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“All beautiful things encourage a child’s sense of wonder–and everything that encourages a child’s sense of wonder is beautiful.” –Mitsumasa Anno

The work of Mitsumasa Anno has been beloved since the 1970s when his first books appearedImage result for Anno's Journey in the United States.  His first US title was Topsy Turvies (1970) and in 1978 the book that acquainted me with his work appeared.  That was Anno’s Journey–a truly inspired and for me, enchanted wordless journey through Europe.  The genius of Mr. Anno’s work is in the delightfully detailed watercolors that lead the reader from pastoral scenes to village and finally to city scenes. Life is presented within the simplicity of quotidian routine–farmers tending their fields, shepherds guarding their flocks, a merchant selling wares, or a child playing hoops.Then suddenly, suddenly, out pops a scene from an Impressionist masterpiece, or a character from a novel, or a scene from one of Shakespeare’s plays. Traveling with Anno through Anno’s Journey is a delight to any that love art, architecture, literature, geography, culture or children’s books! For instance, hidden within his inviting scenes one will come upon Van Gogh’s Langlois Bridge or George Seurat’s  A Sunday on La Grande Gatte or his Bathers at Asniers.  Less artistically inclined “readers” will find delight in Anno’s hilarious depiction of the silly king from The Emperor’s New Clothes, or the unsuspecting Little  Red Riding Hood innocently picking flowers while the wily fox watches from the woods.   Then there is Pinocchio, running through the streets!  Even young children will experience the thrill of discovery when they notice the four whimsical characters–the donkey, the dog, the cat and the cock from the well-loved Tale of the Bremen Town Musicians or see the iconic red balloon wafting up off the page from the Oscar-winning French film short of the same name.  There is something for everyone here, even the youngest child will love just pouring over the pictures with their intense colors, humor, and variety.

Over two years ago, I contacted the Japanese publisher of Mr. Anno’s work, in order to ascertain if they would be willing to have our

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The enchanted Guilan from Anno’s China

company, Beautiful Feet Books, republish Anno’s Spain, which had been out of print for some time.  In the process of that journey, I also found that Mr. Anno had done a Journey book on China, which had never been published in the US before.  Not only that, I also discovered that for each of Mr. Anno’s Journey books (there are now 8) he had written wonderful back matter to accompany each scene. These have never been translated and published in the English language editions, which is a shame, as Mr. Anno’s voice is as endearing and warm-hearted as his art. So for the editions that Beautiful Feet Books is bringing out, we are thrilled to be including these wonderful notes. After that we will begin work on Anno’s Japan and Anno’s Denmark.

annos-china-iphoneJust a few weeks ago we took delivery (like proud parents with a new baby!) on Anno’s China–the first time this beautiful book has ever appeared in America. Just like his other books, “readers” will accompany Anno as he travels through China, exploring life in this vast and majestic land where birds fish for men, where dragons and lions dance, and where thousands of clay soldiers and calvary guard the tomb of China’s first emperor.  Anno’s China received a Kirkus starred review which you can read about here.

I am currently working on bringing Anno’s Spain back into print as well.  I am finishing up editing the translation from the Japanese to English and expect to go to print early Spring. I will continue to post more about Mr. Anno’s work as we continue on this wonderful Journey with him!

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I1413374964-8-origmagine each day wrapping your hair up in a lovely bun and then slipping a very tiny bible into your chignon?  Odd?  Well, there was a day when many young Christian women hid their bibles this way! In September 1685, in France, all Bible reading was forbidden and Christian homes were subject to search. French Protestants known as Huguenots were forced to keep their scriptures hidden and to worship in secret. I was privileged to get a little glimpse into the lives of this courageous minority on a recent visit to Provence, France while visiting with ICCP of Aix-en-Provence. While staying there with a gracious 93 year-old Huguenot gentleman, a Monsieur D’Cazenove, we were able to visit the Musée du Désert, where this fascinating and inspiring history is kept alive. And indeed it’s true that Huguenot women hid their very tiny bibles in their chignons!

This tiny bible measures just one inch high yet is very legible. Huguenot women hid them in their chignons.                                                                                   From Le Musée du Désert, Cevennes, France

The Huguenots were the fruit of the tide of the Reformation coming to France in the mid 16th century, and were devoted to reforming the church and the political institutions of their times.  Many noble and highly intellectual families joined this movement, but in a majority Catholic country where the Church was all powerful, persecution was inevitable. The most notorious incident occurred on St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1572, when thousands of Huguenots were in Paris to celebrate the wedding of Henry of Navarre (a Huguenot) to Marguerite de Valois (a Catholic). The young King Charles IX, under the sway of his powerful mother, Catherine d’ Medici, ordered the massacre of all Huguenots.  Thousands died in Paris that day and tens of thousands all across France.

