While organizing the paperback chapter books in their own bookcase at home the other week, I was looking at the cover art and found five novels by well-known writers whose the publishers commissioned cover illustrations by the best talent. Their children’s books have won multiple Caldecotts, Caldecott Honors, many other awards too numerous to record here. To turn this post into a snowy day COVID pastime, match the artist to his or her cover. If your sharp eye needs some prompting, clues have been are provided… Answers appear at the end. 1. Edward Gorey. Clue: Bad aunts, bad days, mysterious gardens, and trains barreling over the Arctic Circle.
2. Brian Selznick. Clue: Knick-nack Paddy Whack, Rumpelstiltskin!
3. Chris Van Allsburg. Clue: One of the first white American illustrators to include black characters into illustrations regularly on principle. Authors illustrated range from Lindgren to Chaucer to J. M. Barrie and partner Barbara Rogasky.
4. Paul O. Zelinsky. On the CV are covers for the 20th anniversary edition of Harry Potter and the book that was the basis for an Oscar-award winning film directed by Martin Scorsese.
5. Trina Schart Hyman. Clue: Mystery! title sequence, balletomane, and only major cover designer in the lot.
The astonishingly prolific Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) lived to see the humor in being remembered for a book of light verse he published in 1907, Cautionary Tales for Children. The cautionary tale, with its ghoulish mission to prevent juvenile misbehavior, can, for some children, be the stuff of nightmares. Overkill is its mad method, as the transgression is always imagined in a worst case scenario so that the dire punishment hardly ever fits the crime.
Mr. Belloc’s tongue-in-cheek self-defense of the exaggeration for satiric effect isn’t going to convince anyone without a black sense of humor themselves: ” And is it True? It is not true. / And if it were it wouldn’t do, / For people such as me and you / Who pretty nearly all day long / Are doing something rather wrong. / Because if things were really so, / You would have perished long ago / And I would not have lived to write / The noble lines that meet your sight, / Nor [Edward G.] survived to draw / The nicest things you ever saw.” Maybe Calvin Trillin is right in saying parents find Belloc hillarious; children have to grow up and deal with their own offspring before they can titter at his brand of beastliness.
The late Edward Gorey (can it be that he has been gone for 20 years) was the ideal illustrator for Belloc, as can be seen in the illuminating self-portrait and his cover design for the poems., which shows shows the black forefinger of Fate pointing to the children gambolling across the grass, little thinking they are doomed.
In this second post in honor of Children’s Book Week, Sir Peter Ustinov reads a selection of Belloc’s tales with Gorey’s illustrations scrolling in the background.
And here is the author himself, in a most memorable pose reproduced from the collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London.