A Feline Fantasy Returns to Print

“The Abandoned,” by Paul Gallico; The New York Review of Books, $15.95, 312 pages, ages 8-12. 




            While trying to save a stray cat from certain death, eight-year old Peter is struck by a coal truck and thrown to the side of the road.  During the resulting coma he is magically turned into a fluffy white cat. Unrecognized by Nanny, (the boy’s parents are apathetic and generally uninvolved in his upbringing) he is chased from home.  A fellow stray named Jennie helps Peter navigate the rough and violent London streets in this classic adventure/fantasy novel originally published in 1950.

           This book is catnip to those who adore cats. Yet for those who may not be of the feline persuasion, it’s a worthy read nonetheless.  It’s easy to see why J.K. Rowling is a fan of Gallico’s skill at intertwining magic with reality, and some sections of the book recall scenes from the various Harry Potter books. 

            The undercurrent of disappointment and unhappiness makes this a captivating story for adolescent readers as well as older readers looking for a whimsical tale filled with exploits and bravery.  The Abandoned also chronicles the daily struggle of a city stray, from participating in catfights to finding cozy spots to spend the night.  

            Last published in the United States in 1991, The Abandoned is now being republished by the New York Review of Books. According to Bookfinder.com, this work has been one of the most sought-after out of print titles in the United States for the past three years.  This edition is bound in striking red cloth and the cover is graced with a beautiful Palmer Brown watercolor of two cats sitting in a shipyard.  

             In addition to writing children’s books, Gallico (1897-1976) was a sport’s columnist for the New York Daily News and short story writer.  Some of his works were adapted to film, most notably The Poseidon Adventure in 1972.   


photo credit Carl van Vechten

Have Popup, Will Travel

Rome : A 3-D Keepsake Cityscape, by Kristyna Litten, Paper Engineering by Gus Clarke ; Candlewick Press,  $8.99, 15 pages, all ages.


ROME: A 3D KEEPSAKE CITYSCAPE. Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Kristyna Litten. Text copyright © 2012 by Walker Books Ltd. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA on behalf of Walker Books, London.

The Keepsake Cityscape series began in 2011 with a miniature foldout guidebook to New York City. The series has since expanded to include popular destinations such as Paris, London, and Washington D.C. Each volume is presented in a lovely little slipcase.

The most recent publication shares the pleasures of strolling through Rome, from visiting the Villa Borghese to exploring the inner workings of the Colliseum. Author-illustrator Kristyna Litten skillfully renders twelve of the Eternal City’s attractions with lively and bright mixed media illustrations. 

Although these books are marketed to children, I’ve been collecting them from the start. They are a unique travel companion, and are small enough to tuck away in a luggage side pocket.  Most volumes have been written and illustrated by different authors, which makes these more interesting than the average mass-produced tourist novelty.  And for less than ten dollars, each of these pleated jewels can share their global tales on the same stretch of shelf.   

French Roundup from the New York Antiquarian Book Fair

The fifty-third annual New York Antiquarian Book Fair welcomed booksellers from all over America, and many came from across the Atlantic as well.  French sellers presented their treasures with typical Gallic flair, charm and grace. Below I share three of my favorite bouquinistes at the Fair and some of their eye-catching wares.


Children’s and Juvenile

            More than two dozen dealers at the Fair specialized in children’s books, and two were from Paris.  Michèle Noret, whose shop is nestled in the tony sixteenth arrondissement, brought lovely examples of children’s literature from around the globe. Her most intriguing items were Soviet-era volumes printed for budding Communists.  One choice example was a second edition 1927 primer called Lenin for Children. Available for two thousand dollars, the book includes thirty-one full-page illustrations by Russian painter Boris Mikhailovitch Kustodiev, whose paintings had previously shown at the 1906 Paris Salon.  



            Hailing from near Montmartre in the eighteenth arrondissement, Chez les Librairies Associés brought books covering a wide thematic selection (such as calligraphy and moveable books). They also enticed passers-by with beautiful children’s collectibles. Among their wares were seven titles illustrated by acclaimed Russian artist Ivan Bilbin, known for his renderings of Russian folk tales. One of those volumes, from the 1937 Père Castor series, was a fine first-edition of H.A. Andersen’s La Petite sirène for $350.


 Parties and Celebrations

            Libraries Benoît Forgeot (you’ll find them on rue de l’Odéon in the sixth) brought an outstanding collection of illustrated books celebrating holidays and festivals spanning the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries.  Available for a tidy $80,000, one particularly sumptuous volume was a perfectly conserved depiction of a 1688 regatta. The boating event was organized in honor of the marriage of Ferdinand de Médicis, Grand Prince of Tuscany and Yolande-Béatrice.  Fourteen gorgeously illustrated in-folio plates by Alessandro Della Via portray the extravagant festivities. An image from the book also graced the bookseller’s most recent catalogue. (see below) 


Picture This! An informal discussion with Hervé Tullet and Mo Willems

 MANHATTAN (April 8, 2013) –

On Monday night, a mixed crowd of children, teachers, authors and illustrators attended an event organized by the French Embassy and held at the Books of Wonder children’s bookstore. The evening’s French representative was author-illustrator and Sorcières Prize winner Hervé Tullet, while America’s artist ambassador was three-time Caldecott winner Mo Willems. The men discussed how reading should be an interactive and fun experience for children.


