Archive for the ‘MY BOOK HOUSE’ Category

MY BOOK HOUSE 5: Over The Hills

mbh5 spine0001In this world of bargain-basement, budget-cudgeling, Mark Rothko-inspired non-art that you can buy at Dollar Store in a cheap-ass frame; where book covers are all visual noise or abstract to nth degree that they are useless for inducing anything about what’s inside; where no one wants to use models anymore because some union of bodice-ripper models insists on their people getting paid to stand up and “blue steel” for a few hours; where bizarre fonts are intended to make up for the lack of creativity in design; and finally-yet-nowhere-near-finished, where financially struggling publishers just don’t want to pay artists because artists are flaky and temperamental, the cover illustration on Book 5: Over The Hills  subtly asserts itself as the opposite of all that. 

It is full of archetypal symbols designed to practically make the preface unnecessary.  The old man and the little boy sitting on  hill looking out over a panoramic view of wide valley and far-off mountain  echoes the painting by Caspar David Friedrich Wanderer Above The Sea of Fog.  The fact that it’s an old man and a little boy is archetypal in the extreme: Oranos and Kronos, Kronos and Zeus, “Been-there-done-that” and “But-I-have-to-see-for-myself”.  The illustration perfectly sets the theme for this volume.  Children are of school age and getting interested in how things are made and how they work.  They are being faced with challenges in the archetypal forms of giants, impossible tasks, tricks/riddles, and nonconformism.mbh 50001

I remember feeling culture shock when I would read this volume because there was a distinct decrease in the number of European stories and a significant amount of American literature and semi-non-fiction historical works.  It felt like the European party was over.  Not that it was bad, just a different sensation and I didn’t have the vocabulary at the time to express what I felt. 

Some of my favorite stories are in this book, though.  I loved “Dick Whittington and His Cat”, “The Story of Tom Thumb”, “Why The Sea is Salt”, and “Jack and The Beanstalk.”  These stories contained characters who were born into simple pastoral lives but had to go out into the world and face danger and prejudice.  They ultimately succeeded – success being defined (rather simplistically)  as marrying above one’s class, like Dick Whittington, or achieving wealth like Jack, or …being lifted to a higher station like Tom Thumb who became a knight.  Another reason this book is special because it contained a lot of the same stories I was being exposed to at school.  We were learning about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  I remember reading “Why The Sea is Salt” at school and it held a special connection to me because my dad was working at a hotel on South Padre Island and my brothers and  I would swim in the ocean every day when we stayed there.  Also, it’s interesting that the brothers who are the main characters are not named.  They are simply “the poor one” and “the rich one”.  When you’re eight, that makes perfect sense.

I ran into “Jack and The Beanstalk” a lot at school, and there was a wonderful MGM cartoon about Tom Thumb. Interestingly, he came from a single-parent home – dad and no mom.    There’s an excerpt from CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E. B. White, an excerpt from HEIDI by Johanna Spyri, as well as de rigeur Christian writings – two prayer/poems on p. 117. 

This volume runs heavily into the legends surrounding George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Robert Fulton, the Wright Brothers; even Scottish James Watt.  Then it continues introducing legendary characters from American folk songs and tales: Casey Jones, John Henry that steel-drivin’ man, Hiawatha.  And the deconstructionists’ favorite whipping boy – Christopher Columbus.  So there’s a strong biographical and legend-building theme to Book 5.  Does anyone read “Casey Jones” anymore? If not, it’s a shame. 

Me being me, there were some smashing frocks in the illustrations.


In the “Tom Thumb” story, I didn’t know what a “pudding” was for the longest time so thistom thumb0001 image made no sense to me!  It’s the little ball of starch the man is holding in his hand with Tom stuck in it.

jhmli co illus 10001

This one is from the John Hancock Insurance corporate art collection.  I can’t put my finger on what it is that I like so much about this style of illustration.  It makes me feel young and good – but I don’t know why.  The innocence of it, maybe?  There’s even a Wyeth illustration in HEIDI!