When Henry IV, a Huguenot known as Le Bon Roi–the Good King, came to the throne, he passed the Edict of Nantes (1598) granting religious freedom to Huguenots–one of Europe’s first IMG_2727documents to protect this fundamental right. However, 80 years later, King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, and Huguenots were harassed out of all educated professions, arrested, tortured and imprisoned, their lands and properties confiscated.  Louis XIV  issued countless warrants for the arrest of Huguenots who refused to convert to Catholicism.  At left are just a few of King Louis’s numerous warrants persecuting Huguenots.  In these samples, agents of the King are instructed to destroy all the Huguenot churches, extinguish and suppress  their colleges, arrest their midwives, and to obtain their declarations as to whether they will convert  or die as Protestants.

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This barrel converted into a pop-up pulpit, but looked like an ordinary barrel when not in use.

It was particularly during this period that Huguenots became very creative in finding ways to worship in secret.  As a large majority lived in the Provence region, where there are thick forested areas and many caves and grottoes, the Huguenots often met secretly in caves to worship.  A home church or a church meeting in a factory might have a convertible pulpit, that when not in use looked like an ordinary wooden barrel, but converted quite ingeniously into a pulpit by a clever system of levers.  Goblets for communion wine could be converted to appear as ordinary looking candlesticks, and picture frames were designed so that bibles could be hidden between the mirror and the back of the frame.

Despite these subterfuges, countless Huguenots were arrested, tortured and put to death.  Over 5000 men were forced to slave on the galleys of the King, choosing that grim fate over giving up their faith. Marie Durand was arrested at age 19 and spent 38 years imprisoned because she refused to violate her conscience.

Remarkably, despite these tremendous hardships, the Huguenot people were known as the “people who sing.”  Their secret IMG_2802worship services were marked by their joyful singing of the scriptures set to music, particularly the psalms.  When I question our host, Monsieur d’Casenove, about this fact, he slips quietly into his centuries-old chateau and reemerges quickly holding an ancient book in his hand.  It is a psalmer, a very old book of the psalms set to music.  When I ask him how old it is, he turns to the copyright page, and the book had been printed in the 1550s.

The history of the Huguenot people is a rich, varied, and inspiring history of a people who fought, suffered, and died for freedom of conscience.  It is a history that has some bearing on American history too.  In my next post I will explore what Huguenot history has to do with Paul Revere, George Washington, and the Marquis de Lafayette!

 

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The chateau of Monsieur d’Casanove in the Cevennes region of France, an area rich in Huguenot history.

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Dear Readers,

As today is the Feast of Epiphany it is a suitable time to share some musings on the best children’s books on the visit of the Wise Men to the Christ child.  Garrison Keillor reminded me on today’s Writer’s Almanac that the word “epiphany” comes from the Greek word for “manifestation” or “striking appearance”, and of course, nothing in all of human history is more striking than the incarnation. You can read the rest of Keillor’s insight here.

Astronomers have long pondered the mystery of the Star of Bethlehem and what kind of astronomical phenomenon could explain how a star could have led these seekers in the way it did.  Craig Chester, President of the Monterey Institute for Research in Astronomy, published about 20 years ago a fascinating article about astronomical conjunctions occurring at this time that might explain the wonder of this star.  Below is an excerpt of his fascinating study, but you can read the entire article here.

In 3 B.C. and 2 B.C. there was a series of close conjunctions involving Jupiter, the planet that represented kingship, coronations, and the birth of kings.  In Hebrew, Jupiter was known as Sedeq or “Righteousness,” a term also used for the Messiah.  In September of 3 B.C., Jupiter also came into conjunction with Regulus, the star of kingship, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo.  Leo was the constellation of kings, and it was associated with the Lion of Judah.  The royal planet approached the royal star in the royal constellation representing Israel [ . . . ] Finally in June of 2 B.C., Jupiter and Venus, the two brightest objects in the sky save the sun and moon, experienced an even closer encounter when their disks appeared to touch; to the naked eye they became a single object above the setting sun.  This exceptionally rare spectacle could not have been missed by the Magi [ . . .] September 11, 3 B.C. is perhaps the most interesting date of aSong of the Camelsll.  Not only was Jupiter very close to Regulus in the first of their conjunctions, but the sun was in the constellation of Virgo (of obvious symbolism).”

There are so many ways in which the story of the Wise Men visiting the tiny child in Bethlehem is cause for wonder and awe.  Not remarkably, this awe has produced some really precious children’s books that can help explore that mystery with our children. A favorite of mine is the story written by Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933)  often entitled The Other Wise Man or The Fourth Wise Man. This story is based upon the fictional premise that there was another wise man who never made it to the nativity, precisely because he was acting the part of the Good Samaritan, and spent himself so completely ministering to those in need on his journey, that he missed his chance to actually meet the Christ child himself. The moral, as you can probably guess is Matt. 25:40.  There are a number of editions of this sweet tale, but I do like the illustrations done by Robert Barret in the edition above.

