Thursday, May 15, 2014

What Was Your Favorite Childhood Book?

It is Children's Book Week (as I realized on, oh, about Tuesday) so before it slips away I thought I ought to at least make an attempt to celebrate it here.

I don't recall that my school celebrated Children's Book Week when I was a child, but I do remember that every week ended in children's books: Friday was the day that my father would drive out to the big Huntington Library after dinner, and I nearly always went with him.

He'd set me free in the children's department (back then nobody thought twice of leaving a youngster unattended while they were on a different floor of the library...but back then people were also supposed to be quiet in the library, too). A big stuffed bulldog--an actual bulldog, prepared by a taxidermist--stood guard over the shelves.

On the way home, I'd read all the titles of the books out loud to my dad. He nodded approvingly at each one. I thought he'd read them all and was indicating that he remembered their plots well.

We also had plenty of books at home, and I still have some of them today: the Tintin books that provided endless hours of entertainment when I was sick in bed, the big Just-So Stories volume with eerie pictures that gave me the shivers, and one of my favorites, the big book about Noah's Ark.

I loved the myth of Noah's Ark, because I loved animals and obviously this story was packed with them. My favorite toy was a Noah's Ark set made by the Marx toy company--the whole thing fit into a container smaller than a shoebox, with animals ranging from olive-sized elephants to dogs so tiny you could kennel them all in a thimble. I played with it so often on the wide blue ocean of the living room carpet that most of the animals, over time, suffered a second natural disaster and disappeared into the tornado of the vacuum.

When my parents asked me what I'd like for getting a good report card in elementary school, I requested a supersized Colorforms Noah's Ark scene.

My favorite picture in the book, of course.
The edition I had as a kid (and still have) was published by Grossest & Dunlap in 1957. It was vibrantly illustrated by Art Seiden (Art! So perfect a name!), who worked in advertising and also illustrated more than 300 books. Some of his animal books have rabbits and bears that remind me of Richard Scarry's creations.

What impresses me is just how beautifully he filled the frame of a page, achieving a wonderful balance and fizz.

Lots of his books were published by Golden Books, Wonder Books, and other imprints that sold books inexpensively in places such as grocery stores and five-and-tens. These books are being newly appreciated for their fabulous illustration and design, and they well deserve it.

I always loved the cutaway view of the ark with all the animals inside and spent many a happy hour drawing cutaway views myself:

Some books of his you might recall if you're a certain age: Never Pat a Bear, A Dragon in a Wagon, Dinosaur Comes to Town, and Where Is the Keeper?