On the whole, #5 wasn’t my favorite volume back in the day, but it did contain some of my favorite stories and favorite illustrations.




4: Through The Gate

3: Up One Pair of Stairs

2: Story Time

1: In The Nursery

Olive Beaupre Miller @ Goodreads

MY BOOK HOUSE 4: Through The Gate

bk 4 spine0001Book 4 is a treasure of some of our most revered imaginative stories.  Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed: iconic fictional characters whose names define magic and adventure. 

Most of the stories were new to me when I was first introduced to this book when I was a yung’un.  “Doll I’the grass” – I used to read it as “Dolly in the the grass”, but now I know the contraction “I’the” for what it really is.  “Brer rabbit” and “brer tar baby” – still don’t know what “brer” means.

The stories are simplistic in philosophy. It’s a bit unsettling at this age, but it made perfect sense when I was 9.  The beautiful girl gets the prince and her sister gets his brother.  A win-win stituation.  Stepparents and stepsiblings are evil.  Real men do hard labor with giant cattle.  The youngest daughter is the most beautiful and desirable.  Sounds a bit retarded now, but when you’re 9, if your head hasn’t been filled with internet and television filth, you just kind of go with it.

Reading this book, I think it was the first time I had seen Cinderella as something other than a blonde.  She’s wearing a powdered wig and a dress circa 1770-ish.  It looks like it weighs a ton.   My fav look was “Elsa” from “Elsa and the Ten Elves”.  Now there’s a story I could relate to! Elsa was very lazy.  She hated to get up early, and she especially loathed housework. Hellooo! {pointing at myself}. And, she had an absolutely to-die-for hairdo! I can only dream of having hair like that – that long, Teutonic wheat-blond hair. (The pic is in black-and-white, but you could tell it was blonde hair.)

elsa hair0001                cinder dress0001

In the Paul Bunyan stories, there’s a bit about the mess hall that I just loved and read over and over:

so Paul hired Hot Biscuit Slim, and there was a man who could cook!  Hot Biscuit Slim fed the loggers griddlecakes with maple syrup, bacon, ham and eggs, mashed potatoes and gravy, green corn and roasted duck; and he had working under him a man named Cream Puff Fatty who made delicious cream puffs, jelly rolls, gingerbread, jam tarts, and sugared doughnuts as big as platters.

Are you drooling? I’m drooling!

This volume introduced me to the twelve dancing princesses. I’ve seen versions other books, but I think this one may be the definitive.  That whole thing about the youngest daughter being the most appealing was a bit confusing to me back then. She was very young and very beautiful.  Then, as now, that’s all it takes, apparently.  Still, it was a great story about sneaking out to party all night! If literature is dress rehearsal for real life, this story is dress rehearsal for high school.

There’s also a couple of Halloween stories, a folk tale from Russia, one from China, a lovely assortment of European and American poems, and some adaptations.  “The Blacksmith” is the story of the song by Brahms.  “The Battle of The Frogs and The Mice” is a parody of the “Iliad”, and “Hansel and Gretel” is adapted from the opera by Engelbert Humperdinck. And, of course, a story from the Bible. A universe of creativity and a whole lot of psychology.

These are not books you can teach, but the vocabulary for this edition is teachable: fairy tale, folk tale, fable, tall tale, legend, yarn, retelling, adaptation.  There is also burgeoning representation of folk literature from the Americas – Canada, the US, and Mexico, specifically.  Most of the illustrations that are not black/white/grey are black, white, blue and orange.  The exception being “Cinderella” and the poem by John Greenleaf Whittier which is in yellow and black.  I really like how the editors always make it a point to include poems and songs.  When you’re a child, they are integral for learning how to manipulate language.


Der Schmeid (The Smith) by Ludwig Uhland

Paul Bunyan stories at

Motoko – Award-winning Japanese storytelling

My recommendation for “Hansel & Gretel” – the opera

Br’er Rabbit stories at

John Greenleaf Whittier at

Need help coping with stepfamily issues? offers positive support.


vol 3 cover0002      First foray into the outside world — outside the nursery. 

