March 23, 2007

Mary Blair Book? Golden. Verse? Not So Much.

I guess it should be a sign for something when the frenzy over a children's book is coming just from the artists.

Such is the case with The Golden Book of Little Verses, which the Hollywood Animators Archive calls "one of the most sought after titles by collectors" because of the gorgeous, idyllic illustrations by Disney master Mary Blair.

When the Archive published scans of the rare [or just expensive, really; there always seem to be one or two on abebooks] book, Stephen painstakingly removed Miriam Clark Potter's poems "so you can see the paintings unobstructed." Feeling a bit of a rip off--isn't the page layout as important? The poems in such a book must be immortal--I shelled out for a copy. The kid's been on a Blair tear for a few weeks, and so we read it regularly.

mary_blair_blanket_scan.jpg

How can I say this? The poems BLOOOOWWWWW.

Seriously, I've got 3/4 a mind to come up with new ones myself. They are excruciating, there's hardly ever a discernible meter or structure, just forced rhymes. Even with almost all monosyllabic words--the ultimate cop-out for writing a poem--Potter can't seem to get these things right.

Basket
Easter Bunny comes at night,
On gentle tip-toe feet'
He holds a basket, safe and tight,
Of something good to eat;
He walks around the house and ground
On very quiet legs--
And in the morning, all around,
Are--Eggs-- Eggs--Eggs!
They're choppy, so if you hit the rhymes, the meaning and flow falls apart:
Umbrella
When little Miss Mouse
Was walking to town,
Splash! Very suddenly
Rain came down.
"Here's an umbrella,"
Said Tim. "Don't get
Your little gray tail
And your nose all wet."
And there's a syntax that's got to be a slap in the face for someone still trying to learn how to construct a sentence:
Moon
Once in a while
To the roof of a town
Like a big bird
The moon hops down.

"Are the children asleep?"
She comes to see.
Then she gives a big hop--
And up goes she.

There's one undeniably great one, though, which only makes the suckitude of the rest hurt that much more. It's the shortest, and the most prosaic, but it's also really tight:
Game
Let's put a blanket
Over the chairs.
This is a den,
And we are bears.

This is a cave
All made of ice.
This is a hole,
And we are mice.

I can't figure Potter's problem out. She was a prolific children's author, so it's not amateurism. Maybe it's because the Little Verses were originally created for Highlights magazine and only compiled into a book later. She could've decided just to toss off the first ten words that popped into her head and just collect the damn check.

Either way, the book's beautiful, but if you don't actually ever read it, you ain't missin' much.

Previously: Whoa! Mary Blair Little Verses scans; Another Mary Blair book scan

3 Comments

Thanks for the tip. As a kid in SoCal who grew up riding the "It's a Small World" attraction at Disneyland a few thousand too many times (my father loved it), Mary Blair's art is forever imprinted in my brain. I'm anxious for the chance to torture my own child the same way as soon as she gets to be a bit older. In the meantime, this book may be just the trick to tide me over. Too bad about the poems, but I can't say I've read too many children's poems that were any better.

On a side note, I visited the home of an art director at Disney a few months ago and the walls of his incredible mid-century modern pad in Silver Lake were decorated with lots of original artwork by Blair, Tom Oreb, Ward Kimball, and the other great Disney animators. Amazing stuff.

i'm corny + love the poems too.
thank you for writing them here.
i'm a mary blair fanatic too + it's a small world is mecca for me. i made my daughter go through it 4 times one day. she's 3 1/2. i also have the soundtrack to it's a small world (the book where little bobby the orphan boy goes to disneyland + finds out he has friends all over the world). we play the tape in the car + my daughter sings a long.

i enjoyed your post on babble recently about muchkin vs. boon. i blogrolled you on my mod*pals blogroll.

You have GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! Ms. Potter's work was my absolute favorite as a kid and still is to this day. You can't just stomp through the reading. You have to read them softly and simply. Bright eyed and innocently. Done right they just roll off the tongue. They're adorable in their simplicity. The Froggie in the Bathtub is still my entire family's favorite. I can't repeat it without smiling. I've never seen another book of Ms. Potter's work, but can't imagine she ever did anything to top Little Verses. Sheer and absolute genius. To me, it's not a poem if it doesn't rhyme like Ms. Potter's.

[yeah, I must have been coming up short on the bright-eyed innocence. my bad. I mean, I'm all for poems not rhyming, and hers are definitely some of them. -ed.]

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