Another take on the visit of the Magi is entitled Song of the Camels: A Christmas Poem by Elizabeth Coatsworth and illustrated by Anna Vojtech.  Coatsworth was a prolific children’s author for over 50 years and is best known for her Newbery Medal winner of 1931, The Cat Who Went to Heaven. This tale in verse is told from the perspective of the camels that carried the magi to the Christ child. “Portents of glory and danger/ Our dark shadows lay/ At the feet of the babe in the manger/ And then drifted away.”  Anna Vojtech’s illustrations for The Song of Camels are filled with rich imagery of the Middle East and present another aspect of this marvelous story.

This is The Star by Joyce Dunbar and illustrated by Gary Blythe centers the action around the marvelous star that brings magi, shepherds, and angels in a confluence of wonder to a dark and humble stable. Blythe’s illustrations have an almost photographic realism to them that illumines the humanity of this night of all nights.

Finally, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry and illustrated by Lizbeth Zwerger remains one of my most precious Christmas tales. Lizbeth Zwerger’s illustrations brilliantly illumine the pathos, simplicity, and sweetness of O. Henry’s story involving a poor but devoted couple desiring to bless their beloved with their very best gift. They sacrifice what is most precious to them in order to do so.  While its title would lead one to think it involves the magi, it doesn’t actually include them in the story, except to reflect upon the power of gifts given that require a deep measure of self-sacrifice.  O. Henry states, “The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger.  They invented the art of giving Christmas presents.”  I won’t give more of the tale away, as you must read it to appreciate it fully!  May the wonder of the visiting Magi inspire all of us to live in their spirit in 2011.  Happy New Year dear friends.

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Researching the early Middle Ages for an upcoming seminar, I came across this interesting tidbit which I thought you might enjoy.  It is a serendipitous connection with the ancient world of Aesop, in particular Androcles and the Lion, early Medieval history and the world of contemporary children’s books!  It is a fairly well-known and accepted fact that fables and fairy tales are adapted and transmogrified (don’t you love that word?) which means changed in appearance or form, sometimes in a bizarre way, by every culture that grows to know and love them. Aesop is told and retold by successive generations in a manner that reflects that generation’s worldview, beliefs, struggles, hopes, and dreams.

Aesop’s Tale of Androcles and the Lion involves a Greek slave who runs away from his master, comes upon a lion lamed by a thorn in his paw, removes the thorn and then the lion and Androcles live for a time in the den of the lion; here the lion brings Androcles fresh meat each day.  Later both the slave and the lion are captured and Androcles is sentenced to death in the amphitheater–where like may other unfortunates, he will die as sport of hungry lions.  But, in this case the lion happens to be Androcles’ friend, and despite his hunger he refuses to harm his friend, and rather fawns over him.  The astonished crowd demands the prisoner’s release and both Androcles and the lion are spared.  The moral of the story is that “Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.”

After the dawn of Christianity, the tale was told in much the same way except that Androcles is now a Christian, rather than an escaped slave, and is condemned to die for his faith in the Roman coliseum.  The ending is quite the same, with the grateful lion refusing to devour his friend and both of them being spared.  Later the same tale is appropriated by the Catholic Church and in this case the kind thorn-remover is St. Jerome (327-420).  Now, St. Jerome is an important figure in the Church as he was the first to translate the Greek New Testament into Latin, and ultimately the entire Bible from Hebrew into Latin.  This version is the Latin Vulgate edition and is still used today.  He is famous also for being an eyewitness to the Visigoth sacking of Rome, where he lamented, “My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth and sobs choke my speech.”  The painting at right is by Italian Renaissance artist, Niccolo Catalonia and is entitled, “St. Jerome in his Study.”  In the Jerome version of the lion tale, after the lion is helped by the saint, he remains at the monastery as a protector and pet and often even helps with household chores–the moral I suppose that “he who does not work shall not eat.”

Finally, that brings us the most contemporary edition of this tale–Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty. You may recognize Daugherty’s name as he is also author of The Landing of the Pilgrims, The Magna Charta, Poor Richard and Of Courage Undaunted–all excellent books.  But he is best known for his version of the Androcles tale. In every way this rendition is the most quintessentially American it could possibly be–involving a barefooted but benevolent American youngster who helps a lion that has escaped from a circus (where else?) and features the sort of kind-hearted, simple folks of small town life.  It is nostalgic to read, even if you’ve never lived in this type of rural setting, and is a rendition of which I think, even Aesop would have approved.  The moral of this story is “kindness remembered, or the power of gratitude.”

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