going back in time

In my last post, I wrote about how I like to try to recapture the feeling of childlike wonder that surrounds this particular holiday season. Since writing that, I’ve been taking my own advice, and sorting through some of my childhood books. I became re-acquainted with some old friends, and decided to share a couple with you today. Maybe you could share them with someone special to you!

Many of my children’s books were sent to me by my Nana in England, and one of the things the British do especially well is anthropomorphise animals (Beatrix Potter, anyone?). These books are full of little animals in waistcoats and cravats, smoking pipes and drinking tea, living in their own private worlds away from human intervention. I loved escaping into these worlds as a child, and can easily transport myself back to that time just by opening the worn-out and much-taped covers.

Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows is one of my all-time favourite stories. I still read it at least once a year, and always seem to find new inspiration in its pages.

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame; illustrated by Michael Hague

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame; illustrated by Michael Hague

Now that’s what I call a picnic! Don’t you just want to perch among the wildflowers and sip some tea with them? They brought an accordion and a teapot and a kettle to their picnic! So. cool.

img665(All the trees have faces!)

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Ratty is singlehandedly responsible for my love of rowboats.

Michael Hague is an American illustrator, who actually trained at an art school very close to where I grew up! I didn’t grow up reading this particular copy of the story, but I think he captures the spirits of the characters very well.

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Have you ever read the Fern Hollow books? Probably not. And all I can say is, you’ve missed out. Big time. Created, written, and illustrated by John Patience, Fern Hollow is a little village somewhere in England. Its inhabitants are a motley assortment of delightful characters, including Boris Blink the Antiquarian Bookseller and his assistant Leapy (an owl and a lizard, respectively. The lizard wears a top hat.) and so many others.

Screen shot 2012-12-27 at 6.13.57 PM

This print, and many others, can be purchased on http://www.deviantart.com! I have to say, the colour in this print is much more garish than the illustration in the book…

Each book includes a map on the endpapers that helps you situate each story in the village.

mapSometimes I never even read the stories — I just pored over the map and imagined my own adventures, swimming in the River Ferny and joining the mediaeval midsummer banquet in the Windy Wood!

There are almost 20 books in the series, and I highly recommend checking them out, especially if you have young children to buy presents for (Or if, like me, you just really like children’s books and sometimes pretend you’re buying for your “nephew” or your “friend’s child”… )!

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The last book I’m going to tell you about is part of another British series, Brambly Hedge. When I say “series”, I don’t mean it in the sense of a collection of stories that each build upon the previous one, and relate a continuing story. Brambly Hedge and Fern Hollow are distinct, contained worlds, and each book offers a mere glimpse into the animals’ universes. The creator of the Brambly Hedge books, Jill Barklem, began creating this miniature world as a way to escape from the dirt and noise of commuting on the London Underground. She did extensive research into pre-Industrial Revolution England and sustainable farming communities. The mice that live in her idyllic world practice seasonal self-sufficiency and “old-world” customs and values.

“The clothes the mice wear are spun by paw driven looms, the flour for bread is created using a fully functional water mill. Many of the details of Brambly Hedge can be traced back to British agricultural processes of the past. The harnessing of wind and waterpower, the imaginative use of ingredients, the preserving of fruits in the autumn for winter use, the ceremonies and celebrations that mark the turning points of the year.

All the food used in Brambly Hedge was created beforehand in Jill’s kitchen to make sure the ingredients worked. Many of the trees used to create Brambly Hedge are directly illustrated from trees that still stand in Epping Forest.

The world has changed dramatically since the first publication of Brambly Hedge back in 1980, but the ethos of Brambly Hedge remains unchanged. Community spirit, seasonal cooking and sustainability are perhaps more relevant in today’s world than ever before.”

— Brambly Hedge website, “How it all Began”

Sorry about that super-long quote, but I actually thought it was all quite interesting, and very appropriate for the world we’re living in today! But apart from all of that, her stories and illustrations are truly charming. These are from The Secret Staircase, which tells of the midwinter celebrations in the Old Oak Palace.

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The Secret Staircase, written and illustrated by Jill Barklem

img662This might be my favourite illustration in any book ever. I still love following the path of the mice and imagining what it would be like to live in a huge old tree! And, on top of all that, the story is about 2 little mice who discover secret palatial rooms inside the palace, which they then clean up and use as their secret playing space. SO awesome!

I’d like to finish today with a quote from acclaimed “children’s book” author Maurice Sendak, who repeatedly asserted that he did not write for children or for adults. He just wrote. He said:

“I believe there is no part of our lives, our adult as well as child life, when we’re not fantasizing, but we prefer to relegate fantasy to children, as though it were some tomfoolery only fit for the mature minds of the young. Children do live in fantasy and reality; they move back and forth very easily in a way we no longer remember how to do.”

— from Questions to an Artist who is also an Author; A Conversation between Maurice Sendak and Viginia Haviland, by Virginia Haviland, 1972

So, in the spirit of Mr. Sendak, embrace the magic and wonder of books…. Any book! All books! And allow yourself to be transported. If not tonight, then when?

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