the little blue chair

book coverCary Fagan has written a timeless children’s book about the journey of a little blue chair from its first owner, a little boy, to its final owner, the daughter of the now-grown boy. Each owner declares the chair perfect for their particular need, traveling from suburbs to oceans to jungles. Thought a bit worse for wear and painted red, the now-grown boy easily recognizes the little blue chair.

When I request children’s books from LibraryThing it is almost always because of an interest in the illustrations. Fagan’s story isn’t new so illustrator Madeline Kloepper must reinvents it through charming images.

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In her sketches, Kloepper combines simplicity with sophistication. The colors are primary, but great subdued and cloudy, nostalgic. No two people are alike in size or color so that everyone can find themselves within the pages. Her illustrations are childish pencil drawings that are layered into an engaging visual narrative that not only compliments but enhances the story.

Overall a wonderful book!

Please note I received a copy of this book from LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

the blue jackal

BLue Jackal_revised Spreads.cdrThe Blue Jackal by Shobha Viswanath with illustrations by Dileep Joshi

Viswanath’s retelling of The Blue Jackal is in rhyme, making it enjoyable to read aloud. Children can search for Juno the jackal on each page, who becomes blue after falling in a vat of Indigo. The other animals, who once abused and neglected him, now think Juno must be a god and seek to obey his orders. But what will happen as Juno’s real color starts showing?

This children’s book recounts a tale from the Panchatantra, a 3rd century Indian literature consisting of five books of animal fables. They are much like Aesop’s fables, delving into difficult topics like morality, philosophy, and ethics. This tale is from the first book, The Separation of Friends, which is the longest book in the set.

Though I am interested in fables, it was the illustrations that attracted me to this book. Burgundy and violet dominate with white-painted figures and landscapes to tell the tale, and an Indigo-dyed jackal throughout. The illustrations are done in the painting style of the Warli. The Warli tribe on the outskirts of Mumbai has had little outside influence and their artwork was only discovered in the 1970s.

Their paintings resemble prehistoric cave paintings, but they are far more complex and offer details into both animal and human communities and relationships. The paintings are done inside their huts, with walls made of earth, branches, and cow dung. This must count for the rich burgundy background. The white pigment is painted on using a bamboo stick, providing a painterly quality stroke with little fine detail. The limited color palette and simple illustrations are expected in a children’s book, but they also help readers absorb a rather serious tale about contempt.

* Please note that I received a free copy of this book from LibraryThing in exchange for a review.

the secret life of the lonely doll

What made me pick up a second-hand copy of Jean Nathan’s The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll I can’t recall. But, after reading the prologue, I stopped at the local library branch and checked out four of Dare Wright’s children’s books.

As a child, I had never read the stories of Edith, a doll who is lonely until the arrival of Mr. Bear and Little Bear. Edith and Little Bear pursue mischief and adventure that often finishes with Edith’s rear-end over Mr. Bear’s knee. The text is simple, but the photographs are not. Dare diligently posed Edith, often in hand-made clothes, and her teddy bear friend in complex environments that were both fantasy and real. To look at Edith, with her blonde hair and heavy bangs, sideways glance, and absent smile, you might think of a classic girls’ toy. But once you know the life of her owner, you see Dare Wright in plastic and felt – her anxiety, childhood absences, and sexual hesitation finally manifested.

Edith gets spanked by Mr. Bear (while Little Bear watches) in The Lonely Doll
Edith gets spanked by Mr. Bear (while Little Bear watches) in The Lonely Doll

Nathan’s fascinatingly rich biography brings intimacy between Dare and the reader. To highlight Dare’s life in a few sentences will leave out the emotional tenderness and bizarre passions that Nathan captures. However, an overview will reveal new meanings in Dare’s strangely dark children’s stories.

Her mother was Edie Stevenson Wright, a famous portrait painter who was serious about her ego and more serious about her looks. Dare had an older brother Blaine, who disappeared from her and her mother’s life when Dare was just 3. As a child with few friends, Dare proved herself to be as artistic as her mother, and even more beautiful. More than anything in life, Dare wanted to please her mother, a goal she would maintain until Edie’s death.

In her twenties, Dare dabbled in theater and modeling, but with little success and certainly without passion. Longing for family, Dare set out to find her brother. When the two reconnected, Dare’s passion was ignited. Their love was both familial and romantic; Nathan’s elaboration of their relationship leaves the reader uncomfortable. Dare became engaged to a friend of Blaine’s, though never went through with the wedding and never made any effort at relationships outside of those with her brother and mother.

Dare finally found career comfort behind the camera, as a fashion photographer and then as a children’s book author. Her first book, The Lonely Doll, was a huge success, though the spanking scene made some wonder. In all, Dare wrote and photographed 19 children’s books, most of them with doll Edith as the main character. In these books, she also found friendship – particularly in Edith and Little Bear. Dare seemed to participate in the real world of adults through her children’s toys’ staged escapades.

playing dress-up in Edith and Little Bear Lend a Hand
playing dress-up in Edith and Little Bear Lend a Hand

Common themes in Dare’s fantasy books parallel her real life paranoia and anxieties. Edith, named for Dare’s mother, is lonely and desperate for a friend. When she finally finds one, it’s not another doll, but a teddy bear, adorable but masculine, kind-hearted but stubborn. Their friendship echos Dare’s relationship with her brother. Edith and Little Bear often play dress up, an enjoyable past-time for Dare and her mother, who often photographed these play sessions. As a consequence of misbehaving, Edith often ended up angering Mr. Bear – the father she never knew. Mr. Bear would threaten leaving and Edith would beg forgiveness with an almost sadomasochistic tinge. A good spanking and some stern words to behave, or else, are followed by tears and hugs that end the story.

Edith gets an unwanted hair cut in The Lonely Dolls Learns a Lesson
Edith gets an unwanted hair cut in The Lonely Dolls Learns a Lesson

lewis carroll: artist and librarian

The Mock Turtle tells Alice how he went to school in the sea, taking courses like Reeling and Writhing and Fainting in Coils. He means these to relate to Alice’s own lessons of Reading and Writing and Painting in Oils. The Mock Turtle also studied Mystery (History), Drawling (Drawing), and Laughing and Grief (Latin and Greek). ~ from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland with illustrations by John Tenniel.

Mock Turtle by Chris Korn