Sunday, June 13, 2010

Library Discard Book Finds

Our local public library here in Bloomington, Indiana, recently held one of its clearance sales where they get rid of discarded books and books that have been donated to raise money for the library.  I have very fond memories of going to library sales as a kid with my parents and my sister.  We were all readers in my family and none of us could resist a bargain so it was an event that we all looked forward to.  The public library in my hometown of Riverside, CA held their sales on the lower level of the Riverside Municipal Auditorium.  The Auditorium is a beautiful building that was dedicated in 1929 (see above picture). We always arrived at the sales early and I remember standing outside in the auditorium's beautiful Spanish courtyard waiting for the doors to open.  Once inside we were each given a brown paper shopping bag and then we were set loose to browse for treasures.  We never failed to fill up our bags.  My dad filled his bag with non-fiction, often books about the French Revolution or books on science.  My mom loved mysteries and historical fiction, so she was always on the look out for books by Mary Roberts Rinehart, Mary Stewart, or Eileen Goudge. I think I had recently discovered Daphne DuMaurier and A.J. Cronin, so I kept an eye open for books by them.  My sister was interested in literary fiction and dog stories. We were also both interested in books connected with the movies and star biographies.  A book that I featured on this blog not long ago, "Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies," with illustrations by Ronald Searle, was purchased at one of those sales.

Anyway, back to the local library sale that I recently attended. At this sale I spent a good deal of time and most of my money on children's books.  I found some wonderful picture books from the 1960s and even a couple of much older books from the 1940s.  I found two books illustrated by Adrienne Adams, an illustrator who was a two time winner of the Caldecott Honor Award (for "Houses from the Sea," and "The Day We Saw the Sun Come Up.") Adams who was born in 1906, was at the height of her career in the fifties and sixties and was known for her illustrated interpretations of various fairy tales.  The two books I found, illustrated in very different styles are "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," and "The Mouse Palace," by Frances Carpenter.

Her illustrations for the "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," are done in a flat, but colorful style, where each scene is depicted in an almost tableaux format.  Some of them, like the illustration of the three riders (above right) suggest a medieval tapestery. In the two page spread (below), I love how she has heightened the colors of the princesses' dresses by placing them against a black background and then echoed the colors of their dresses in the awnings covering the little gondolas on the opposite page.
In this illustration, Adams has framed the figures with the trees, an arrangement that to me suggests the layout of a stained glass window or an illuminated manuscript.

In this particular book, Adams avoids using close-ups, keeping the viewer at a slight distance from her subjects. Every figure is seen in (to use cinema terminology) medium to long shot, so that their whole body is always on display. Once again, this choice seems to reinforce the illustration's links to medieval tapestries or stained glass windows, a fitting choice for this classic fairy tale.

I have to admit that I have not read "The Mouse Palace," yet, but from glancing at it, I know it takes place in old Siam (Thailand). In the book's forward, the author Frances Carpenter informs us that she was inspired to write the story after visiting Thailand and seeing the little palace that was built to house the pet mice of the king's children. Like the king in Margaret Landon's story "Anna and the King of Siam," and the same character in the musical version "The King and I," the king in this story seems to be the father to many children. I suppose it might even be the same king.
The illustrations in this book are done in what appears to be pencil and colored pencil with some areas of flat color laid in.
 Here is the king with his children. The bright red coat of the king, makes him the focal point, but his gaze toward the children directs your eye down to the right of the image where you can take in the delicate drawing of the children's costumes and faces.

I particularly like the mood that Adams has created in this black and white drawing of one of the king's children outside under a full moon.
And I love the soft coloration, the poses and the facial expressions of this group of Siamese cats.

Finally, here is an illustration of the little mice born at the end of the story. I think Adams has done a wonderful job in this illustration of utilizing the negative space created by the white coats of the baby mice against their somewhat darker background.

Before finding these two delightful books, I wasn't familiar with Adrienne Adams, but I'm happy that I discovered her and I'll definitely be keeping my eye open for some of her other titles the next time I'm at a used book sale.


  1. I'm so jealous of that Twelve Dancing Princesses book! I had one when I was a kid...I wonder if it's still laying around somewhere. I used to stare at those pictures and daydream. Beautiful!