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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

WEDNESDAY'S FOR KIDS II: Carle, Frostic, and Pickles

1 of the 40 Sweet Pickles books
I had a fortunate childhood; my family--specifically my mom's parents--had a small cottage on Lake Hamlin (a man-made lake right next door to Lake Michigan) in Hamlin Township, just up the road from beautiful Ludington in Michigan.  Great place.  Lots of memories.  Most of it for another show.  That which is not for later but now is the books.  O, the books!  As with most Center/Mautz residencies, there is a library at this little place--alternatively called The Cottage, The Playhouse, The Lake.  The library, with the exception of approximately one shelf housing whatever more modern stuff  people have left behind, either intentionally or not, after vacation's over, is apparently frozen in time.  There are several old Navy volumes from my Grandfather Mautz's military days; there are church books; nature books (lots of nature books, I guess because The Cottage is situated smack in the middle of the woods and right on the lake front); old Readers Digests; a shelf of found, nature-made knickknacks--nests, shells, bones, fulgurite; dictionaries; and, perhaps most importantly to my nostalgia and this blog post, the complete collection of The Sweet Pickles Books.

Obviously, these are children's books.  They are all morals tales with alphabetically named and organized animals for characters.  Twenty-five years later, I still love these books, and read them whenever my family and I finally manage to get back.

post cards with prints by Frostic

More than just these books--in tandem with all the books, really--are nearly endless other associations.  Most of my memories of The Cottage being from my childhood, I'm reminded of an early ambition of mine to be an illustrator.  While my drawings were of a more sinister nature than those of the Sweet Pickles clan, I was nevertheless motivated to draw by the illustrations I found in books on the shelves and paintings or photographs on the walls.  Aside from the piece of driftwood set artistically in frame for its uncanny resemblance to a fox and the hung cherrywood carving by my father of a buffalo skull, the stuff that most inspired me to draw was the various works--displayed via framed prints and postcards--of one Gwen Frostic.  While I haven't been to her Northern Michigan shop (fairly close to Interlochen, I believe, for those in the know) since I was a kid, once upon a time, and always pointedly by my mother (maybe she was trying to inspire me to step from my generally monstrous and morbid subject matter), we went annually.  This woman's art has remained an influence in my life ever since.  Its simple beauty and atmosphere are just awesome!

Skipping ahead:

I was thinking about this post on my morning drive to work.  I didn't initially think of Pickles or Frostic.  I thought (and what a horrible cliche for a post on children's books!) of Eric Carle.  I like Eric Carle.  Others love Eric Carle.  I can't say that I hold their same enthusiasm, but I think that's mostly just due to over exposure, which makes decent sense except for the fact that my preference for his books sits firmly and solely on The Very Hungry Caterpillar, certainly the most cliche of all Carle cliches (no fault of his own).  Now, while one memory of The Cottage brings with it a following train of associated images, memories, and whatever else, Eric Carle is not one of the Hamlin train's many cars.
Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar

My most distant memories of The Very Hungry Caterpillar are from the basement--toy room, not dungeon--book shelves of the home I grew up in, in Dover, Ohio.  Also in the basement (and why here rather than in the  decidedly public places of the house--maybe their chintzy frames?) were five or six beautiful Gwen Frostic prints.  Somehow, somewhere along the line, I connected the two--probably sitting at the bookshelf, passing over the Caterpillar for some poorly illustrated yet much more interesting (primeval violence!) book of dinosaurs.  Maybe my fingers had just grazed past the cover of the Carle as my mom called me for lunch or something and as I looked up my eyes passed a Frostic and--**bam!**--the connection was made.  

What connection?

I think it makes perfect sense: if this particular, highly stylized and very hungry caterpillar happened to inhabit a world broader than that of his available tree, would it not greatly resemble the Gwen Frostic landscapes, microscapes, and various flora/fauna?

That's what brought me to Michigan and The Sweet Pickles, even though Carle lived in New York.  But I'm not recommending Eric Carle.  (Oh, come on!  I don't have to!  What America child hasn't read it?)


Here it is:  The "therefore-what" of this whole post, which is about books after all, not linoleum-tile block artists (though I can't help but hugely recommend Frostic (who in both name and, via some limb of trans-semiotics, perspective bears remarkable resemblance to Robert Frost)).  So I recommend you read, if you can find, The Sweet Pickles Books.

Really.  They're great.  More great if you've got kids or are still a kid, at least at heart, but whatever.  They're good.  Great.

Good luck.  If you find them or have read them before, I'd love to hear all about it.


10/40 Pickles (Fish and Flips was always my favorite)


  1. awh sweet memories. one of my favourite posts of yours yet!

  2. It really is great. I'm not sure I'll ever get my hands on one of these, but it made me think about all my favorite kids' books, most specifically "No Dogs Allowed" by Howie Schneider, which my dad must have read us 3000 times.


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