march 2011
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Chris Beatrice, Meet Oscar Wilde. Oscar, Chris.

By Jules

"'I believe the Spring has come at last,' said the Giant;
and he jumped out of bed and looked out. What did he see?"

Don't you think it's time Oscar Wilde visited the blog? I do.

Okay. Sure. "Visited" the blog is a bit much. It's not like I've called forth his spirit, but I am featuring one of his children's stories today.
In 1888, Wilde's own collection of original fairy tales, The Happy Prince and Other Tales, was published, and it included a story called "The Selfish Giant." In March of this year, Noteworthy Books released a new picture book adaptation of this tale, which includes orchestral music on an accompanying CD from composer Dan Goeller and narration from British actor Martin Jarvis.

9The story itself is a heavily didactic Christian allegory, all about a giant whose garden is visited by neighboring children, while the giant is away for seven years visiting his bud, a Cornish ogre. Upon his return, the Giant orders the children to leave. He is then visited by the Snow and the Frost (my favorite illustration, pictured below), delaying Spring for entirely too long. After the Spring finally arrives, the children return, his cold heart thaws (in more ways than one), and he ventures outside. He befriends a young boy, who eventually disappears after the Giant knocks down the wall which had kept the children out. In his old age, after years of friendship with the children, he sees the young boy again, outside in his garden one winter morning. The boy has nail prints in his hands and the prints of two nails on his feet, and he calls them "the wounds of Love." When the giant asks the boy who he is, he simply responds, "You let me play once in your garden, to-day you shall come with me to my garden, which is Paradise."

Later, the children find the Giant dead under the tree, "all covered with white blossoms."

I didn't plan this post this to coincide with Rapture's Eve. Pinky promise. (I am typing this on the night before some people are claiming Rapture will take place and the world will end.)

Anyway. Curious little fairy tale, huh? Who knew? Well, I didn't. I hadn't read any of Oscar Wilde's fairy tales before, which he evidently wrote for his sons, Cyril and Vyvyan.

It's the illustrations I want to feature today. Artist Chris Beatrice's vivid illustrations, on full display below, are...well, lush would be the best word. His colorful and highly dramatic paintings are rich and detailed, and every now I then I like to feature the artwork of someone like this who can wow you with his ability to portray light in a room or landscape. I mean, there's a reason I open the post with the illustration above. Wow, huh?

NOTE: This hardcover picture book version of “The Selfish Giant” includes a musical adaptation for symphony orchestra and narrator by Dan Goeller, who hopes the project “will cultivate an interest in music, art and literature in children of all ages,” The audio CD recording, included with the book, features celebrated English actor Martin Jarvis accompanied by members of the Grammy-award winning Nashville Symphony Orchestra. Keith Lockhart, conductor of the Boston Pops says, "Dan Goeller's music gives musical wings to Oscar Wilde's enchanting story." Be sure to check out the website for videos featuring the music and artwork as well as free PDF lesson plans for teachers and lots of other exciting content.

Below are four YouTube clips of Dan Goeller’s adaptation of Wilde’s ‘The Selfish Giant’ story featuring his score, as performed by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, narration by Martin Jarvinsand illustrations by Chris Beatrice. The videos were edited by Heidi Goeller.





And here are some of Beatrice's illustrations from the book.

"Every afternoon, as they were coming from school, the children used to go and play in the Giant's garden."

"When he arrived he saw the children playing in the garden. 'What are you doing here?' he cried in a very gruff voice, and the children ran away."

"So he built a high wall around it, and put up a notice-board.
TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED. He was a very selfish Giant."

"The Snow covered up the grass with her great white cloak, and the Frost painted all the trees silver. Then they invited the North Wind to stay with them, and he came. He was wrapped in furs, and he roared all day about the garden, and blew the chimney-pots down. 'This is a delightful spot,' he said, 'we must ask the Hail on a visit.' So the Hail came. Every day for three hours he rattled on the roof of the castle till he broke most of the slates, and then he ran round and round the garden as fast as he could go. He was dressed in grey, and his breath was like ice."

"He saw a most wonderful sight. Through a little hole in thew all the children had crept in, and they were sitting in the branches of the trees..."

"'It is your garden now, little children,' said the Giant,
and he took a great axe and knocked down the wall."

"Every afternoon, when school was over, the children came and played with the Giant. But the little boy whom the Giant loved was never seen again."

"One winter morning he looked out of his window as he was dressing. He did not hate Winter now, for he knew that it was merely the Spring asleep, and that the flowers were resting."

"'Who hath dared to wound thee?' cried the Giant; 'tell me, that I may take my big sword and slay him.' 'Nay!' answered the child; 'but these are the wounds of Love.'"

"And the child smiled on the Giant, and said to him, 'You let me play once in your garden, to-day you shall come with me to my garden, which is Paradise.'"

