistic techniques to produce an almost 3D effect in the architectural elements. The intricate pictures are realistic and often humorous (like a stereotypical culprit in the castle dungeon and a detailed drawing of a medieval toilet). Each page contains these large-scale illustrations, and my boys and I enjoy examining the drawings and trying to find details that we missed in earlier observations, like oxen in the field or a dog begging for table scraps. Although the book does contain text, the illustrations are so thorough and detailed, you can easily follow the progression of the story from the pictures alone. Macaulay has won several awards for these books, including a Caldecott honor, and it is easy to see why!  Note: In recent years, Macaulay has released revised editions of Cathedral, Castle, and Mosque that contain color illustrations!

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Architectural and Technical Detail

Macaulay has an architecture degree, and he showcases his knowledge with illustrations that almost resemble blueprints. Through his drawings, he thoroughly explains advanced architectural concepts at a level that even children can comprehend. From digging foundations, to flying buttresses, to vaulted ceilings and archways, each architectural element is explained and the process is drawn in detail.  He explains technology, such as ancient measurement techniques, and covers physics concepts such as levers and pulleys. My son’s actual scientific knowledge of the field of architecture is extensive and accurate based on Macaulay’s attention to detail and realism in this area. Although these books are technically picture books for children, I have also received a thorough education in architecture from the four books that we own.

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History

Not only are these books beautiful to look at, they are filled with a detailed history of the various time periods that are covered. Although the narrative is fiction, it could be classified as historical fiction because of the accuracy of the accounts. Castle, for example, details such history as medieval military strategy and the societal customs of land lords. Pyramid details life in ancient Egypt, including beliefs about Pharaohs and the afterlife; and City has a similar treatment for ancient Rome. In all of the books, tradesmen and tools are described in detail. The books detail how much human effort and ingenuity were required to build the various structures, which represent the actual castles, cathedrals, and pyramids still standing today. There is a glossary at the end of each book that explains the terms and names covered in the text. The narrative is short (the highlight of these books is, of course, the illustrations), but the text is informative, advanced, and entertaining.

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Problem Solving

One of my favorite aspects of these books is how they give a detailed account of the problems that the builders of the various structures faced, and how they solved those problems. From technological limitations to geographical obstacles, the fictional characters encountered multiple engineering challenges. Macaulay explains these challenges, as well as the innovation that was required to overcome them. My son is learning how to anticipate problems when building his own structures, and compensate and innovate when he encounters problems in his mini building projects!

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We absolutely LOVE these books and highly, highly recommend them–not just for budding architects like my little guy, but for every child! They are beautiful, educational, and entertaining, and definitely worth the investment for a home library.