Tuesday, October 18, 2005

"Giraffe of Montana" & "The Painted Drum"

Authors and illustrators and books, oh my.

Literary events seem to be the stuff of my life these days. It doesn’t get any better than that! Besides the play, which I may have waxed eloquently enough about in the last few weeks, I have had two lovely author/illustrator get-togethers this week.

Last Friday, I attended a small private reception for William Bowman Piper, friend and children’s author extraordinaire. Bill’s book is Giraffe of Montana, a delightful read-along book for the elementary school set. (Well, let’s not kid ourselves … I read the book cover to cover and I didn’t have a child in my lap!) It is the engaging tale of an unlikely assortment of friends who have given up their natural habitats for - mostly – unnatural living arrangements in Montana. Besides Giraffe, there is also Casper the Crocodile, Alison the Alligator, Ella the Elephant, Dr. Oscar the Orangutan, and many, many more. King Cole and his queen, with more than a little help from their twin daughters Princess Isabel and Isabel, rule Montana with benign befuddlement.

If this all sounds a little silly, that is because it is. The kind of silliness that children love. Bill dreamed up these stories for his young step-daughter, Isabel (sound familiar?), who did as fine a job of editing them down to the essentials as any professional editor could have. By the time they were good enough to keep Isabel setting still on long car rides and in waiting rooms, they were too good to keep at home.

Things in Montana are not trouble-free; problems are plentiful. But it is a good-hearted place where the citizens work out their problems using ingenuity and friendship instead of bullying and meanness. Just the sort of place any youngster would love to visit for an evening. Sadly, my children are too grown up to be read to, and I don’t have any grandchildren yet, but I did buy another copy to send to my niece Leslie, who’s 6 and 9-year-old children will love it.

The fine stories are nicely complimented by just enough illustrations to set a child’s mind in motion and not so many that it takes away from the pleasant experience of enjoying a story while doing absolutely nothing except listening to it. The illustrator, Bill Megenhardt, seemed to be in harmony with the author and the illustrations compliment the book perfectly. They even have a twist: one small detail in each picture is incorrect and you are challenged to find it. I admit that I only found one for sure, but I heard that I could find the answers on their website, so I’m going looking for it. You can buy the book there, too, which I strongly recommend. It is located at www.giraffeofmontana.com

My other author encounter occurred tonight when I heard Louise Erdrich read from her new book The Painted Drum at the InPrint/Margaret Root Brown Reading Series tonight. I just love Louise Erdrich’s work. The first novel I read of hers, Love Medicine, just blew me away. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one, because she won the National Book Award that year, too. She is from North Dakota, around Larimore I think she told me when we corresponded after that first book, and she writes alternately about the Native American experience and the European immigrant experience. I’ve read most of her books, although I missed a few during my sick years that I should catch up on. I thought The Beet Queen was the funniest one. There is one scene in it with a birthday cake gone bad that absolutely had my on the floor, laughing aloud.

After years of keeping up with her work, I felt so pleased to hear her read and get my stack of books signed. Many people had many books to be signed, and Louise was so gracious in doing it. Ann has visited her bookstore in Minneapolis and it is one of the things we plan to do together next time I visit the Twin Cities. I mentioned that to her, and she seemed surprised. I commented that I had been keeping track of her. After I said it, I realized that it might have sounded alarming to someone who is in the public eye. So this is a big reassurance, Louise, that I meant nothing sinister by my quip. I am NOT a stalker, just a devoted fan with an under-developed capacity for ad-libs!

So many books, so little time … I have reading to do!

Ciao.

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