Archive for November 25th, 2017

by Sam Juliano

 Classics Illustrated first appeared in 1941.  Over the ensuing thirty years a total of 169 titles were published.  This comic book format brought great works of literature to elementary school age children by way of a rudimentary condescension of epic storylines, and a comic book format that made the experience enjoyable.  While some academic purists found the venture as appalling as the Cliff Notes, others of equal pedagogical distinction deemed the series an ideal method to coax reluctant readers to take on the genuine article after their interest was notably piqued by this pictorially attractive beginner course of sorts.  Of far more recent vintage is the “Babylit” collection that has so far eclipsed thirty titles, several of which have spotlighted seminal works by the Bard, Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy and the Bronte sisters.  Published by Gibbs Smith Inc., which poses the books as “a fashionable way to introduce your child to the world of classic literature”, this remarkably passionate and prolific enterprise is a collaboration between author Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver, both of whom are resolved to sow the seeds of literary identification and appreciation for a pre-school set capable and willing to connect sensory dots.  These stage setting primers are designed to fuel proper triggers that will lead to the deeper levels of appreciation at the time they enter grade school and later taken on the deeper contexts that may have been inaugurated by the Babylit entries.  Adams has been on a sustained mission to promote literary awareness, and one of her previous works in her Edgar Allan Poe series, Edgar and the Tattle-Tale Heart with illustrations by Ron Stucki was given a Caldecott Medal Contender review in the 2014 roundup.  Some of us holding English literature degrees can only wished we would have had such an inauguation to some of our most beloved works.

The exquisite tapestries gracing the board pages of her literature projects are by extraordinarily talented New York-based artist Alison Oliver whose remarkable profligate propensity is exceeded only by her breathtaking canvases inspired by Adams’s sagacious discernment of what type of pictorial strategy should be employed with each of the titles.  In 2017 the pair have pooled their gifts for several books.  One on Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is billed as a “dancing primer” and the swirling colors are strikingly attuned the dancing and costumes that would of course attract the initial and continued attention of the very young.  Another sublime book, released in the first quarter of the year is a “sound primer” on Aladdin and His Lamp.  For their partnership on Anne of Green Gables, by “Little Miss” (Lucy Ward) Montgomery the concentration is on the breathtaking beauty of Prince Edward Island, a Canadian island province off the coast of Nova Scotia that has long been celebrated as the pastoral setting of the Anne of Green Gables books by Canada’s most beloved writer.  The plucky and cerebral red-haired, freckled Anne Shirley -Canada’s answer to Huckleberry Finn- is seen only once in the book on a front cover frolic in the fields, but since the book is pointedly a “Places Primer” there isn’t a need to employ her likeness again. (more…)

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