The idea that you might need to compete for attention.  That urge to walk alone without holding on to anyone’s hand.  Leaving the stroller behind.  But most important of all — learning the difference between fantasy and reality.  That’s the premise of this third volume of My Book House. 

Like the other two volumes, this has stories from all over the world: the Phillipines, Australia, Germany, Scandinavia, the Bible.  As per usual, most of the stories come from European sources, but that’s okay. It’s the foundation of western literature, innit.  This volume is particularly fun because so many of the stories have colorful language that begs to be read aloud with funny wee mannie0001accents and sounds. 

One of my favs is "Wee, wee mannie and the big, big coo".  I can just picture Mike Myers — in the movie I Married An Axe Murderer.  The character of the father: "Oi, heed!  Paper! Nooow!"  Cracks me up every time!                                                             

There’s lovely illustrations by Kate Greenaway, poems by Emily Dickinson and Amy Lowell, a couple of Grimm fairy tales, even a bit of Chaucer and Wordsworth.  It’s shamelessly anglo-centric, but then again, that just happens to be the main source of material because of the generation in which this book set was originally produced.  It’s not a reason to turn your back on it or, as I’ve often seen, become a reverse snob and turn you nose up because it’s not multi-cultural enough.  It doesn’t have to be.  Besides, this is only one volume of twelve.  Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean and Polynesia all pop up eventually, just not in a way that would satisfy a radical multi-culturalist. 

A lot of the stories have to do with family life and living a pastoral existence — which would make Neil from YOUNG ONES especially happy.  The best author name EVER: BJORNSTJERNE BJORNSON. I don’t know how to do it here, but there should be umlauts on the first Os of the name.  Major freaking cool!  I feel like the Swedish chef from The Muppets when I try to pronounce it:  byern-styern byern-sen.  LOL!!!  Are you dying? I’m dying! 

When I read this as a young’un, I remember being fascinated by the lawn growing on the roof of the shack.  Everything in my world was so stultifyingly ordinary, this struck me as so fantastical!  The book succeeded in introducing me to oyvind0001another world.  And not just the lawn on the roof, but green, healthy grass. Not burned out brown weed and ant trails.  All the land and water in these books is so lush and plentiful.  Just the viewing of it was a respite from the endless summer weather that still plagues us.






 vol 3 cover0001


I bought my book set on eBay.


Volume 2: STORY TIME




vol 2 spine0002

STORY TIME includes several stories by Aesop, poetry/rhymes from renowned English authors such as William Wordsworth, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rosetti.  Lullabies, bed-time stories such as Wynken, Blynken, & Nod, Jack Frost; Christmas classics The Story of The Nutcracker and The Night Before Christmas.   There’s also poems and the story of Noah’s Ark from the Bible.  While many cultures are represented, Christianity is the only religion that is addressed, but not as religion, instead as a source of beautiful writing.

The preface to each volume explains the logic behind the particular collection.  Here’s a snippet from the preface for STORY TIME.

"Story Time" Begins with repetitive stories, short rhythmic stories in prose of the simplest possible plot, construction, and wording.  …So we have these simple prose stories with a refrain repeated frequently like the one in "The Little Gray Pony" —

‘What shall I do?  What shall I do?

If my little gray pony has lost a shoe?

The illustrations for the Nutcracker story are enough to give you a toothache.  That pile of — well, to me it looks like cherries with a pile of sugar on top, but it’s supposed to be sugar plums.  What IS a sugar plum? I’ve had plums, but what makes a sugar plum different? Is it one of those things like "acid jazz" — a benign label with a glitter word to make it sound more intense?  And the ballerina dresses, big puffy-skirted ones are the stuff of  this little girl’s dreams!

sugar plum fairy0001

For being a children’s book, and a very young child at that, there’s an amazing breadth of authors represented in the volume.  Poets, novelists, philosophers!  Satirists!  Samuel Taylor Coleridge answers a child’s question on p. 142.  Aesop and Aristophanes represent the ancient Greeks.  Someone you probably wouldn’t expect to see in a children’s book — Count Leo Tolstoy — expressing an uncharacteristic bit of whimsy. 