THE SELFISH GIANT. Book copyright (c) 2011. Illustration copyright (c) 2010 by Chris Beatrice. Published by Noteworthy Books, Sioux Falls. All images reproduced by permission of the publisher.

This and many more of Jules’s adventures in books, kids’ lit and illustration can be found at the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog. Visit often. The rewards for doing so are manifold.





Meet Hopper and Wilson

There's Pooh. There's Paddington. There's Corduroy. And there's the Velveteen Rabbit. Those are quite possibly the most famous stuffed toys of children's lit.

1Now, here in 2011, we meet Hopper and Wilson, who join the ranks of Those Children's Book Protagonists with Stuffing and Seams.

In Maria van Lieshout's Hopper and Wilson (Philomel, May 2011), readers aren't privy to exactly which child owns these animals, unlike with Pooh and Christopher Robin, Paddington and the Brown family, Corduroy and Lisa, etc. But it's no matter. Not at all. What we know is that, as they look out over the big blue sea, they wonder-and just really have to know-what the end of the world is like. Wilson, a little yellow stuffed mouse, hopes for lots of lemonade at the edge of the world, and Hopper, a big blue stuffed elephant, wishes for a staircase to the moon.

So, saying goodbye to their cactus (I love that), they journey to find out. And in a small boat made of newspaper. (I love that, too.)

Things start out well, but then a big rainstorm comes: "The breeze turned into gusts. Gusts became howling winds that flung the boat from wave to wave." After the storm passes, Wilson realizes Hopper is no longer in the boat. He's worried. He searches, asking each animal he sees if they've spotted his friend. "Hopper is not good at being alone, you see," he tells a giant fish.

I don't want to give away the experience of joy that is reading this book, but it's probably not a surprise to say they find each other. It's what they find at the end of their journey that I'll leave for you to discover.


Author/illustrator Maria van Lieshout has a track record of bringing us minimalist art ("gestural artwork" Kirkus called it) with concise texts. This book is no exception, and it's a delight. A title page note in the book states that the art "was created with watercolors, ink, collage, colored pencil, crayon, a smudge of acrylics and some technology to pull it all together." In fact, Maria visited 7-Imp in 2009, sharing early art from the book back then. (Fans of this picture book might like to go take a peek at that and the evolution of the characters: Hopper was rather pinkish back then, for one. Neat.) At that post, she talked about her illustration choices while working on this book, writing:

In this book, two friends journey in a little boat to search for the end of the world. I wanted to accentuate the fragile position they are in, bobbing in their tiny boat somewhere on the large angry ocean, so I decided to use collage. The newspaper boat felt quite vulnerable in the large watercolor sea. Watercolor is a wet medium, and newspaper is a dry medium. The tension between the two is heightened, because we all know what happens when newspapers get wet; the two do not go together well.

She has accomplished this vulnerability well with those choices - not to mention fragile lines, generous white space in most of the spreads, and washes of translucent watercolors. What else she has done and done well is nailed the throbbing heart of the book, the friendship between these two. And she manages to build a very real suspense during the storm and Wilson's search for Hopper. ("HOPPER!!!" Wilson screams repeatedly on one nail-biting, is-it-really-over spread, which is followed by a spare and beautiful one, in which a voice calls, "Wilson, is that you?" Help is coming one day late, as my favorite musician likes to sing.) There is a touching poignancy when they find one another, which could have been entirely too mushy in the hands of a lesser author/illustrator. "While the underlying message," Publishers Weekly wrote, "is cautious-Hopper and Wilson's friendship and safety are more important than their dreams-van Lieshout's story is filled with adventure, emotion, and imagery that supplies lots of effervescent warmth." As for the book's "message"... well, you'll see when you read it, but let's just say that sometimes your dreams can be accomplished, not only with your best bud for life by your side, but also right in your own back yard.

Here are some spreads. You may click each to super-size and see in more detail. Enjoy.

"And off they sailed. They waved until their cactus had disappeared behind the edge of the sea. They bobbed on the waves and dreamed about what they would find at the end of the world."

"When a star dashed across the sky, the two friends closed their eyes and
made a wish. Hopper wished to touch the moon. Wilson hoped to find an endless supply of lemonade."

"They woke up when fat drops of rain hit their faces. 'I hope our journey won't be too choppy,' Hopper said. 'I wish we'd brought a blanket,' Wilson said, shivering."

"But the sea was loud and angry, and it swallowed up Wilson's scream.
Hopper couldn't hear a thing except the roar of the crashing waves."

"When the sea settled down and the wind grew silent, Hopper wasn't in the boat anymore. Wilson was afraid. He looked for Hopper among the sea turtles. 'I lost my friend Hopper. Have you seen him by chance?' They had not."

HOPPER AND WILSON. Copyright (c) 2011 Maria van Lieshout. Published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin, New York. All images reproduced by permission of Maria van Lieshout.

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