I haven’t done a picture book roundup in quite a while, and they have been piling up quite a bit on my desk, so in the effort to liberate some desk space, here’s a roundup of some vintage picture books I’ve amassed this year, some from bargain bookstores, some from Bookmooch.

Included in this roundup are the books: The Pooh Storybook; The Slant Book; Dick Whittington and his Cat; One Wide River to Cross; Journey Cake, Ho; The Judge; Anansi the Spider; Three Jovial Huntsmen; Anno’s Alphabet; Friends; and two versions of Stone Soup, books #117-128 for 2010. Phew!

The Pooh Storybook by A.A. Milne, illustrated by E.H. Shepard, hardcover, 1965 (bought for P35 at Book Sale)

The 411: A Collection of three classic Pooh stories from the “The House at Pooh Corner” and “Winnie the Pooh”: “In Which a House is Built at Pooh Corner for Eeyore,” “In Which Piglet is Entirely Surrounded by Water,” and “In Which Pooh Invents a New Game and Eeyore Joins In.” E.H. Shepard’s illustrations bring the stories to life. Fans of Winnie the Pooh who have never read the books would be surprised to read about their favorite bear being described as a “Bear of Very Little Brain.”

My take: I was ecstatic to find this gem of a book in the bargain bin, as I loved the classic Winnie the Pooh when I was a kid — way before Disney relaunched their characters and suddenly everyone was into Pooh big-time (I remember getting into an argument with one of the girls in school, because she insisted Eeyore was blue and I insisted he was grey, and I realize now that I was talking about the EH Shepard Eeyore and she was talking about the Disney Eeyore). I like Disney well enough, but it was a shame they caricatured EH Shepard’s beautiful artwork (the same way they did Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline).

My favorite among the three stories is “In Which Piglet is Entirely Surrounded by Water,” which tells us about a terrible flood in the Hundred Acre Wood, where Pooh is stranded on a tree branch until he runs out of honey, and then he uses his largest honey jar as a boat. He and Christopher Robin get a distress signal (a message in a corked bottle) from Piglet, and they float away in an umbrella to rescue Piglet. It reminds me of the big flood we had last year, and how heroism comes in all shapes and sizes.

My rating: 5/5 stars

The Slant Book, written and illustrated by Peter Newell, 1992 hardcover reproduction, first published 1910 (bought for P55 at Book Sale)

The 411: This novelty book takes the title quite literally, as the bound pages are actually slanted. In rhyming verse, it tells of the adventures of a runaway go-cart (a pram) carrying baby Bobby. The go-cart accidentally breaks away when Nurse wasn’t paying attention and starts careening down the hill, to Bobby’s delight.

Nurse chases the go-cart, which runs into a police officer, upsets a greek vendor, snaps a fire hydrant, knocks over a farmer’s wife carrying a basket of eggs, dislodges a painter from his ladder, goes through a bass drum of a German band, crashes through a piece of glass carried by a couple of workmen, runs up a brown automobile, sent a hatbox flying, hits a newsboy, carries off a bulldog, and so on… it’s a hilarious adventure that has Bobby flying into a bale of hay at the end.

My take: I’ve seen this book at one of the bookstores and it cost a small fortune, but I lucked out and found a copy for a song at the bargain bookstore. The verse is quite humorous, but the reader doesn’t even need the words to enjoy this book — the slanted structure contributes to the illusion of the hill on which the carriage descends, and the reader can follow the story just by looking at the pictures! Newell is a gifted artist, and I want to collect more of his works!

My rating: 5/5 stars

Dick Whittington and his Cat, written and illustrated by Marcia Brown, hardcover 1950 First Weekly Reader edition, via BookMooch

The 411: This 1951 Caldecott Honor Book is based on a British folktale about a poor boy and his talented cat, who paves the way for him to eventually become the Lord Mayor of London. It is actually based on a real-life person, Richard Whittington, who was thrice the Lord Mayor of London, except  that he was not from a poor family and there is no record of him having owned a cat (who knows?). Marcia Brown illustrates the story in striking black and gold with a technique called lino cut, which involves mounting cut linoleum on a piece of wood as the relief surface.

My take: I’ve always thought Dick Whittington and Puss and Boots were the same story; I only discovered that they’re two different stories after reading this book, although the cats both help the main character in finding their fortune. The rags-to-riches story is charmingly old-fashioned, and I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Puss’ adventures onboard the ship and her encounters with the Moors on the Barbary Coast. The lino cut illustrations are amazing, simple but they really stand out on the page, and I can  easily see how Marcia Brown went on to win three Caldecott medals after this  book.

