Anno’s children books


It’s difficult to get rid of Anno’s books.  Mitsumasa Anno, a Japanese teacher turned artist, has a series of children’s books, no text, but amazingly detailed illustrations. “Anno’s Italy” and “Anno’s U.S.A” were favorites in Jenny’s childhood books.


Anno’s illustrations are  filled with real scenes, the plains of the Midwest or the streets of New York City.  Fields in Tuscany or a piazza in an Italian small town.   Small vignettes frequently represent iconic sculpture or paintings.  Can you find “Franklin flying a kite” or Michangelo “designing a sculpture?”



Children’s books and local history


I can’t resist buying local history books.  If they are for children, all the better.  A few years back I discovered  “Skippack School” by Marguerite de Angeli.  The author- illustrator of several dozen books lived and died in the Philadelphia area.  “Skippack School” is Eli’s story.  As a young German Memonnite, he moves with his family to a farm outside of German Town, Philadelphia on the Skippack Creek.  Family and neighbors help construct the family’s log house.  Within months, crops, cows, chickens, pigs; they have a working farm.  And Eli has responsibilities.

There is a lot of detail about Colonial life in “Skippack School” — spider cooking pots like we recently used in Deerfield’s Open Hearth cooking class; split cedar shingles similar to those I made in Montpelier two years ago; processing flax into linen for clothing cloth.  There are references to local foods – cornbread, wild turkey, sauerkraut, and soft pretzels. Settled in, Eli begins to construct a bench with elaborate carvings for his mother.  But it’s also time for school.

Eli goes it’s to, well it’s the book’s title, Skippack School.  It is run by the Mennonite Christopher Dock.  In the 1970s, when I began teaching at Holy Ghost Prep, we played basketball against Christopher Dock, it had emerged into a local Prep school.  Eli was surprised that Master Christopher applied the rod much less than his German teachers.  At the same time he was more interested in creating things and being outdoors than classroom learning.  This could lead to trouble.

“Skippack School” references the Leni Lenape, local Indians treated fairly by William Penn.  Eli will take a trip to German Town with its market, shops, Meetinghouse, the Green Tree Inn, Rittenhouse Paper Mill and the office of Christopher Sauer’s printing press — all local history.  His spirit will get him in trouble but it will also save him as he grows into a responsible young man.


The Skippack School

My grandson, Eli, put this in the “to sell” pile of children’s books.  I’m not sure he’s read it.  Grandpop may put it into the reread pile before selling.  And it might be interesting to visit the Christopher Dock School and other sites in German Town.





Traveling with children

Can you find Tibet on a map?  Have you ever heard of Alexandra David-Neel?  Answers can be found by reading “Far Beyond the Garden Gate” by Don Brown.  The children’s author-illustrator has written several books about little known historical characters in interesting settings, check out “Uncommon Traveler: Mary Kingsley in Africa,” “Rare Treasure: Mary Anning and her remarkable discoveries,” or  “Ann Ramsey’s Grand Adventure.”


Alexandra David was born in Paris in 1868.  She had a wanderlust fed by reading travel books and looking at maps, including railroad lines, “fancying the many lands toward which they led.”  In 1904 she settled in Tunis, North Africa, and married Philip Neel.  But her craving for travel and curiosity about Buddhism led her to set out for India in 1911.  For 14 years she traveled in Asia, many years, with a young boy, later man, Yongden, whom she adopted.

Don Brown’s “Far Beyond the Garden Gate” takes us with Alexandra to Japan, Korea, and the Gobi Desert.  We learn about her study of Buddhist texts in the Kim Bum Monestary and her trek with Yongden to Lhasa, the Tibetian capital where she interviews the Dali Lama.   She was the first non-Asian woman in Lhasa.

What a fantastic story.  So many children’s books transport us to  little known areas of the world and introduce us to amazing, frequently real, characters.  I sometimes think, just read children’s literature.



Children’s books to sell


While rereading books that I plan to sell I temporarily list them on Amazon. Eventually those that don’t sell on Amazon are taken to a bookstore.  Recently I have been selling to Labyrinth Books in Princeton.  Today my first children’s book listed on Amazon sold,  “Angelo” by David Macaulay ($10).  Many children’s books in my collection, “Angelo” included, would be described as multi-cultural.  “The Secret Seder” I wrote about also fits this catagory.  Literature can introduce us and our children to different cultures, religions, and traditions.

“Angelo” is set in Italy, probably Rome.  I may have bought it due to the Italian connection or because I love Macaulay’s illustrations.   I have a nephew Angelo, named after his grandfather and a distant relative, Angelo Rago, a carpenter.  Angelo Rago was a craftsman, proud of his work, as is the Angelo in the story.  Angie Rago as he was known built a watchermakers bench for my father.  A piece of family history. I was pleased that my nephew Vincent preserved it when my father died.


Our fictional Angelo is a older stonemason/plasterer working on refurbishing the stucco and sculpture in a church.  He discovers a wounded pigeon and despite his dislike for the birds that ruin his work, takes the bird home. Angelo lives alone and he soon becomes attached to the pigeon that he names Sylvia.  They work together, spend time in the countryside and he introduces her to his music.  But Sylvia decides to fly away only to return to his side, cooing encouragement, when she sees him slowing down. For years Sylvia will be at Angelo’s side as he works, always slower, to finish the repairs to the church.


Over a bowl of linguini one evening, Angelo tells Sylvia, “Plasterers don’t live forever you know.”  He worries for her safety when he is gone.  Where will she live? Angelo is inspired, grabs his coat and a flashlight.  When he returns in the morning, he dies and is found in bed by other workers, amid sticks and feathers.  But high up in the church, he has constructed a stucco nest overlooking the city — a permanate and safe home for Sylvia.

“Angelo” is about growing old, friendship, even with someone we may not initially like, and of course death.  It is about craftsmanship, hard work and pride in work.  For me there is no question that it is an Italian story.  I have seen “Angelos” in Italy in my grandfather’s hometown.  I have seen them in Bristol with its Italian immigrant population.  Macaulay’s illustrations are fantastic, filled with detail, architecture, and humor.  Angelo with his large gray mustache, strong hands, old hat and painter’s smock is classic.


Most of Macaulay’s  books are about architecture and how things are constructed — “Pyramid,” “City,” “Castle,” “Cathrdral,” and “Underground.”  All are extremely detailed as in his “The Way ThingsWork.”

I was sad when Angelo died and I will be sad that the book is gone from my collection.  Hopefully it’s next owner will enjoy the story as much as I did.