America is loosing its ties to its folk stories.  Here you’ll find folk stories from the old world: pre-dictatorship Europe, imperial India, the Bible (as in the first volume, as a source of literature, not  preaching), and Native American cultures, as well as ancient Greece.  There’s a piece of libretto from an opera and the story of a ballet.  Children have to get culture early, while their minds are still innocent. 

gingerbread man0001 One of my favorites from this volume is "The Gingerbread Man", a folk tale from New England.  I like how they used a variety of illustration art in the design of the story: black and white inked drawings, silhouettes, and water color. 

The cover of the book has yet another adorable dress.  Two children in an idyllic pastoral setting: a forest with cute animals surround the children sitting on a huge rock by a creek — it’s better than Disney!

Another favorite is a story from India called "Rama and The Tigers".  This little boy has all his new clothes and umbrella stolen by some tigers.  Then the tigers all want to eat the little boy, so they run around a tree chasing each other faster and faster and faster!  They ran so fast they melted all away and left a big pool of butter, called "ghi".  Rama collected the ghi in a pot and took it home to his mom.  She used it to cook pancakes! I’m drooling as I type this. LOL.

Wilhelm Schiller’s poem about a father coming home in the evening from a busy day of, I’m guessing chopping trees, has a sweet melancholy about it.  It reminds me of when I was reading J. B. Bury’s book, THE INVASION OF EUROPE BY THE BARBARIANS.

Bury explains how Germany was so frustratingly difficult for Roman troops to conquer and control because it was so thickly forested.  When you live in south Texas, with its flat brushy, scrubby, cactus-y flatland, it’s tough to conceptualize quite how tree-ridden central Europe is.  Villages separated by a mere mile of forest were so isolated that they ended up speaking vastly different dialects, which is one of the reasons the German of northern Germany is different from the German of southern Germany.  You can’t conquer what you can’t find.  It’s similar to when English troops had to deal with native American tribes in New England.  The English had no concept of guerrilla warfare.  So, for the dad in the poem, spending the day in the forest is no mean feat.

Oh! And to top it all off, when I read Beatrix Potter’s "The Story of Peter Rabbit", never did I imagine that one day, I would go to the location of one of her stories!  It’s true. She wrote a story called "The Tailor of Gloucester" about a little old tailor and some magic mice that help him sew the tiniest, most perfect, beautiful stitches anyone ever saw.  Gloucester (glos-ster) is a city in the west of England.  It’s mainly associated with cricket and rugby and the river Severn.  Potter lived there for a time and so, near its amazing gothic cathedral, there’s a tiny house in College Court that’s the Beatrix Potter Museum.  At the time I went, it had a window set up with a scene from "Tailor of Gloucester" and a souvenir shop where you could buy postcards and the story books. 

One of the best stories is "The Dancing Monkeys" by Aesop.  It reminds me of Young Frankenstein, and it’s a cute story with an interesting semantic twist.  Other Aesop classics in the book include "The Hare and The Tortoise", and "The Lion and The Mouse".  There’s even a poem by Heinrich Heine translated by Elizabeth Barrett Browning! How freaking cool is that for a kids’ book!

And absolutely not to be missed is the story "The Village of Cream Puffs" by Carl Sandburg.  This little girl called "Wing Tip", who comes from the Village of Liver and Onions goes to visit her uncles in the Village of Cream Puffs.  People have to tie their houses down because the cream puffs are so light and fluffy, that they are in danger of floating away in a brisk wind.  Awwwwww….. Hee!

 vol 2 spine0001

MY BOOK HOUSE: A Magnificent Series of Literature for Children: Vol. 1 IN THE NURSERY

my book house spine 10001       MY BOOK HOUSE was one of the greatest treasures of my childhood.  A twelve-book series where every volume addressed a particular age.  Many of the greatest stories of Western literature had a place in the volumes: stories from Shakespeare, stories from opera, heroes and icons of European and American literature, biographies, histories, you name it!  Twelve volumes! Every succeeding volume kicks it up a notch.

