Sunday, June 7, 2009

Journeys in Bookland

My desk is strewn with complex drifts of sketches, sheafs of them stacked or sliding and crackling, faint fairies everywhere, to be sorted into order and details filled out. This is the next fairy book in embryo state, on the long road to the exciting box of glossy new volumes.

The life of even a well-loved children's book eventually comes to this, either a collectors shelf or the recycling bin. The Saturday morning dog walk took us by a community garage sale, with the usual boxes of coffee mugs, planters, used electronics, videos on vhs, magazines and once-popular novels, plus a few surprises. In a box of plain-looking and well-worn books with moisture-bent covers were these treasures.

Their very shabbiness was the draw. Some one spent hours with these once, as the crayoned-in illustrations and pencilled notes testify.

I used to colour in my books like this, I thought it made them prettier.

This chapter-page brings to mind blissful holidays spent on Prince Edward Island, as a child and more recently as mother.

In surprisingly fine condition is this volume, The Magical Land of Noom, 1922, by Johnny Gruelle (of Raggedy Anne and Andy fame), all 12 illustrations in place, with only a single water-droplet mark on the cover. I'm almost afraid to read the story for fear I might let a crumb or friendly cat-paw mark a page. I'm getting out the cotton gloves for this one!

The shabbiest volume, coverless and tattered, seems to have been the best loved. "Mrs. Herbert Strang" edited several other annuals like these. A pseudonym for Mr. Herbert Strang, it was in turn a pseudonym for two male editors. The illustrator doesn't get a mention, which is too bad,

for this illustration is my favourite.

I wonder who he or she was?

Loyalty to the crown, expressed in primary school readers, was once a part of the national identity.
There used to be a picture of the Queen in every classroom and my young school days began with the Lord's Prayer, a salute to the flag ("shoot the flag"), "God Save the Queen", and "Oh Canada". ("Two pastry gloves in all thy sons command", years later turned out to be "True patriot love" etc. And "Forgive us our trespasses" always led my thoughts astray to Winnie the Pooh and Piglet's "Trespassers Will". But I digress.) The Royal Visit in 1939 made its mark on the country, and on school textbooks.

The years go by and things change. "God Save the Queen" disappeared when "Oh Canada" became the official national anthem in 1980. Canada Day, which used to be known as Dominion Day, is coming up on July 1. There will be a street festival in the neighbourhood, flags and red maple leaf icons every where, and in the evening, fireworks in the harbour. At dusk we'll pack up the lawn chairs, blankets and snacks and make our way with the holiday throng, down the street to the lake. Adults and children will sit on the pier, children too close to the edge for parental comfort, swinging their feet over the water and applauding the test flares that go up first. Sometimes a few will start singing "Oh Canada" (with silly cheers) while waiting for the show to start.

From a daughter of the Empire, "God Save the King!"- and Queen.


  1. The unknown illustrator is very reminiscent of one of my favourites, Anne Anderson, but it's not as strong, or else it's very early. She used to do pointy chinned children as well.

  2. Hello PG! I have just looked up Anne Anderson, how beautiful - and very like the one above, tho' not necessarily a match. It seemed to be a style of illustration, from a gentler time. I have here another old school reader, a find from some years back, illustrated by Helen Jacobs - sublime. As a scholar/author friend of ours used to say, "things don't necessarily get better".

  3. Anne Anderson is a favourite of mine also, I love the way she drew faces.

    Your new book project sounds interesting, how exciting for you. I hope it all goes well. i am sure it will be magical.

  4. what a great find!!!
    I love them old books
    have a nice weekend, Anna

  5. Thank you for sharing those lovely book finds. I also look for such treasures. Don't find them often, but keep searching.

    Best wishes to you on your own current project.


  6. Lucky you!
    I collect children's books from all eras, and these look wonderful.
    You just never know what you'll find on a Saturday morning dog walk!!

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