In the beautiful downtown Minneapolis library, there is a room full of treasure. Called the Children’s Stacks, it is a room housing thousands of vintage children’s books. In rows and rows of moving bookshelves,there are little known gems by children’s lit giants such as Astrid Lindgren or Robert Lawson, and a myriad titles from folks we’ve never heard of; some quaintly outdated, many that cry out to be reprinted. Here are five sweet stories I picked up on a recent visit, all written and illustrated by brilliant author/artists:
William is the four-year-old, youngest brother of Charles and Nancy. They live in a white house in Pollywinkle Lane in the village of Pleasantville. Ahhh. On this particular summer morning, the Circus Parade is going to be marching straight down Main Street, and all of the children are in a great big hurry to be in time to see it.
William has a hard time keeping up. In fact, when he stops to tie his shoe, William discovers that he’s been completely left behind. No one would wait for William. But then…oh, the wonderfulness of it!…the Circus Parade passes right in front of him on its way to Main Street, AND one of the exotically-turbaned men leading the elephants offers William a ride! Hoists him right up on top of that massive gray elephant!
Charles and Nancy and all their friends are amazed when they see William perched up there in the midst of the parade. Of course they want to hear all about it, but, first, fittingly, they have to wait a bit for William.
Marjorie Flack has written some of the most beloved children’s picture books including the Angus series and The Story of Ping. Her story lines are uncluttered, simple, capturing the world and worries of very young children. Her illustrations alternate between enticing black ink drawings on white pages, and brilliantly-colored pages printed in lemon yellows, emerald greens, turquoise and tangerine. Charming.
This story opens when two little girls, Helena and Genevieve, move from distant places to Connecticut, and become dear friends. All summer long they swing and somersault and run through the sprinkler and have picnics. Delightful.
Each day when Helena starts to lag, being only a very little girl, her mother scoops her up and says, “I guess what you need is a little loving and a little hugging.” Helena calls it, “a little ‘ovin’ and a little ‘uggin.” That all seems like a very nice arrangement to Genevieve, so she asks her mother for ” a little ‘ovin and a little ‘uggin” too. But hearing this, Genevieve’s mother thinks her daughter wants a little oven, and assures her that someday, someday, she shall have one.
One day Genevieve’s mother takes her to town to buy a little toy oven. There are several charming ones to choose from. To her surprise, Genevieve doesn’t want any of them. In fact, she begins to cry! It is only when Genevieve’s mother accompanies her daughter to Helena’s birthday party that she discovers what this “little ‘ovin” business is really about, and then, of course, she is more than happy to oblige!
Eleanor Estes won many awards, both for specific titles and for her lifetime contribution to children’s literature. Most of her work for children is chapter-book length; there are only a couple of picture book titles. This darling story is illustrated with her softly-colored, loose watercolors, sweetly capturing those lovely days before electronic entertainment when children played outdoors!
Jenny is eagerly awaiting the new hat her aunt has promised to send her, and while she waits, she anticipates its marvelous, flowery, beautifulness.
Alas! When the hat arrives, it is only a plain straw hat. Jenny tries a few substitutes — a flower pot, a shiny kettle — to no avail. The only respite Jenny has from sorrow is her weekly outing to the park to feed the birds. Their fluttering, twittering swirls take her mind off her troubles. But the next day, when she goes to church, Jenny is surrounded by the most elegant, lovely hats imagineable. Sigh.
On the walk home, though, a curious and wonderful thing happens! Jenny’s bird friends fly to her rescue, each one bringing a piece of beauty to adorn her straw hat — flowers and colored eggs, delicate fans and valentines, and to top it all off, a nest with downy, chirping birds in it! Oh my!
Ezra Jack Keats was a prolific children’s author and illustrator who did groundbreaking work bringing multi-cultural children into the title role in picture books. His book The Snowy Day is probably his best known work, but his vibrant, mixed media collages and sympathetic, often urban, heros and heroines make all his books worth searching out. This one is a fanciful, dream-come-true story full of visual treats.
“This is the day — the day of days — the birthday of the little shy black cat named Jenny Linsky.”
Birthdays are meant to be days filled with delights, and that is just the kind of day Jenny Linsky has. First comes the gathering of friends — her brothers, the twins, Romulus and Remus, and Pickles, the fire house cat, who drives his own red fire truck and sounds the siren bringing many other friends running to the big park in New York City.
Next comes presents and a picnic feast, and then Jenny’s wish for the day — a dance under the moonlight! All the cats dance the sailor’s hornpipe and have a marvelous time. When it is nearly midnight, they pile into Pickle’s fire
truck, and they drive Jenny Linsky back home where she climbs in her soft basket, and dreams of her happy birthday picnic.
Esther Averill wrote 13 stories about Jenny Linsky and her cat compatriots, known together as The Cat Club series. Jenny Linsky, a shy, wide-eyed black cat who always sports a cherry red scarf, lives with Captain Tinker and has many exciting adventures. Averill’s illustrations resemble Marjorie Flack’s, alternating between black ink drawings on white pages, and vivid, colored pictures printed in eye-catching blues, yellows, oranges and greens. Her books are also distinguished by their old-fashioned type and widely-spaced lines which add a friendly, appealing quality.
Lucy Brown is a little orphan girl. She lives with her very busy aunt, who does not like to be bothered. This means Lucy is rather lonely and sad, even though she has many nice toys and even a sweet black kitten.
Each day when Lucy visits the park, she sees an old gentleman out walking. This old gentleman is quite ugly and is the victim of many rude remarks on the part of other children. Lucy feels sorry for this man, introduces herself to him one day, and the two of them realize that they are old family friends!
Lucy and Mr. Grimes strike up a warm friendship, full of tea times and companionable outings to the playground, when suddenly, Mr. Grimes is taken very ill. Lucy does a fine job of cheering him while he convalesces, but the doctors decide he must live in the country to really recover. Rather than lose his one dear friend, Mr. Grimes writes to Lucy’s aunt asking to become her new guardian. And Lucy’s aunt, who doesn’t like to be bothered, gives her permission.
Mr. Grimes is quite a wealthy man, and Lucy is given gobs of money to outfit herself before the move. Such fun! Sadly, her aunt can hardly be troubled to say goodbye, but never mind; Lucy moves to the most lovely house she’s ever seen and the two formerly-lonely people live happily together.
Edward Ardizzone wrote this book as a gift for his daughter in 1937, then revised and redrew it for a granddaughter in 1970. He is a highly-decorated, much-loved British author and illustrator who wrote and illustrated scads of books. In my List of Favorites, he hovers near the top with Shirley Hughes, which is saying quite a lot! Both his masterful pen-and-ink drawings and his fine, detailed, watercolors are simply a joy. His stories are full of childhood fancies which all come true, always featuring the happy endings we long for.
Here’s what I could find for Amazon links to these vintage titles. Some have been reprinted and are affordable; Estes’ book, in particular, you’d have to be quite desperate to buy, at least from this site!