Akemashite Omedetou!

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Happy New Year! Here is a sampling of osechi ryouri — traditional Japanese new year food. (If you look at the picture closely you’ll notice that everything is actually crafted with paper.)

Our family will be ushering in 2011 with long noodles and mochi (rice cakes).

Which Peanut Do You Love?

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Charles Schultz. Oh, how I worshipped him as a young girl. I devoured Peanuts comics. Those kids were my people: their melancholy humour, the existential questioning, their unexplained autonomy from adults. I spent many summers in Japan and there happened to be a big Snoopy craze one year and I couldn’t have been happier. Snoopy bubblegum and Woodstock shoes? Who knew? My family and I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas last night and it all came rushing back.

We all have different favorites.

I love Linus (his adenoidal wisdom, his multipurpose blanket).

Yoshi loves Schroeder and Violet.

Mika loves Snoopy.

Dave loves Charlie Brown and Pig Pen…

Poetry Books I Love

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Poetrees by Douglas Florian
(For tree lovers. Check out the “Glossatree” at the end. I’m a big fan of Florian’s paintings, which sit beautifully between the abstract and the literal.)

Doggy Slippers by Jorge Lujan and Isol
(For animal lovers. Mexican poet Lujan asked children to share their thoughts about their beloved pets and he turned their words into poems. Isol is one of my favorite contemporary illustrators. I love the way everything looks slightly misregistered on the page—as if your 3D glasses fell off.)

A Poke in the I: A Collection of Concrete Poems by Paul B. Janeczko and Chris Raschka
(For type lovers. What is a concrete poem? This book offers a few playful examples. We are HUGE fans of Chris Raschka’s work around here—especially Yo! Yes! and his collaborations with Bell Hooks.)

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
(This book is completely nostalgic for me. I still have the copy my father gave me on my 7th birthday. The drawings still make me laugh and squirm. Silverstein was never one to shy away from the big topics. Loneliness, fear, jealousy, death: it’s all here.)

Picture Books I Love

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A few old favorites.

The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide and Edward Gorey
(Listen to your children!)

Mud Pies and Other Recipes by Marjorie Winslow
(Nature is the best kitchen.)

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crokett Johnson
(Don’t listen to your parents!)

In other news: DRAWN has named Spork “one of the most beautiful books of the year.”

Isabelle (the illustrator of Spork) has this to say on her blog: “It is a huge honour for me to see Spork on Drawn’s list of Favorite books of 2010! The Drawn Blog is a well known daily source of inspiration for illustration, animation, cartooning, and comic art.”

For more by Isabelle, see:
http://www.isabellearsenault.com/blog/

A Snowy Day

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As the lavish colour of autumn gives way to the muter tones of winter, I though I’d post two happy garden pictures. The first one, by Paul Klee, is titled “Tunisian Gardens” (1919). The second one is by Friedensreich Hundertwasser and is titled “Green for Those Who Cry” (1974). I love Klee and Hundertwasser for their musicality and playful use of line. They are often referred to as ‘childlike’ in their approach. I suppose this could be seen as a compliment or insult, depending on your attitude. I personally like to think of something fantasy writer Zenna Henderson once said: “It takes a very childlike (as opposed to childish) person to keep wonder and illusion alive in a lifetime of teaching.” (I’m paraphrasing.)

For Hundertwasser, lyricism and spontaneity are tied to an entire worldview. As he observed: “Today we live in a chaos of straight lines, in a jungle of straight lines. If you do not believe this, take the trouble to count the straight lines which surround you. Then you will understand, for you will never finish counting.”

If you’re ever in Vienna, try to make time to see his amazing architecture and you’ll see his philosophy in practice. (No straight lines!) He reminds me of Antoni Gaudi post-Holiday punch.

A Writer I Like

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I first came to know of Paula Fox through her adult fiction—primarily her incredible novel, Desperate Characters. So it was a surprise and pleasure to learn about her children’s books, which have won all sorts of awards, including the Hans Christian Andersen Medal, the Newbery Medal, and an American Book Award.

Fox had a complicated and unsettled childhood, which is the subject of a fairly recent memoir and arguably an impetus for much of her writing. Here is an excerpt from a Guardian interview, in which she touches on her attraction to difficult subjects and her focus on children who find themselves outsiders: “I think what my growing up gave me was that I didn’t just swim like a goldfish, unaware of anything—water, my environment—I had leapt out of the bowl, so I could see in a certain way…I think I write mostly about children who, like me, are out of the bowl.”

My Great Auntie

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If we’re lucky there is an elder in our lives—a grandpa, a next-door neighbor, a teacher, a shopkeeper, an auntie. If we’re really lucky that elder will dispel every preconception we have about aging and being old.

My elder was my Great Aunt Kenie (born Kathleen Gallagher). She was a kind of mum to my father growing up and she was the first person to really welcome my mother when my parents moved from Tokyo to London back in 1963. After we moved to Canada, she continued a regular correspondence and eventually came to visit on several occasions. Though she traveled by airplane, the journey across the pond seemed great enough that her stays were always long and leisurely. In the absence of grandparents, she became my go-to person: my comforting songstress, my cozy lap.

Looking back, I remember her as a cinematic melange. She had the politics and beauty of Vanessa Redgrave. The style of Catherine Deneuve. The sass of Katherine Hepburn. The fierce intelligence of Lauren Bacall.

She slaughtered me at Scrabble, taught me about Nelson Mandela, bought me my first Judy Blume book (Are you There God? It’s me Margaret), showed me how to eat shrimp (“scampi”) like I really meant it.

She was my shepherd, ally, friend. When she died in Sussex, I was given a small suitcase containing a few of her possessions. Inside it was a beautiful pop-up book containing a collection of children’s stories and poems, some of which she had written.

I still think of Auntie Kenie often. She inspired me to follow my heart and dreams, including the dream of becoming a writer.