It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen and Kellee from Teach Mentor Texts (and brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Two of our blogging friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have inspired us to join this vibrant meme.
Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts
Here are a few of the reviews we have done last week. We are also inviting everyone to join our Award-Winning-Books Reading Challenge. We hosted the AWB Challenge last year and we are thrilled to be able to host it again. Do sign up if you are looking for exciting reading challenges with monthly book prizes. Click on the titles/images below to be taken to our blog posts.
Last week, we started with one of my favorite author-illustrator, Allen Say. This week, I share the gorgeous artwork and narrative of another picture book master, Mitsumasa Anno.
We are also joining Nonfiction Monday this week. Our host is Julie from Instantly Interruptible.
Author/Illustrator: Mitsumasa Anno
Publisher: Philomel Books, 1977
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.
I first learned about Mitsumasa Anno when we had our wordless picture book special during the latter part of 2011. I did a 3-in-1 special of Anno’s Britain (1982), Anno’s USA (1983) and Anno’s Spain (2003), but somehow Anno’s Journey originally published in 1977 escaped me. I found these twobooks when I was book hunting in Las Vegas last year, at a thrift shop of all places.
The book begins with a full page spread of the sea – indicating how instrumental water is when it comes to taking us through our life’s journeys and the stories that inspire our sensibilities. The Author’s note explains that Anno was deeply fascinated by Europe and spent most of his time in 1963 and in 1975 just exploring various parts of Europe – painting as he travels from one city to the next. Talk about a traveling artist!
This picture book is once again wordless and contains fine and subtle details and multiple codes (such as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza and even musical notes from Beethoven’s Ninth) to one who has a keen mind and eye to find them. The reader gets to pore over the quiet countryside that seems punctuated by periods of harvest (see photo from the full page spread of the book below)
.. yet there are also pages that are suffused with gaiety, life, movement, and drama – seemingly filled with noise and manic euphoria as could be seen below:
It must have taken great courage for a foreigner such as himself to just move from one country to the next particularly during this time, his eyes absorbing every little detail in his surroundings. Anno manages to provide us with the same kind of immersive experience in his picture books with the painstaking details he includes in his art work.
I was also especially struck by how Anno described his journeys, and I thought that it is an inspiring message for the restless wanderers out there:
I wandered from town to town from country to country and sometimes my journey was hard, but it is at just such times that the reward comes. When a man loses his way, he often finds himself – or some unlooked-for treasure. By the end of my journey, I realized that I had set out not to collect information but to lose my way – and to discover the world you will find in this book.
It is a world filled with variety, yet a simple place with a deep-rooted sense of culture, an appreciation of nature that preserves it from destruction and pollution. It is a beautiful world.
I love how Anno’s desire to give the world to his reader is evident in his Author’s Note as well as the meticulous way he crafted his pictures so that we can glimpse the world through his mind’s eye.
Anno’s Medieval World
Author/Illustrator: Mitsumasa Anno (adapted from the translation by Ursula Synge)
Published by: Philomel Books, 1979.
Bought my own copy of the book. Book photos taken by me.
When I first read this book, I was reminded of the time I taught the course Foundations of Behavioral Sciences to impressionable, bright, young college students in the university. We trace the birth of the physical sciences and the growth of the social sciences from the Dark Ages, Medieval Times, to the Renaissance Period and juxtapose it with current world views. It is always amazing traveling so far back in time and adopting a macro-view of society without the benefit of hindsight and matter-of-fact, bordering-on-cynical perspective of how the world works. I just wish I had known about this book then. This would have been such a wonderful read-aloud to my young adult students who would have been riveted by Anno’s lyrical text and fascinated by the delicacy in his artwork.
I was reminded of the conversation I had with Leonard Marcus when he talked about the subtle nuances and the aesthetic quality of Anno’s artworks as a probable offshoot of the fact that Anno is a teacher. His books are structured like little puzzles with hidden codes that the reader is encouraged to uncover as one gets to analyze its threaded, multi-varied connections. There is also a detailed Author’s Note found at the back of the book which highlights Anno’s intention in creating this book.
According to Anno:
I might have given my book a longer title; I might have called it, How People Living in the Era of the Ptolemaic Theory Saw Their World. For that is what it is about.
It is intended to show that the change from one view of the universe to another was literally an epoch-making change; with it we entered into a new scientific era from an old one which was clouded with superstition. One mode of thinking was ended and another begun…
Anno likewise provided a detailed account of the differences between the Ptolemaic and Copernican explanation of the apparent movement of Saturn. He deliberately positioned all these ‘revolutionary’ findings within a world that worshipped the elements and people preoccupied with alchemy and magic. I am reminded of some of the things I always lecture in class when I discuss the so-called roots of intellectual freedom where the scholar or the scientist is driven to pursue truth wherever it leads her without fear of oppression. And this is precisely what Anno attempts to unpack in this gorgeously-written and beautifully-illustrated book.
I also feel that Anno wants his readers to revisit the world again using different eyes. He wants us to recapture that old magical awestruck feeling as we stare at the universe and its wonders, and for us to never take anything for granted. He ended his Author’s Note by stating:
Thinking of these men and of the suffering their knowledge brought to them and to the people of their time, it troubles me to hear it said, lightly and without any feeling, “The world is round and it moves.”
For this reason I have written my book, in the hope that readers who have looked at a globe and already know that the earth is round, will now understand as well and feel, for this moment, at least, the bewilderment and the shock the people of the medieval world must have felt when the Copernican theory first threatened their own cherished and long-held beliefs.
Mitsumasa Anno is a true master of the arts. His books humble me as he consciously elevates the art of picture book writing to a whole different dimension altogether. You should read him if you haven’t already.
Very gradually, I am revisiting Zamonia and Bradbury’s tinted darknesses. We still have not settled into our new home as much as I would like, and I feel a palpable sense of lack that I have not read books during the past few weeks. But I am slowly getting there, and I do get to read a few pages from these gorgeous books every night: Bradbury’s collection of short stories and Moers’ The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books.
How about you, dear friends, what have you been reading this week?
Anno’s Journey: Brooklyn Art Books for Children citation, 1979, ALA Notable Book citation, and Horn Book honor list
AWB Reading Challenge: 31 of 35
100, 101 of 150