Friday, December 10, 2010

23. Mother Goose Returns! Two Books.

Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes, arranged and illustrated with needlework by Salley Mavor, Houghton Mifflin, $21.99, ages 4-8, 72 pages. With needle and thread, snippets of felt, and objects from the craft drawer, Mavor sews to life the enchanting world of nursery rhymes. Embroidered scenes illustrate 65 poems, from the familiar, "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe," to the lesser known "Rain on the Green Grass." Designed like intricate folktale art, every scene leads the eye around the page to find little treasures, a bean stalk twirling up from the grass around a roof awning or a wheel barrow that rolls on a button and is brimming with tiny felt pies. In many scenes, felt dolls with wooden bead heads are laid down and placed just-so, making pages look like something a child would arrange in casual play. (Readers may even be tempted to try to lift one off the page.) At times the scenes are almost painterly, as in a poem about a wise old owl who lived in an oak. An owl sits perched on a sprawling oak, its plumage sewn in Vs of tans, purples and blues. On every branch hangs a tiny acorn or two, as leaves in greens and blue appear to flutter in a breeze.

In my favorite scene, sewn for "Ring around the Roses," dolls hold hands around a green doily stitched with roses, their bodies poised as if frozen in dance. Mavor's details astound the eye: delicate stitches swirl around clothing or a couch to suggest intricate textiles. Others are knotted, coiled, chained or sewn in rows to suggest textures on rock, dirt or plants. She sews in details that suggest the literal as well as the imagined. In a poem about two sisters who disagree whether coffee or tea is better, the two stare sidelong at each other under leafy trees, which at the top morph into a cat and bird who are bickering too. No rhyme is modestly illustrated, making this as much a treasury of art as of rhymes.
Humpty Dumpty and Friends: Nursery Rhymes for the Young at Heart, selected and illustrated by Oleg Lipchenko, Tundra Books, $17.95, ages 3-6, 24 pages. Four and Twenty tailors parade around a snail shell, carrying pincushions on their backs, spools in their hands and sewing needles like batons in this brilliantly crafted redo of 20 Mother Goose rhymes.  Lipchenko, who illustrated last year's quirky Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, fills the pages with so many imaginative details, from birds holding spectacles to a drummer boy wearing a colander hat, that you find yourself lingering long after the rhyme is read. Every rhyme is told in its traditional verse, but is illustrated in new and fantastical ways -- the giant Robin the Bobbin who ate all the good people of his town is shown plopped on his bottom in the town's courtyard, holding a plate filled with a butcher, church and cow, as he plucks another cow off the ground to eat. In some illustrations, characters from different rhymes are brought together into one whimsical scene. One of my favorites mixes "What Little Boys Are Made Of?" with "Fishes Swim." In this picture, you see a girl and a boy standing on a platform, as two scientists measure them and eyeball them up close. Circling around them are boys and girls holding hands, along with a walking fish, long-legged bird and snake. Overhead a snail flies with wings, as another snail is pulled out of a fish bowl by an angel boy. It is the little details that make you laugh the most. In one of his most wry and subtle sets of illustrations, Lipchenko plays out the argument between Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee. On one page, you watch the two attempt to outplay each other in music, one on a violin and the other on a cello. Then on the opposite page, you observe a wicked trick being played. Though the poem ends with the two forgetting that they were mad at each other, by the looks of the picture, the opposite is true. As Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee pass through a garden gate, one of them spies something on the ground and reaches down to see what it is. Of course, readers recognize it as a grenade, and the other Tweedle does too. With a devilish grin, he looks out at the reader with a finger to his lips, so that we don't blurt out what the object really is. Does this silly traitor not realize how close he is to it too? Lipchenko plays with the verse so imaginatively you shake your head in delight, thinking how clever he's been.

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