My rating: 4/5 stars

One Wide River to Cross, written by Barbara Emberley, illustrated by Ed Emberley, 1992 paperback edition (original 1966), via BookMooch

The 411: This sole Caldecott Honor book for 1967 features the story of Noah and the Ark, adapted from a folk song of the same title. Emberley has a variety of styles, but in this book he experiments with highly stylized woodcut prints that eventually earned him much acclaim.

My take: The story is pretty much straightforward, but I was truly blown away by the beauty of this book. Page by page is a funky print of black silhouettes against a panel of bright color. The woodcut detail is just amazing, from the fantastic Ark to the gamut of tiny animals marching on the pages.

My rating: 5/5 stars

Journey Cake, Ho! by Ruth Sawyer, illustrated by Robert McCloskey, 1953 hardcover, via BookMooch

The 411: This Caldecott Honor Book for 1954 features a poor family on Tip Top Mountain, made up of an old couple, Merry and Grumble, and a boy named Johnny. Merry and Grumble’s farm falls on hard times so they decide to send Johnny away with a “journey cake,” a flat cornmeal bread favored by travelers (hmm, like the Elves’ lembas in LOTR?). Much like the runaway pancake or gingerbread man stories, the journey cake has a life of its own, causing Johnny and a whole bunch of animals to chase after it. All’s well that ends well, as the chase leads Johnny and the menagerie — cows, pigs, sheep, chickens — back to the farm, where the animals settle and give new life to the farm, and the journey cake gets renamed as the “Johnny Cake.” Robert McCloskey’s two-toned illustrations give life to the story.

My take: This book is a fun adventure, as the readers follow the merry chase for the journey cake and are entertained with bits of song. McCloskey’s comical illustrations add to the fun, in an interesting two-tone sang de boeuf and teal, festooned with lots of patterns. It’s also entertaining to see the family grow from miserable to happy as the journey cake and Johnny come full circle at the end of the story.

My rating: 4/5 stars

The Judge by Harve Zemach, pictures by Margot Zemach, 1988 paperback (original 1966), via BookMooch

The 411: This 1970 Caldecott Honor book is a hilarious tale about a courtroom judge to whom a series of prisoners are presented. The prisoners have apparently been charged with making up stories and they each plead their case, telling the judge about a horrible thing with scary eyes and a hairy tail and paws with claws and snapping jaws. The judge does not believe a word of what they’re saying and orders  each of the prisoners to be locked up in prison. Little does the judge know that there really is a horrible thing coming towards him, and he meets a nasty end. And the postscript? The prisoners are all freed at the end of the book.

My take: I like the rhythmic poetry of the story: “A horrible thing is coming this way/ Creeping closer day by day/ Its eyes are scary/ Its tail is hairy/ Its paws have claws/ It snaps its jaws/ I tell you, Judge, we all better pray.” The illustrations also have a comic quality to them, building up to a surprising finish!

My rating: 3/5 stars

Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti, adapted and illustrated by Gerald McDermott, 1986 paperback (original 1972), P35 at Book Sale

The 411: This 1972 Caldecott Honor book features Anansi, a trickster-hero from the folklore of the Ashanti of West Africa (Ghana). Known for their superb artisans that weave  beautiful silk fabric, the Ashanti weave symbols of their art and folklore into the silk, among them Anansi the Spider. The story tells of Anansi’s six sons: See Trouble, Road Builder, River Drinker, Game Skinner, Stone Thrower, and Cushion. One day, Anansi the spider falls into the river and gets swallowed by a fish, and his six sons come to the rescue using their unique abilities. Sees Trouble gets a vision of the event, Road Builder spins a web to the site, River Drinker empties the river of water, and Game Skinner skins the fish to free Anansi. Then a falcon picks Anansi up, and Stone Thrower attacks with his choice weapon, then Anansi falls from the sky and lands on Cushion! Anansi finds a globe of light in the forest and wants to give it to one of his sons as a prize, but he can’t make up his mind, so he gives it to the god Nyame to hold temporarily, but the family could not decide on who gets the prize. Nyame solves this by taking the orb up into the sky, and it becomes the moon, shining bright for all to see.

