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Why didn't somebody tell me?

In the vein of my last post, here’s another nifty old cover design by a well-known children’s book person (1). This one’s by Emily Arnold McCully, author and illustrator of Mirette on the High Wire (1992), as well as scores of other picture books.  Many of them have historical settings, like Mirette and Little Kit, or the Industrious Flea Circus Girl (1995). If I knew how to talk about art, this is where I would say something about her distinctive use of line and watercolor, used to completely different effect in her recent The Secret Cave: Discovering Lascaux (2010) and 1985’s evocative and wordless First Snow. But as soon as you say “watercolor” someone who knows better comes along and says, Actually, her medium was something-something-something, and down goes your tail between your legs for trying to talk about something of which you are truly clueless. So I’ll just say her pictures are pretty.


The cover of Crisis in English Poetry, 1880-1940, by Vivian de Sola Pinto and published by Harper & Row in 1958, has a thematic and historical contrast: the full-color drawing of a gentleman in his carriage doffing his hat, and the line sketch in blue of the Tommies charging, one presumes, at the Germans. I would read this book to find out just what that poetic crisis was, but I suffer from a sort of fear that can only be adequately expressed by Arnold Bennett (who will earn himself a post or two shortly):
“There is a word, a ‘name of fear,’ which rouses terror in the heart of the vast educated majority of the English-speaking race. The most valiant will fly at the utterance of that word. The most broadminded will put their backs up against it. The most rash will not dare to affront it. I myself have seen it empty buildings that had been full; and I know that it will scatter a crowd more quickly than a hosepipe, hornets, or the rumour of plague. Even to murmur it is to incur solitude, probably disdain, and possibly starvation, as historical examples show. That word is ‘poetry.'”
-Literary Taste,  Jonathan Cape, 1909 (2)
Slightly hysterical? I think not. But this post was supposed to be about Emily McCully, so let’s end with a quote from her:
“Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Don’t try to emulate. Work from what is inside you, crying out–however softly, however timidly–for expression.” (3)
1. Where do all these great books come from? The Friends of the Library book sale, of course. Obscure and thrilling books at unbeatable prices. Even less than the $1.60 advertised on the cover.
2. This is one of Bennett’s brilliant Pocket Philosophies. I have a weakness for books by over-educated people who presume to tell me how to improve myself. The full title is, Literary Taste and How to Form It, with detailed instructions for collecting a complete library in English literature. If you say so, Mr. Bennett.