Once Upon a Time: Late Nineteenth Century Children’s Book Illustrations

Children’s books from the late nineteenth century have the best illustrations. Here’s why:

They are charming.

From Round the Hearth and Other Verses

From Round the Hearth [and other verses], 1889.

They are nonsensical.

Lilliput Lyrics  Illustrated by Chas. Robinson, 1899

From Lilliput Lyrics. Illustrated by Chas. Robinson, 1899.

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Don’t Forget: Today is Read Tuesday!

Don’t forget: today is Read Tuesday, the bookish equivalent of Black Friday or Cyber Monday. Please consider supporting some of the wonderful participants by buying their books (all at reduced prices).


My friend Kevin’s amazing action-adventure book for young readers, Legends of Steragos, is available for Kindle ($2.99) and in paperback ($6.38).

Remember: ‘Tis always the season for giving the gift of reading.

[Update] Legends of Steragos Has Been Funded

This happened last night.

Legends of Steragos

Legends of Steragos Kickstarter

Kevin’s project deserves every penny pledged by these 19 magnificent people. The book is set for a May release. If you’ll excuse me, I have a manuscript to edit.

If you missed my first Legends of Steragos post, go here.


Legends of Steragos: Why Our Kids Need Storybook Heroines Who Clobber the Witch, Save the Prince, and Blow Up the Tower

Here’s a fun thing I’m doing this month:

Manuscript, Red Marker at the Ready

Manuscript, red marker at the ready.

This manuscript is spending February in my hot, little hands. When it grows up, it is going to be a book aimed at young readers. Not just any book aimed at young readers, mind you, but an amazing and necessary book aimed at young readers. It’s a feminist action adventure story set in the 1920s. The protagonists are a trio of cliche-defying princesses  who use their intelligence, talent, wits, friendship and sense of fair play to rule a kingdom, save a prince or two, and defend their people from evil. They are amazing role models for girls (and boys) who think that storybook princesses can be so much more than pink damsels-in-distress. How badass is that?

KM Scott is one of the most talented people I have ever met. He is one of my closest friends, and is a regular contributor to A Small Press Life. I’ve been lucky enough to work on a number of projects with him, in various capacities, for nearly a decade. Indeed, he gave me my first real writing and editing job back in 2004. He’s brilliant, and so is his book. I’ll let him explain the idea behind Legends. In his impassioned words:

“Being a fan of comics, cartoons, and superheroes, I loved to share my interests with my students who were eager to talk about Spider-Man, the Avengers, and Batman.  But I was constantly frustrated when it came to finding anything that featured strong female heroes, super-powered or otherwise, to draw my girls into the conversation. Time and again, the girls were more inclined towards talking about their favorite princesses.

Then one day, it hit me:  I could write my own story about super-heroic princesses.  These ladies wouldn’t just sit around in some tower waiting to be rescued by a handsome prince from an evil witch – they’d clobber the witch, rescue the prince, and then blow up the tower.  But violence wouldn’t be the only means of dealing with their enemies;  these would be three smart, talented young women whose love of adventure and zest for life were matched only by their devotion to the freedom and safety of their subjects.”

As his editor, I can tell you: boom, mission accomplished! I know that he has done all that he set out to do, and more: he has written the book I wish existed when I was a girl.

KM is self-publishing his book, with my editing assistance and  other behind-the-scenes help. Like many wonderfully talented people, he is utilizing crowd funding for his main backing. Unlike many others, his goal is incredibly reasonable and well explained: he needs a mere $600.00 to see his book to print.

Since 2009, my aim with A Small Press Life has been consistent: to use and promote my work and, more importantly, that of other independent creatives. KM is one of the worthiest artists I know.

I hope you do not find my plea on his behalf rude. Although it exists, my direct stake in this venture is minimal. It is all about my incredible friend and a profound work that needs to be read by as many young people as possible. It is my wish that you will at least check out his Kickstarter page to see what I am talking about. Once you do, I know you will fall in love with the project as readily and passionately as I did when I read the initial synopsis.

Crowd sourcing is not just for the lazy or untalented, and is often used by the renegade visionaries that make art and culture so appealing and forward-thinking. KM is one of those artists, and his work is important-for us, and all of the wee ones in our lives. Every dollar donated is a dollar that is going directly to the production and, for anything over the $600.00 goal, marketing of the book. Thank you for listening, and for being such valued readers and supporters of A Small Press Life.


A Year in Books/Day 205: Four Little Blossoms at Oak Hill School

  • Title: Four Little Blossoms at Oak Hill School
  • Author: “Mabel C. Hawley”
  • Year Published: 1920 (The Saalfield Publishing Company)
  • Year Purchased: Circa 1920
  • Source: My Grandma
  • About: When this book was published nearly a century ago, it wouldn’t have been considered naive or innocent, but a reflection of mainstream normalcy: what childhood was, or aspired to be. As such, the plot isn’t important. All you need to know is in the characters’ names: Bobby, Meg, Dot and….Twaddles. The Blossoms are siblings, and range in age from 7 to 4 (Dot and Twaddles, you see, are twins). Nothing much happens, just the usual sweet or sly childhood shenanigans one associates with a bygone era. The Four Little Blossoms’  benign adventures lasted for seven books. Published between 1920-1930, they were part of the Stratemeyer Syndicate assembly line. Other, more famous series from Stratemeyer include the Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys Mystery Stories, Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, and Dana Girls Mystery Stories.
  • Motivation: This unimportant little book has, by extreme happenstance, been in the family for over ninety years, having been owned or read by four generations. Who knew that it would hang around so long? I wonder if this is the orphan of a once complete set, or if this is the only Four Little Blossoms book my forebears bought?
  • Times Read: Dozens? As one of the first “real” chapter books I owned, at 3 or 4, I used it to move my skills beyond the Little Golden Books stage.
  • Random Excerpt/Pages 10 and 11: “The Blossoms lived in the pretty town of Oak Hill, and they knew nearly every one. Indeed the children had never been away from Oak Hill till the visit they had made to their Aunt Polly, about which you may have read in the book called “Four Little Blossoms at Brookside Farm.” They had spent the summer with Aunt Polly, and had made many new friends and learned a great deal about animals. Meg, especially, loved all dumb creatures. And now that you are acquainted with the four little Blossoms, we must get back to that chimney.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10, because it helped me become quite a fine reader

A Year in Books/Day 182: Paddington Marches On

  • Title: Paddington Marches On
  • Author: Michael Bond, with drawings by Peggy Fortnum
  • Year Published: 1964 (Houghton Mifflin)
  • Year Purchased: 1978
  • Source: According to the inscription in my mother’s hand, this entered my collection on Christmas Day (courtesy of Mommy + Daddy).
  • About: I’m sure you know all about Paddington Bear. If you don’t, I have no idea what is wrong with you. He is one of the most visible children’s fictional characters of the last 50+ years. I loved his fetching coat and hat ensemble, and related to his greedy love of marmalade sandwiches. My favourite part from this book was always Paddington and the Cold Snap. I read it so many times that I knew it by heart. (If pressed, I could probably recite a line or two even now.) I still think he’s a pretty charming fellow. I hope my hypothetical future kids do, too.
  • Motivation: Judging by the surviving books from my early childhood, I really loved bears. Or my family thought I did, which as a tiny tot amounted to the same thing. I still own volumes of Little Bear, Pooh Bear, and, of course, Paddington Bear.
  • Times Read: Likely hundreds of times in the first year alone. This was one of the first ‘real’ (i.e. chapter) books I was given, and I couldn’t get enough of the fact that it contains far more text than illustrations.
  • Random Excerpt/Page 9: “All the same, Paddington wasn’t the sort of bear to waste a good opportunity and a moment or so later he closed the door behind him and made his way down the side of the house as quickly as he could in order to investigate the matter. Apart from the prospect of playing snowballs he was particularly anxious to test his new Wellingtons which had been standing in his bedroom waiting for just such a moment ever since Mrs. Brown had given them to him at Christmas.”
  • Happiness Scale: 9

A Year in Books/Day 129: Little Bear*

  • Title: Little Bear
  • Author: Else Holmelund Minarik
  • Illustrations: Maurice Sendak
Little Bear front cover

Little Bear front cover

  • Year Published: 1957 (Harper & Row, Publishers)
  • Year Purchased: 1957, presumably (I think it was purchased for my mom)
  • Source: My sweet Momma
  • About: Little Bear-a collection of four stories revolving around the sweet title character-was one of the first books I read for myself. I was barely three years old, and entirely mesmerized by Sendak’s illustrations. I especially loved his hat in What Will Little Bear Wear? The writing by Minarik is, of course, simplistic to the extreme (exactly what you would expect from something with An I CAN READ Book tag) but that is beside the point: Sendak is the reason I loved Little Bear and his tame adventures (real and imagined) and childish dilemmas. He is the reason the stories are classics. From the moment I opened the book for the first time-before I could read-I was a Sendak fan, lifelong and passionate.
  • Motivation: I read everything I could get my thin, little hands on. This book, it seems, was always there.
  • Times Read: Dozens or hundreds, I have no idea.
  • Random Excerpt/Page 18:
    Little Bear wearing my favourite hat

    Little Bear wearing my favourite hat

    • Happiness Scale: 10++++, with a side of warm fuzzies.
    Little Bear and Mother Bear

    Little Bear and Mother Bear

    *This is dedicated to the memory and brilliant mind of Maurice Sendak, who died today (8 May 2012).