My take: I see this book as an excellent storytelling book, as the rescue of Anansi is quite exciting. Anansi is such a loveable character (distinguished from his sons with his funny face), and the sons put their talents to good use to save their father. African symbology is incorporated with the graphic art, and great colors too!

My rating: 4/5 stars

The Three Jovial Huntsmen, adapted and illustrated by Susan Jeffers, 1973 first edition paperback, via BookMooch

The 411: This 1974 Caldecott Honor book is based on a Mother Goose rhyme: three jovial huntsmen set off hunting on St. David’s Day, but  save for a few animals (hedgehog in a bramble bush and they cannot find anything to hunt.

My take: The story is based just on that one brief Mother Goose rhyme, and I was waiting for something more to happen, until I reached the end of the book! My consolation is that Susan Jeffers masterfully gives the abbreviated text a whole new dimension — the three jovial hunters cannot find the animals because they are cleverly hidden throughout the forest — in the foliage, the rocks, the tree trunks, the water in the stream — that even the reader will have to look closely to find them all, and the hunt lengthens the written experience. This is my third Susan Jeffers book (I have Snow White and Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening), and I really like her thoughtful pen and ink artwork, with amazing texture and carefully chosen spots of color on the spread.

My rating: 3/5 stars

Anno’s Alphabet: An Adventure in Imagination by Mitsumasa Anno, 1975 hardcover with dustjacket, from the Books for Less warehouse

The 411: This is a unique alphabet book features a spread for each letter, one page featuring a letter that is painted to look as if it were made out of wood, and on the facing page, an object beginning with the letter. The letters play with dimension, defying the conventional notions of perspective. Furthermore, each page is surrounded by an intricate border, with hidden letter objects for the careful observer!

My take: This book is definitely full of surprises, and I like its daring approach to alphabet books. Most alphabet books can be read with a cursory scan, but this one makes you look… and look more! The letters are seemingly impossible, contorted in mind-boggling ways, and when you look closely at the objects featured opposite the letter, you’ll find the shape of the letter incorporated in the picture as well!

My rating: 5/5 stars

Friends, written and illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa, 1976 hardcover, P15 at Book Sale

The 411: This is a book about friendship, listing the different reasons we need friends: to play with, for jumping and bumping over, to make faces with, to draw pictures (and share the blame), to do homework with, for keeping secrets and listen to silly stories, to play make-believe with, for getting dirty with, for exploring meadows, discovering treasures, and many more!

My take: I fell in love with the illustrations as soon as I saw the book. Ichikawa’s art is delicate and dainty, and there really isn’t a story in this book, but each picture manages to tell a story on its own! The depictions of friendship are whimsical, light-hearted and funny, and they make an abstract idea like friendship easy to grasp for very young readers.

My rating: 5/5 stars

FACE OFF: Stone Soup by Ann McGovern, illustrated by Winslow Pinney Pels (1986 paperback, via Bookmooch) vs. Stone Soup, adapted and illustrated by Marcia Brown (1997 paperback, P20 at National Book Store at the Manila International Book Fair)

The 411: A fairly popular folk tale, Stone Soup has many variations involving a traveler or a group of travelers stopping by a place where they are made to feel unwelcome, and soup made from an inedible object (e.g. stone, button, nail, etc) that is made palatable after the traveler(s) coaxes the reluctant host(s) to share their blessings. Marcia Brown, whose version is a 1948 Caldecott Honor book, goes with three soldiers stopping by a peasant village. The villagers hide their food and appear to have no food to give the hungry soldiers so the soldiers gather them all in the square and set up a pot and start cooking stone soup. Ann McGovern’s 60s version is the more conventional tale, featuring a weary traveler and a cranky old woman who doesn’t want to share her food. In both cases however, the story ends with a feast of hearty soup fit for royalty.

My take: The Stone Soup story is a childhood favorite, and I’ve long wanted to collect different versions of it. I find that I like both of these versions though they  are quite different from each other. arcia Brown’s is more folksy, both in its narration and illustration, while Ann McGovern’s is more stylized, and Pels’ illustrations are whimsical and just a little bit grotesque. While I rate them the same, I do like the Marcia Brown story a bit more, though, because the story is less common, although overall, I still like the version I grew up with, the one found in the Britannica children’s encyclopedia.

My rating: Ann McGovern version, 4/5 stars; Marcia Brown version, 4/5 stars