My little brother and I received our set when we were around 7 and 8.  My oldest brother sent it to us along with a couple of other book sets.  I still remember opening the boxes!  We were a reading family and so opening the boxes and pulling them out was like Christmas.  They were beautiful!  We made room for the set in the house like most people make room for furniture and family portraits.  Inside each volume was a fascinating world waiting to be explored.  Nowadays, it’s easy to explain that the books were intellectually stimulating.  But back when I was 8, all I express was that the books made me hungry.  They made my eyes and my mind and my spirit hungry.  But kids being kids, grandkids, spring cleaning, moving family members in and out — life put the kabosh (sp?) on the set and by the time I was in junior high, the one or two that were left were pretty ragged.  Then, in 2005, I decided to take a chance on eBay.  Oh my God!  Long story short…the end.

Sorry, too short.  On eBay, I found a set published roughly the same time as the set I had.  When I won that auction, I was singing a Hallelujah chorus a capella.  When I brought the set home from the post office, I went through about five of the books right away.  Looking at the illustrations, I felt overwhelmed by how familiar they felt.  I remembered my early reactions to them. They just felt so, so familiar, like I had never been away from them.  I remembered where my favorite bits from the stories were.  Even back when I was 8 and 9 years old, I was captivated by a particular turn of phrase or description.  It’s all magic!

The left and right end papers.  They appear at the beginning and end of every volume. It was fun to figure out who all the characters were.  All the characters were featured in stories in the various volumes.

my book house end paper 20001my book house end paper 10001


The first volume in the series is nursery rhymes from all around the world, even places as exotic as Africa, what used to be Czechoslovakia, and Asia.  All the Americas are represented including Native American cultures.  Now, having been in reprints since the 1920s, some expressions and images are no longer politically correct.  I would not recommend this set for a classroom.  Better it should be enjoyed in a family setting where certain ideas can be discussed.  The rhymes are shamelessly euro-centric.  Think of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Charles Perrault and Mother Goose — completely anglo-centric.  These are not black marks against the book though.  It’s simply our Western literary heritage.  A modern child brought up on rap music and bombarded by sexual-oriented images might experience some serious culture shock at the purity and innocence of the rhymes and stories.  Even the illustrations are fossils of an era utterly gone from our modern consciousness.  I loved the illustrations! I loved the innocence of them.  They look like they are from the 1950s.  As a wee girl, I was fascinated by the illustrations of little girls’ dresses — voluminous skirts and ballet slippers and CURLS!  Oh! to have curls was my dream even more than being a ballerina.  Many of the illustrations in this volume are by Mariel Wilhoite. 

This particular volume is partly why I grew into such a devoted Anglophile.  I just wanted the dresses! LOL. 

                                                        dresses from vol 10001

Even reading through the table of contents was interesting (does anyone else pay attention to tables of content?).  Most of the rhymes don’t have official titles and so just go by the first line.  As the first introduction to language, many of the rhymes start with an alliterative or onomatopoeic phrase:

  • Daffy-Down-Dilly
  • Goosey, Goosey Gander
  • Handy-Spandy
  • Hickety-Pickety
  • Higgledy-Piggledy
  • Hickory Dickory Dock
  • Pat-a-cake, Pat-a-cake

Then there’s the "Littles":

  • Little Jack Horner
  • Little Bo-Peep
  • Little Miss Muffet
  • Little Nanny Etticoat
  • Little Beppo Pippo
  • Little Boy Blue

Also represented is a child’s fascination with objects: (some call this the "terrible twos")

  • I had a little dog…
  • I had a little husband…
  • I had a little mule…
  • I had a little nut tree…

There’s even instructions for the correct way to play "Farmer in The Dell"!  This book is a celebration of innocence.  It’s a language primer.  It’s the beginning of literacy.  It should be read with an open heart and open mind, for fun. 


                                                                             vol 1 cover0001


%d bloggers like this: