Monday, November 28, 2011

Vignette: Feldman Books

On a busy street in the pretty town of Menlo Park sits an old bookstore, the kind you hope will stay in business with all those major bookstore chains bulldozing in and out of our cities. I have nothing much against the big chains except for their promises of low prices, now unable to fulfill such claims with online shopping so accessible for book buyers.  Amazon and Alibris and a host of other e-bookshops have made big chains unimportant.  But, back to a little town and it's treasures.

     The sunny town of Menlo Park boasts some really lovely shops, some extraordinarily expensive charity shops with real fur coats in them, boutiques with outrageously decadent gifts for the very wealthy, and little places to eat in many convenient locations.

     So, here I am.  It's May, I'm turning thirty, and I'm spending the day out by myself while my husband takes a class towards his master's degree.  The day is a gift from my husband and I am happy, blissfully aware that I don't have to worry about bored kids or an impatient spouse, and I opt for a stroll.  Then just a block or two from our parked car I find it. Feldman Books.  The front isn't anything to write home about. It's an old building with a little wooden door and two big picture windows piled with books but I get a little thrill that goes right down to my fingertips.  My family is a book family and we prize bookstores that look like this, unsure of what treasures we'll find inside but certain there will be something worth getting.  Outside as I stand on the street there is the noise of passing vehicles but inside is cool and dark with the pervasive smell of must and leather that goes hand in hand with books.  My sister and I found a bookstore like this in London.  You don't know where the back is.  You don't know where the little passageways lead.  You wander, looking for genres you can sink your teeth into.
     I push the door open with a thunk and head towards the back of the shop after questioning the clerk as to where the mystery and science fiction books dwell.  The back room was not originally part of the store.  It was a building behind the bookstore with a small sort of furtive garden in between.  There is a ramp that goes from door to door as if to warn you not to stray off the path and visit the plants but rather keep to your agenda and get to the books.  The back room had lower ceilings and less beauty in the bindings but I am immediately happy.  I find that comics are also in this space and I can look up Agatha Christie, Terry Pratchett, or Herge without missing a beat. After scanning the various paperback racks and pulling out a half dozen books I want to add to my collection, I head back to the main building and look for the children's section.  I've disciplined myself not to start there as I won't be able to leave if I do.
    The children's section in an old bookstore like Feldman's is always something special.  I've always loved childrens books and areas dedicated to this genre pull me in.  Not to be found are the newest additions, the myriad of toys to make up for the fact that there aren't that many books, or the series of books churned out by giant companies with little thought to illustration, plot, or general quality.  Here are the old classics joined by books from the twenties through the fifties with pictures and titles unknown to me.  I scan for the titles I love but cannot find in new bookstores.  Gold mine! Here is a copy of The Rainbow Goblins for eight dollars.  It costs twenty dollars in our "used" bookstore in my town.  Someone thoughtfully placed a low stool in the room and I unashamedly slog my pile of books down and start reading titles.  On one shelf I find a set of Nancy Drews with remarkable covers from the sixties.  The Sign Of The Twisted of my favorites.  I grin at the discovery of How Fletcher Was Hatched in hardback with a linen cover.  I make sure there aren't any beautiful versions of classics like Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lord of the Rings, or The Chronicles of Narnia that I can't live without before switching over to paperbacks.  I don't mind paperbacks but I prefer hardbacks if only for their beauty.  Success! A copy of Trina Schart Hyman's Rapunzel. I didn't have that one. Only after I get past that uncomfortable amount of money where I start to wonder if I should put things back do I get up and regretfully head out the door with my purchases.

I'm happy with what I'm adding to my collection but I'm secretly aware that what I really want is a bookstore of my own where all the books are beautiful and all of them are mine.  I want soft leather chairs you can sink into, low yellow lighting that warms the pages as you turn them, a bookstore cat that won't sit on your lap but makes everything a little more homey, the promise of a good cup of hot chocolate from a coffee shop nearby, and the quiet dense feel of living in a bookshop.  All your friends are here.  Prince Andre is having tea with Ebeneezer Scrooge.  Frog and Toad have taken down the cookie jar and are giving cookies to all the waterbabies.  Miss Elizabeth Bennett is in an earnest discussion with Andre-Louis Moreau and Mr. Psmith is dueling with Captain Hook and winning without looking.  He's more interested in the chess set that Mr. Holmes and Mr. Poirot are playing.  I don't know whose winning but Poirot's eyes are very green.
So until I live in my bookstore I'll say good night dear readers.  Pull out your favorite books.  Add to your library every year.  Instill in your children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews a love for books and a respect for the written word.  That is all.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Children's Book Review: Snow White

Name of Book: Snow White
Author / Illustrator: By the Brothers Grimm, freely translated from the German by Paul Heins and Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

What It's All About:This is the classic fairytale by the Brothers Grimm.  A beautiful Queen wishes for a daughter with hair as black as ebony and skin as white as snow.  She has Snow White and dies in childbirth.  The King remarries after a year to a beautiful but cruel woman (fairytale Stepmother).  The vain Queen has a magical mirror that will answer truthfully the question, "who is the most beautiful in this land?"  The day comes when Snow White surpasses the Queen in beauty.  The Queen is so envious she tells a hunter to take the child into the woods and kill her.  The hunter, having some pity, releases the child into the woods and returns to the Queen.  Snow White finds a little house in the terrifying woods and creeps in.  Exhausted she falls asleep.  Seven dwarfs come home and find a beautiful girl in house.  They offer to let her live with them and she agrees.  Every day they hunt for gold and every day Snow White takes care of the cottage.  The Queen soon learns from her mirror that Snow White is still alive.  Furious, the Queen dyes her face and dresses like a peddler and goes to the cottage in the woods.  First she sells Snow White a corset and laces so tight that Snow White faints.  The dwarfs come home in time and cut the corset from her and she revives.  The Queen tries to kill Snow White again with a poisoned comb, which she places in Snow White's hair.  Again the dwarfs come home and remove the comb in time to save Snow White.  A third time the Queen dresses as a peasant and brings a poisoned apple to Snow White.  Snow White eats the poison half and falls down as if dead.  The dwarfs find her and cannot revive her.  They think she must be dead and weep aloud but cannot bring themselves to bury her for she still looks so beautiful.  Instead they build a glass coffin and take turns keeping watch over her.  A king's son discovers Snow White and begs the dwarfs to let him take it.  They will not sell it to him and he asks for it as a gift, for he cannot live without seeing Snow White.  The dwarfs take pity on him and give it to him.  As the coffin is jostled, it moves the apple from Snow White's throat and she awakens.  The prince asks her to marry him and she agrees.  Her wicked Stepmother is invited to the feast and comes, not knowing it is Snow White who will marry the prince.  She is horrified when she sees the young queen but cannot turn back.  Iron slippers are placed on a coal fire and brought before her.  She has to step into the red hot shoes and dance until she falls down dead. 

My Favorite Bit: I love every illustration in this story.  It is a gorgeous piece of work and I encourage you to add it to your library.  My favorite picture is the kindly prince looking at Snow White in the glass coffin.
Suitable Age For Reading It To: This is a retelling for older children.  Not only are the pages longer but the story itself is cruel and sharp.  I would wait until your children are around seven before you read this version to them.  There are other retellings that are less dramatic but none as beautiful. Tread carefully with little minds here. 
Go Get It: Snow White on Amazon US. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have been reprinted yet and is more expensive but really worth it. 
A Little About The Author / Illustrator: I've already written about Trina Schart Hyman HERE.  One thing that's interesting in her stories is her self-portraits.  In this story she is the face of the wicked Queen the first time she changes into a peddler to deceive Snow White. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Five Christmas Books You Should Have

I'm putting out this list a little early for those earlybird Christmas shoppers who need to get things ordered on time. All I can say is God bless Amazon two-day shipping for those of us who remember last minute things.  As a little aside my sister Lizzie made me think about how I shop for books nowadays.  We were in the mall and she had popped down to a new bookstore to see what they had and come back disappointed as they weren't really stocked up yet.  She mentioned having gone to several bookstores trying to find a book and would have to order it online.  I seem to take the opposite approach these days and order on Amazon, Abebooks, Alibris, or even Ebay before I try and find it in a bookstore.  That seems a little sad to me as I write this but I think the days of going to bookstores with an agenda are over.  I love bookstores and go to great ones for the sheer pleasure of wandering through shelves of beautiful books, but I don't go with an aim in mind.  The world of books is changing.  

The Christmas Train HERE
by Ivan Gantschev
This is a lovely story about a child who saves a train on Christmas Eve by dragging her Christmas tree onto the train tracks and lighting it on fire to warn the train of danger ahead.   

The Jolly Christmas Postman HERE
By Janet and Allan Ahlberg
I'll admit this book can take awhile to read because of all the little goodies in the envelopes on every page but my daughter finds it enchanting and it is well done.  Ride with the Jolly Postman as he delivers Christmas letters to all the fairytale inhabitants.

My Little Library of Christmas Classics: The Night Before Christmas; The Nutcracker; Christmas Carols; The Fir Tree HERE
By Diane Goode
This little set seems to be getting lost on the bookshelves but I hope they reprint it soon.  These little books are beautifully illustrated, a perfect size for little hands, and a perfect stocking stuffer. 

Santa's Favorite Story HERE
Written by Hisako Aoki and Illustrated by Ivan Gantschev
Christmas may be canceled this year because Santa is too tired to deliver all his packages. The forest animals are worried, but when Santa tells them the story of the very first Christmas, when Christ was born, the animals discover the true spirit of the season.

Madeline's Christmas HERE
By Ludwig Bemelmans
Out of all the Madeline books, this was at the top of the list for me.  The illustrations are deeply colorful and with a magic carpet ride, a zoo in the snow, and beautiful presents, you'll want to turn the page to see what's next.  Madeline...not just for girls.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Children's Book Review: Socks For Supper

Name of Book: Socks For Supper
Author / Illustrator: By Jack Kent
What's It All About: A man and a woman live in a little cottage and have only turnips to eat they are so poor.  Next door lives a wealthy farmer with a cow.  The man and woman dream of cheese and milk to eat.  The man looks for something to trade the wealthy farmer but all he can find is a pair of red socks.  He takes them anyway and lo and behold the wealthy farmer trades him milk and cheese for the socks.  The man and woman love the meal and want more but where can they get more red socks? The woman begins to knit more socks with the man's sweater and again he trades the socks for milk and cheese.  What will happen when his sweater runs out? Read on.
My Favorite Bit: I've always loved the way the cheese and milk looked and how happy the man and woman were when they had another meal.  This story's simple illustrations, lovely colors, and fun story make it a classic that must be in your library.

Suitable Age For Reading It To: This is a for everyone book.  Around two the children would understand the pictures and all the way up to ten will love the story.  My son still enjoys this one at nine and we don't plan on stopping reading it. 

Go Get It:  Socks For Supper at Alibris in hardback.  It has not been re-released as far as I can tell and that makes it harder to find one in good condition for little but here's a good try.
A Little About The Author / Illustrator:

Jack Kent was born in Burlington, Iowa in 1920 and passed away in 1985 from leukemia.  He wrote/illustrated over forty books and is best known for his comic strip King Aroo.  Kent dropped out of high school at age 15 and became a commercial artist until he joined the army in 1941.  Jack and his wife June named their home on the banks of San Antonio River King Aroo's Castle.