Tomi Ungerer who was born in 1931, in Strasbourg, Alsace, is currently the subject of an exhibition at the Drawing Center. Mr. Ungerer lived through the Nazi occupation of Alsace. After the war he watched the French try to eradicate any trace of German culture in his province that had gone back and forth between the French and the Germans for many years. Finally, leaving Alsace, he landed in NY in 1956.
The exhibit presents a good sampling of his styles and genres. Also, a documentary “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough” produced in 2012 will be screened on February 27. Several of his children’s books, including “Three Robbers” and “Fog Island” are displayed along with political posters. Being a man of multiple talents, examples of Victorian advertisements he created for “The New York Times” and “The Village Voice,” drawings of his pen-and-ink “depictions of the perils and pretensions of modern life and a large displays of his erotic drawings are also part of this show.
Mr. Underer’s erotica caused quite a controversy in the world of children’s literature. In 1971, he responded “unapologetically to a verbal attack at a book convention” about his work in that field. It isn’t surprising, therefore, that many American libraries banned and often weeded his books from their shelves. Currently, we have two of his children’s books. An older title “Snail, Where Are You?,” which has circulated six times, and his 2013 book “Fog Island,” which also has circulated six times.
“Tomi Ungerer: All in One” is on view at the Drawing Center, SoHo, NYC, until March 22.
Stories about bears are usually a winning subject for children’s books. Probably one of the most famous literary bears is, of course, Winnie-the-Pooh. A new book by Sally M. Walker relates the true story of Winnie, the inspiration for A.A. Milne’s stories.
Harry Colebourn, a Canadian veterinarian and soldier during W.W.I, saw a bear for sale at a train station in Canada. As a lover of animals, he knew that he was meant to take care of Winnipeg, later shortened to Winnie. When he was transferred to a training camp in England, he brought Winnie with him. She became the mascot for Colebourn’s regiment. Reluctantly, he donated Winnie to the London Zoo in 1919. At the zoo, a young boy named Christopher Robin first visited her.
Walker who has said she loves to connect young readers with history did a good amount of research in order to write this book. She contacted the archivist for the F. Garry Horse Regiment in Manitoba and learned that Colebourn had kept diaries during the war and mentions the bear in them. She traveled to London and met with the London Zoo archivist who allowed her to look through the “daily occurrences book.” These volumes listed activities in the zoo from the weather, to the number of visitors, to the animals the zoo acquired. Walker read that on “May 12, 1934, one American black bear, a female, was put down.”
Colebourn died in 1947 and knew of the success of Milne’s Pooh stories. In tribute to both Colebourn and Winnepeg, Walker said that the London Zoo has their “Winnie Files.” These records include zookeepers’ testimonies and letters from soldiers who wrote how much “Winnie” meant to them. Winnie was indeed a very special bear, and Sally Walker’s book “Winnie” will hopefully inform young readers about the story behind the wonderful Winnie-the-Pooh.
In a recent interview, Anne Tyler was asked to name one book that made her who she is today.Although her answer might seem strange, she said the Virginia Lee Burton’s “The Little House” was that book. Given to her on her fourth birthday, Tyler said that the book’s message “about the irreversible passage of time instantly hit home.”
We still have “The Little House” on our shelves. Written in 1942 it was a Caldecott Medal winner. As I took the book off the shelf, I instantly remembered reading it a very long time ago. The watercolor illustrations going from very bright colors to the dark, dirty paintings of the city really help the reader to understand how times change. The text is equally moving describing how life changes for everyone, including the little house. Of course, since this is a children’s book, it does have a happy ending. How the house is rescued comes full circle to the opening page where the original owner believes that he will see future generations living in his house and that is what happens. A simple story that was very well told. No wonder Anne Tyler was so moved and influenced by it.
Jackaby is the first book of 2015 (ok, late 2014) that I’m trying to hand out to everyone. It’s that much fun. The book certainly borrows heavily from Sherlock Holmes (a fact the characters respectfully acknowledge early on), but with a fresh personality all its own. My catchphrase to potential readers has become “Sherlock Holmes meets Dr. Who” – I mean, really, what’s not to love? Classic mystery elements blend nicely with a supernatural cast in 19th century America. I’m not usually a fan of “supernatural” YA lit, but this outing feels more like magical realism than another vampire installment. (Think mild-mannered trolls catching rides on tabby cats’ backs and lesser-known beings from diverse cultures coming into port on people’s suitcases.) R. F. Jackaby is an eccentric and (mildly) egotistical investigator and seer with the ability to view the non-human living among us. Abigail Rook is a proper British miss turned runaway and Jackaby’s new assistant. Together, the make a great team, but I was most pleased to find that Abigail really shines and isn’t just another female assistant to a brilliant older man. The cast of characters is full but not stuffed and the cheeky humor throughout is really delightful! The action picks up right away and makes for a complete page-turner. I thought the mystery itself built nicely and had a satisfying resolution. Here’s hoping we hear more from William Ritter of Jackaby’s continuing adventures!