Archive

Our Bookshelf

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During one of our recent trips to the library our son, who’s got a good eye for books (mostly, I mean; he gets distracted by popular franchises), picked out this little treasure we’re sharing today: The Egg.

The book is written and illustrated by the wonderfully talented Britta Teckentrup (whose work we didn’t know before) and it tells all (well, a lot) about eggs in a style that manages to be both informative and artistic. J loved all the facts about different kinds of eggs, particularly the really large ones. We loved the art, its combination of minimalism and humanism (not an easy thing to pull off). Together we had quite a few fun evenings with the book before the time came to return it.

“Egg collections.” Throughout the book the use of texture and color is marvelous.

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“Egg colors”

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“Inside the egg.” This gave J a pause.

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Size comparison.

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The biggest egg ever. J loved this fact.

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There’s an interesting section on nests.

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A section on eggs not laid by birds.

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And one about the meaning of an egg in art and religion. While J leans towards natural facts, we enjoy the cultural angle.

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What are your favorite lucky finds from the library?

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Last week died Bohdan Butenko, one of the great Polish illustrators. His work was truly unique. It was one of the staples of our childhood reading experience because he created and illustrated so many books (allegedly over 200). The Polish People’s Republic was not a great time in Polish history in many ways but the talented illustrators who worked then certainly made it a little brighter, Butenko being one of the most joyful of them.

His style is very easy to spot, with several characteristic features:

  1. Simplicity. The simplicity is often deceptive because frequently finding the kind of shortcut he was so good at is the hardest thing to do. But his drawings are certainly recognizable by the scarcity of details. (It is also tempting to try to copy this if you’re the kind of kid who spends their days with crayons and pencils.)
  2. Bold lines. His drawings were always executed in thick, black lines which enclosed the forms.
  3. Flat colors. He often created in black and white but when he used colors, he did it confidently.
  4. Humor. One of the most endearing qualities of his work, he always tried to make the subject matter funny and lighthearted.
  5. Text interpretation. Rather than drawing literally what the text said, Butenko usually added a little story to it in his illustration, often making it funnier.
  6. Hand-written words. He had a nice way with letters, too. He often used comic book balloons and combinations of various lettering styles (always pretty simple, though).
  7. Good sense for layout. He wasn’t the kind of illustrator who leaves the picture for someone else to fit into the text. Instead, he often designed the whole arrangement of the elements on the page, usually drawing inspiration from comic books. Some of our favorite of his books include layout design which sort of comicsifies the text. (Not a word, I know.)

We have photographed Butenko books from our collection to illustrates the points above but mainly to share his work with you and maybe to inspire you to dig further.

This is our childhood fave, Butenko’s interpretation of classic children’s poems by Jan Brzechwa. He takes the already fun poems and makes them so much more exciting, particularly by turning them into a sort of comic but also by his visual interpretation of some of the stories.

Title page. (The cover went missing many years back.)

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“How to Talk to a Dog”

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“Ram” and “A Hole in the Bridge”

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Sometimes Butenko illustrated for adults, too, This is his version of Philip Zimbardo’s classic on shyness, with the humorous illustrations making the theme much lighter. A hand-written cover is also a Butenko thing.

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“Get a very becoming haircut…”

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A children’s book about two cars dancing together. Pretty much a comic. (A favorite from my brother’s childhood, he was always into cars.)

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A book on geometry for children, notice how Butenko handles the page layouts.

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An interpretation of Kipling’s story about the domestication of a cat. This is a little bizarre but very interesting in its combination of the slightly somber, old-fashioned fairy tale with Butenko’s visual wit and energy. Also, the pagination is awesome.

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This is an example of his work for small children, telling stories without words through one of the classic characters he invented.

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And one more Brzechwa poem, this time laid out into an entire cardboard book.

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This is his work for older children, with black and white illustrations, a sort of action adventure tale.

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“…international bandits…”

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Do you have a favorite Butenko book? Or a favorite childhood illustrator?

 

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On Saturday we took a day off and made a family trip to the local zoo in Gdańsk. The weather was just right and we had a great time. In the souvenir stand we found an interesting book that we’re sharing with you today: Planeta zoo (The Zoo Planet), which tells a bit of a history of zoological gardens and introduces various animals from Gdańsk’s zoo. The book tells interesting stories about the animals living in the zoo and will make our next trip so much more informed for our son, who will know the names of some of the animals. It is illustrated by Grażyna Rigall, whose watercolor illustrations have quite a lot of character and include funny little details.

We particularly like the zoo’s effort to publish a customized souvenir, which is thoughtful, informative and well-executed. Too often local tourist attractions don’t use the material they have to self-promote: their own exhibits and buildings. We would expect similar publications in each museum and fun spot. So many creative people could be hired for that and so many lovely objects could be made as a result.

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It is this time of year again: the time of sharing the Christmas gifts we got. Probably the most impressive one is this book we kind of bought for ourselves: Vaughan Oliver: Archive. We supported the book on Kickstarter and then waited for it to get published – it managed to come a while before Christmas.

The book contains a number of materials designed or used for design by Vaughan Oliver, a design legend. It is impressively printed on Munken paper (always a plus), with a silkscreen-printed slipcase using a specially commissioned shade of orange-red. Overall, it is one of those books which work almost more by impressions than by content but remind you why print isn’t really dead whatever some people might say.

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As our focus drifts now a little to babies (and as we did some huge bookshelf cleaning recently), we remembered one of the first artsy books that our son liked: ABC by Bruno Munari. Bruno Munari was quite a fascinating Italian artist and children’s books were just a small part of his wide artistic and scientific explorations – but it’s the one we’re most familiar with. ABC is a classic letters primer, which uses very elegant, high-contrast typography and lovely, slightly old-fashioned illustrations. While this might not be a book in which you find new tiny details during each re-reading, its very simplicity appeals to children and its high aesthetic level develops their sensitivity.

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This is one gorgeous onion.

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Last time we talked about the huge Wyspiański exhibition we saw in Kraków and how impressed we were by the number of exhibits. But because of a mess of circumstances we didn’t get to spend as much time on the exhibition as we wanted to so we were glad to find a large, reliable catalog, presenting all the objects with descriptions.

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(We don’t necessarily agree with all the design choices made for the catalog but we don’t know how it was created and under what circumstances. We’re mostly just happy to have such a huge, nicely printed book full of Wyspiański’s work.)

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