On My Bookshelf…Little Dracula’s Christmas

On My Bookshelf…Little Dracula’s Christmas

And now for something completely different…

I hope you have been enjoying my Tuesday dose of visual books that I love and am inspired by. I have so far mainly shared my Folio Society editions of classic children’s fiction.

Now I know it’s not Christmas, and it’s not Halloween. But, in my heart, it always is a little bit. And when I was browsing my bookshelf for this week’s edition I saw this thin little book, 16 years old, hiding at the end, and thought ‘Why not?!’

One of the nicest things I have discovered doing this weekly series is the opportunity to research the books, authors and illustrators, and learn new things about them.

The Little Dracula book series debuted in 1986. It was penned by Hans Christian Andersen Medal winner 2004 and two-time Smarties Prize winner writer Martin Waddell and illustrated by Joseph Wright. The paperback stories, recommended for ages 4-8, rely heavily on Wright’s gory yet humorous illustrations. They detail Little Dracula’s spooky lifestyle which includes bowling with skulls and drinking a glass of blood before sleeping in his miniature coffin. Other morbid scenes include Mrs. Dracula emptying the brain from a decapitated head into a frying pan for breakfast and children playing tennis with rackets strung with cat guts. Dubbed “too silly to be truly spooky,” the series received praise by Publishers Weekly and School Library Journal particularly for its meticulous illustrations which were also regarded as “not for the squeamish. {1}

Looking back through this beloved book I am reminded why I was so obsessed with it, and why it helped nurture by love of drawing and illustration. I’m also a little surprised with what the illustrations get away with for such a young target audience, compared to what I would imagine would be censored/dumbed down if it was published today. Good ol’ 80s.

What I love the most I think is how rich the illustrations are: not a single opportunity has been missed to get some kind of either humour or gore-reference in there. Like the witch-fairy on top of the tree with a skull in her hand, or even the skull weather vane. Every page is jam packed with visual funnies. If you think platters full of human hearts is funny.

You can still buy this book. Beats Peppa Pig anyday I say.

On My Bookshelf…Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales

On My Bookshelf…Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales

This week it’s another of my treasured Folio editions, the classic Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales, as illustrated by William Heath Robinson.

This is the 1918 version of the tales written between 1835 and 1872. It was this book that first introduced me to William Heath Robinson’s illustrative work and the main reason I like this book.

Robinson was born in 1872 to an artist family, including 2 brothers who were also illustrators. He’s actually most famous for his humourous cartoons, particularly of eccentric machines and gadgets.

Although there are several colour plates, for my tastes I am much fonder of the more numerous black and white illustrations. Much of the illustrative content of this book is populated by cherubic little plump children amid pastel pastoral scenes, but as a cartoonist there is also much humour in Robinson’s work. The animals are particularly charming.

It altogether lacks the darkness of Rackham’s Brother’s Grimm, but then that’s down to Andersen I suppose. Still there’s a modernity I like, and an inventive interpretation in many characters which is adorable.

Thanks to Wikipedia

On My Bookshelf…East of The Sun and West of The Moon

On My Bookshelf…East of The Sun and West of The Moon

First off, let me start by saying it’s hard for me to put into words how much I love this book, and Kay Nielsen’s work. I have aways had a big fascination for all the great polytheistic mythological traditions, but Norse mythology has, for me, a particular strange and other-worldliness. The fact that this particular volume of Old Tales from the North is illustrated by Nielsen makes it especially precious to me. To that end, even though I have taken photographs of my favorite 8 plates from the book, I have found much better images of some of them online, so I use them here, with links to their sources. Just because, if you don’t know his work, I don’t want your first introduction to be through my crappy camera-phone snaps. They’re way too brilliant for that.

Detail of frontispiece

Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe’s Norske Folkeeventyr (Norwegian Folk Tales) first appeared during the 1840s. the majority were translated  into English by Sir George Dasent and his Popular Tales From the North was published in 1859. 15 of them appear in this 1914 edition illustrated by Nielsen. It is a fabulous book, full of trolls and giants and bewitched talking polar bears.

“‘Well! Mind and hold tight by my shaggy coat, and then there’s nothing to fear,’ said the Bear. So she rode a long long way”

Kay Nielsen was a Danish illustrator, born in Copenhagen in 1886. Born to a theatrical family he had his artistic training in Paris before moving to England in 1911. He illustrated many volumes of children’s fairy tales including the Brothers Grimm, Hans Anderson, and Charles Perrault. In 1939 he went to Hollywood and worked for Disney for 4 years, completing works for Fantasia and concept art for The Little Mermaid that would not be used until 1989.

