If you’re looking for a literary take on Halloween, check out the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford this month, which will be hosting an after-hours ghost tour while discussing 19th-century Spiritualism. Read more at the Fine Books Blog.
We couldn’t get through October without mentioning wolves, and herewith are two tales that celebrate the oft-maligned and misunderstood canis lupus.
The New York Review Children’s Collection recently reissued Catherine Storr’s (1913-2001) collection of modern-day fables called The Complete Polly and the Wolf. Originally published in the U.K. in 1955, Storr’s stories of little Polly outwitting the doltish Wolf are not terribly familiar to American audiences; the last publication of a Polly book in the U.S. was in 2007, and it didn’t make the international splash that it should have. Here’s hoping the New York Review’s incarnation encourages a new generation to discover the plucky, mid-century heroine who relies on her own cunning and resourcefulness not to become the Wolf’s dinner. Original black-and-white drawings by Marjorie Ann Watts and Jill Bennett are as delightful and whimsical as the tales they illustrate. Anglophiles and collectors of children’s literature will want to add this one to their collections. (The Complete Polly and the Wolf, by Catherine Storr, illustrated by Marjorie Ann Watts and Jill Bennett; The New York Review Children’s Collection, $17.95 304 pages, ages 6-9.)
Meanwhile, in Jean Leroy’s recent picture book entitled A Well-Mannered Young Wolf, the hungry protagonist sets out on his first hunting excursion. Wolf law decrees that before enjoying a meal, a predator must honor his prey’s final wishes. Though the well-mannered young wolf accommodates various last requests, they’re at the expense of his empty stomach. Will courtesy prevail in the wild? Young readers will adore this wry unexpected examination of manners (especially with a kindly wolf as the nice guy). Illustrator Matthieu Maudet’s latest collaboration with Leroy proves the combination is a winning match; deceptively simple pen-and-ink illustrations rendered in a trio of tints are bold and reminiscent of comic-book art. Originally published in 2013 in French as Un jeune loup bien éduqué, the story retains its wit and charm in translation. (A Well-Mannered Young Wolf, by Jean Leroy, illustrated by Matthieu Maudet; Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, $16.00, 30 pages, ages 3-7.)
Two for Tuesday
In our last Halloween-themed post,we meet cuddly monsters and vampires sure to impress little ghouls with their charming ways.
First up is Fred, by Kaila Eunhye Seo (Peter Pauper Press, $15.99, 40 pages, ages 4-8), a story about a young boy surrounded by amazing creatures only he can see. That is, until the real world starts to eat away at Fred’s free time – between school, and new (human) friends Fred grows up, and slowly forgets about his old pals, who wait patiently for the day that he sees them again. Kaila’s debut picture book tackles growing up with an unexpected airiness and humor. Her pen and ink renderings of big-eyed, fuzzy monsters aren’t intimidating in the least, and captures the wacky, wonderful world of a child’s imagination.
If you’ve ever opened a jam jar only to find it totally empty, perhaps your pantry was visited by a Jampire. In Jampires (David Fickling Books; $16.99, 32 pages, ages 3-6), writer/illustrator duo Sarah Mcintire and David O’Connell teamed up to confect a sticky tale of whodunnit. Sam won’t stand for dry doughnuts at breakfast, and convinced of thievery, lays a ketchup-laced laundry basket trap to catch the perpetrators. Turns out, the pointy-eared filchers are endearing, and take Sam to visit their sugary hacienda in the sky. Readers racked by a sweet tooth will savor this story and revel in the playful tricks and treats throughout.
The Little Witch, by Otfried Preussler, translated by Anthea Bell, illustrated by Winnie Gebhardt-Grayler; The New York Review Children’s Collection, $15.95, 131 pages, ages 6-9.
This spooky story is set on Walpurgis Night, or “Witches’ Night”, which takes place on April 30 in Central Germany. Legend has it that on the highest peak of the Hartz Mountain range, witches gather for an annual nocturnal revelry. All the witches attend, except for Little Witch, who, at 127 years old, is still too young to attend. (At least according to her nasty Aunt Rumpumpel.) Readers will enjoy joining the plucky little sorceress and her faithful Raven, Abraxas, who go forth and prove their worthiness of joining the group by embarking on all sorts of wild adventures. Preussler (1923-3013) continues to be one of the most popular children’s book authors in Germany, and his books have been translated into fifty-five languages. It’s easy to see the enduring appeal: Preussler writes in the tradition of the Grimms, and Bell’s translation is quick-paced and a delight to read. Longtime Preussler collaborator Gebhardt-Grayler’s pen and ink illustrations capture the humor and sensitivity of the text. This classy reissue by New York Review is sure to enchant little readers in search of unlikely heroes. A lovely Halloween treat.
Halloween is still two weeks away, yet goblins, witches and faux headstones already claim valuable lawn space across the country. While the kids celebrate with silly tricks and sticky treats, why not indulge grown-ups this season with work by the marvelously gloomy Edward Gorey.
Located in the Flatiron neighborhood in Manhattan, B&B Rare Books is featuring three Gorey first editions; The Doubtful Guest, ($275) The Blue Aspic ($150) and The Loathsome Couple($100). All three are in fine to very good condition and none will break the bank.
Although these books aren’t for the faint of heart – unwelcome visitors, death and destruction feature prominently throughout – perhaps the most ghoulish tale is The Loathsome Couple. It is considered a cult classic among Gorey collectors and tells such a shocking story that even the author acknowledged it as his most appalling. The murderous husband and wife couple is based on a real duo that perpetrated the chilling Moors Murders in England in the 1960’s. Unlike in most Gorey tales, the characters in this book are caught and suitably punished.
Another way to celebrate Halloween would be to visit the Gorey House in Yarmouth Port on Cape Cod. Since the author’s death in 2000, the home has been converted into a delightfully unique museum that chronicles the life, work and charitable endeavors of the master of macabre.
The Gorey House hasn’t planned anything special for Halloween this year. (The House co-hosted a Dracula Blood Drive with the Cape Cod Hospital in 2006, but hasn’t since then.) It is currently exhibiting original artwork from The Vinegar Works, Three Volumes of Moral Instruction.
Currently featured in the gift shop is a toy theater based on Gorey’s drawings and sets for his award-winning Broadway production of Dracula. It retails at a reasonable $25.00.
Sadly, Ombledroom, the twenty-eight pound white cat who ruled the House and delighted visitors for twelve years, passed away last summer at the age of twelve. Visitors can pay tribute at to the feline’s final resting place, which is situated under a Southern magnolia tree on a patch of lawn by the house. Happy Haunting!