Mo Willems and Hervé Tullet spin yarns at Books of Wonder while Jennifer Brown moderates. (Photo courtesy of Judith Walker at the French Embassy)

This discussion is the first of the Embassy’s Picture This! series. The goal of these events is to bring French and American illustrators together to talk about their work.  Events will take place from April 9th through May 13th throughout Manhattan.(http://frenchculture.org/books/festivals/picture-this) 

Jennifer M. Brown, director of the Center for Children’s Literature at the Bank Street College of Education, moderated the discussion, which touched on topics such as reading as an interactive activity and the role of humor in children’s literature.  The illustrators’ responses were lively and informative. 


Mr. Tullet said that he views his role as a social artist. He envisions children as his audience, but aspires to create an experience for two readers to share. The Game of Light illustrates interaction between reader and book. One participant holds a flashlight to illuminate the cutout images on a wall, while another reads the text, which acts as a catalyst for parents to create their own stories to accompany the shadows.


Mr. Willems compared the experience of reader interaction to the inner workings of a symphony; the book is the score, the adult is the orchestra, and the child is the audience.  The author writes knowing that his books may a child’s best, or sometimes only, friend. To make his books accessible to children, Mr. Willems said he purposefully illustrates in such a way so that a five year old might be inspired to copy his work with success.

The evening concluded with an audience Q & A, then Mr. Tullet inscribed books for people who waited patiently on a line that snaked through the store.  

Great new board books for babies

More often that we’d like, books for babies have moveable parts that don’t stay attached. Sometimes they are so beautiful that you wouldn’t want to share them with tiny, nimble hands. Or perhaps the book is sturdy, but the content is flimsy. The following list meets the demanding criteria for the youngest readers, and the price points permit generous parents to purchase every one.

“Bizzy Bear Pirate Adventure,” by Benji Davies; Nosy Crow Press, $6.99, 10 pages, ages 0-3.

In this pirate adventure Bizzy Bear sails the seas in search of treasure and adventure. The sliders that move Bizzy and his friends are easy for little hands to manipulate, and the rhyming tale keeps a quick pace throughout. 

“Quick, Duck!” by Mary Murphy; Candlewick Press, $6.99, 10 pages, ages 0-3.

Welcome spring with this fun board book. In it, we meet an adorable duckling who scampers over rocks, around flowers, and through the mud to reach his family waiting in a nearby pond. Large, hand-lettered text accompanies bright and engaging ink and watercolor illustrations.


“Little Bunny,” by Lauren Thompson, illustrated by John Butler; Simon & Schuster, $5.99, 30 pages, ages 0-3.  (Also available as an E-Book)


“What will you do today?” asks Mama rabbit to her baby bunny. “Everything!” he replies and scampers off into the meadow in search of adventure and fun. Previously published as Wee Little Bunny, this sturdy board book will enchant readers with Butler’s cuddly and cute renderings of birds, butterflies, and of course, bunnies.

“Away We Go! A Shape-and-Seek Book,” by Chiêu Anh Urban; Scholastic Press, $6.99, 20 pages, ages 0-3. (Available June 2013)  


The innovative die-cut images present shapes hidden inside brightly illustrated planes, submarines and hot-air balloons.  Children will adore tracing and identifying the cutout shapes. Author-illustrator Urban’s background as a graphic illustrator is put to excellent use in this boldly crafted and illustrated book. 

The Matchbox Diary

“The Matchbox Diary,” by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline; Candlewick Press, $16.99, 40 pages, ages 5-9. 


MATCHBOX DIARYText copyright © 2013 by Paul Fleischman. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Bagram Ibatoulline. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Newbery Medal winner Paul Fleischman (Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices) and acclaimed illustrator Bagram Ibatoulline (Thumbelina; The Nightengale) have crafted a tale about an Italian immigrant’s journey to America that also incorporates a love of collecting.

The book begins with an elderly gentleman meeting his great-grand daughter. As a way to get to know each other, the man tells the girl to choose a book, antiques or other collectible, and he will share the story behind that item’s existence. Tucked away in the midst of these beloved curios, the child chooses a weathered cigar-box.  Much like  a Russian matryoshka, the box opens to reveal dozens of matchboxes.  They, in turn, hold a small souvenir – an olive pit, a fishbone, pieces of lead type – that recall pivotal moments in the man’s life.  This diary is full of tangible objects that recall memories from long ago, while also encouraging the two characters to get to know each other. 


MATCHBOX DIARYText copyright © 2013 by Paul Fleischman. Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Bagram Ibatoulline. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Using acrylic gouache, Ibatoulline creates an impeccable portrait of a collector’s controlled chaos, with old books, artwork, antique clocks and other bric-a-brac filling every shelf, corner and wall.  The images of the past are skillfully  rendered in black and white.

Told entirely through dialogue, The Matchbox Diary is an ode to collectors and diarists of all ages, and certainly stokes the flame of bibliomania. As the story concludes, the worldly grandfather offers this reflection, one that will no doubt resonate with the readers of this blog: “Books are like newspapers. They show you where you’ve been.”