“He too saw the image in the water; but he looked up at once, and became aware of the lovely Lassie who sat there up in the tree”

There is a sad end to Nielsen’s life. He returned to Denmark in 1941 after being let go from Disney, but found there was no longer a demand for his work. His final years were spent in poverty. Before his wife’s death a year after his, she gave his remaining illustrations to Frederick Monhoff who in turn tried to place them in museums. However, none – American or Danish – would accept them at the time.

“Then he coaxed her down and took her home”
“The North Wind goes over the sea”

In researching this book and Kay Nielsen himself, I find in several websites that he is considered one of a ‘golden triumvirate’ of illustrators along with Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac (not that they’re weren’t several other wonderful and celebrated illustrators working at the time too). This is interesting as I find his work very different to the others. One of the reasons is that the colour images for East of the Sun and West of the Moon were reproduced by a 4-colour process, in contrast to many of the illustrations prepared by his contemporaries that characteristically utilised a traditional 3-colour process.

“The lad in the bearskin, and the King of Arabia’s daughter”
“The troll was quite willing, and before long he fell asleep and began snoring”

But it’s more than just technicalities. I am reminded of Erté and Harry Clarke – the long elegant characters with angular features, the big scale landscapes with these tall inhabitants, the detail in the clothes and fabrics. Very Art Deco, ahead of their time. I think it’s tragic that Kay Nielsen’s popularity diminished in his lifetime, but I hope that there is still a stong love for his beautiful, haunting work amongst his fans now.

“So the man gave him a pair of snowshoes”
“The King went into the Castle, and at first his Queen didn’t know him, he was so wan and thin, through wandering so far and being so woeful”

Acknowledgements: Wikipedia, Art Passions, Artsy Craftsy

Can you think of a better title for this weekly post?*

Can you think of a better title for this weekly post?*

This is the first of a weekly post I will be doing each Tuesday.

So much of our lives can be spent virtually – online, in the digital ether. But so much of what I do and what I love have the seeds of inspiration within the treasured books on my inspiration-bookshelf. You know, that part of your book collection you can always go to to fill your soul up with beauty and creativity and fantasy.

Now, I’m not that big of a reader – these days if I am actually reading a book it will be non-fiction; how to stitch this and that, or self improvement or whatevs. But I do love a story picture-book. I’ve done a good job of keeping my faves with me for many years. So here I will share with you some of my most adored books, that I have had since I was a little child.

Let’s begin.

I have been known to peak early in some events (birthday surprises being one area that springs to mind), and this first book I am showing you is pretty spectacular. Get ready.

The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast by Alan Aldridge (illustrations) and William Plomer (verse). First published in 1973 by Jonathan Cape Ltd. Based on William Roscoe’s 1807 poem, but was inspired when Aldridge read that John Tenniel had told Lewis Carroll it was impossible to draw a wasp in a wig.

Harold The Herald
Old Blind Mole
Harlequin Hare

It is the story, in verse, of all the insects and animals invited to the annual Butterfly Ball and Grasshopper’s Feast. Each verse has Aldridge’s fabulous full colour plate accompanying it.

Esmeralda, Seraphina and Camilla
Major Nathaniel Gnat

I was OBSESSED with this book when I was little. Never that fussed about the words (although now I realise what a philistine I was because they are quite the most charming thing ever), but I can still now see the marks in the pages where I tried over and over to trace the gorgeous pictures, desperate as I was to create something so beautiful.

Magician Moth
Miss Money Spider

Each plate is so super saturated with 70s colour, so detailed, they have a richness to them that is stunning. Aldridge nicknamed himself The Man with the Kaleidoscope Eyes after the song by The Beatles, and was the artist behind much of their artwork and for Apple Corps. (as in records not ipod) in the late 60s.

Each little character is so perfectly detailed, to an insane level. This spider’s hairbrush, for example even has a teeny little illustrated back to it, of some kind of insect shepherd, I deduce.

The Long Eared Bat

There is a darkness too here, a sinister angle to some of the creatures which I love. These are real Bats and Foxes and Hornets, and they do eat things, even with nice velvet frock coats on. Toward the back of the book, there are even field notes about each of the creatures featured, written in a lovely familiar prose.

When we finally get to the feast, again you can see the 60s psychedelia Aldridge was fluent in, with an optical illusion lent by the magic mushrooms in this plate. And this isn’t just any ball, it is a masked ball, and the little insects with animal masks on, and mini harlequin outfits is just too amazing.

The Grasshopper’s Feast

‘Now the great big Moon is sinking

And goodbyes are said,

Darkness spreads, and some are thining,

“Who will light us home to bed?”

Switching on his greenish light,

Glow-worm’s heard to say

(He’s so helpful and polite),

“Let me put you on your way.

“With my light I’ll guide you all,

Homeward, like a friend,

While you’re sleeping, Feast and Ball

In your dreams will never end.”‘