Sunday, 26 May 2013

Woolly bullies and Book snatchers

Two great picture books from Scholastic.

You don't very many books about mammoths. Though they featured in Julia Donaldson and Emily Gravett's Cave Baby three years ago. I was immediately put in mind of a friend who had a fierce grey cat called Woolly Bully.

But the grey mammoths in this book are kind, A mother and father and two older brothers, who welcome the new baby and call her Woolly. Only she isn't. She is a naked pink baby mammoth and for most of the book her family are finding ways to dress her in warm coverings so that she can out and make friends.

The most successful outfit is a onesie - complete with cap - knitted from goat wool. But poor Woolly feels too hot, on the coldest day of winter. And when the woollen onesie unravels she is revealed in all the glory of pink woolliness.

It's a lovely warm (!) book, written and illustrated by Sam Childs (who used to be Susie jenkin-Pearce, until she developed a new style with the Little Zeb books). I wish it hadn't been a girl mammoth though - that association of girls with pink is too deeply entrenched elsewhere.

Another book from Alison Green's imprint at Scolastic is The Snatchabook:

This might not be the final cover image

by Helen and Thomas Docherty, a husband and wife team.

"In every house,
In every bed,
A bedtime book
was being read."

If only! This is an idyllic woodland world, where all creatures take seriously their bedtime parental responsibilities. But something, someone, has been stealing all the books. Eliza Brown, a rabbit who lives in a tree, tracks down the thief.

And instead of being punished, the deprived little Snatchabook is allowed to hear a bedtime story in a different home every night.

This one's not out yet but it's going to be a hit. I saw them both in Bologna.

Monday, 13 May 2013

My new website

My new website has been designed for me by Anne Rooney. It is my fourth in about thirteen years. And the great thing about this one, made using Wix, is that I can update it myself.

Well, when I say "I can," it has been a bit of a learning curve and I'm not at the crest of that wave yet. But it is really learnable and will get easier every time I do it. Anne gave me good instructions and then held my hand through the first update (well, not literally: I needed both hands to do it).

One of the problems is that I have written an awful lot of books and an awful lot of kinds of book. Not really "awful" - at least not most of them. And not as many as Anne.

But I think it's a lot easier to navigate round the new site. Even though it has made no difference to how well I navigate round my working life. You can't have everything.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Where have all the Canalettos gone?

We haven't had a guest post on Book Maven for a while, but today we welcome a special one. It is publication day for Michelle Lovric's The Fate in the Box, her fourth children's book for Orion. This, like all Michelle's other titles, for children or adults, take inspiration from Venice as a setting. In her guest post for Book Maven, starting off her Blog Tour, Michelle talks about Venice then and now and what has happened to all the Canaletto paintings for which the city was the subject.

Rio dei Mendicanti

Antonio Canaletto’s painting of this area shows it as it was in 1724 – a poor, crowded place with pennants of dyed cloth drying on racks on the roofs. ‘Mendicanti’ means ‘beggars’ in Italian. One of the city’s poorhouses was on this canal, and it doubled as a famous musical academy for young orphan girls. It was such during the late eighteenth century. the time that my new children’s novel, The Fate in the Box, is set.

My young heroine, Amneris, wakes every dawn to the lovely sound of the singing orphans’ hymns floating across the water to her home in the Calle Berlendis where she and her family eke out a humble living embroidering silk and fashioning parasols for the noblemen and women of Venice.

Here is my photograph of the same scene, taken last summer. The pennants are gone but the Rio dei Mendicanti is still remarkably similar, at least in terms of the external architectural elevations. The changes are all internal. The Mendicanti has long since been taken over by the Ospedale Civile, possibly the most beautiful place to be sick in the world. It is possible to wander around the ground floor, from tree-filled cloister to tree-filled cloister, listening to the songs of birds that have replaced the musical orphans. The church of San Lazzaro is ‘incastrata’ inside, and it is always worth pushing at its formidable door in case it’s unlocked.

Another secret of the hospital is the green space which, I’m fairly sure, once enclosed the stables where Venetian noblemen kept their horses. The surrounding accommodation looks more suitable for horses than for nuns, and the well might well have served the animals, given its great circumference. Now it is occupied by a colony of well loved cats.

So – everything stays the same in Venice, and nothing stays the same. But something that has changed quite grievously is the number of paintings by Canaletto that can still be seen in his native city. Extraordinarily enough, given the artist’s vast output, only two remain in the city. The rest are to be found in collections around the world, with many in England.

There is an English reason for this too. Canaletto’s agent, for a considerable period, was Joseph Smith, who served as the British consul in Venice between 1744 and 1760. Even before his official tour of duty, Smith, a friend of Casanova’s, brokered the sale of paintings to British Grand Tourists. He organized Canaletto’s sojourn in London from 1746 – 55. Smith also acquired a large number of Canaletto’s works himself, eventually selling his entire collection to George III. They can still be seen in the Royal Collection at Windsor. Four others are at Castle Howard; there is a fine group in the Wallace Collection and another in the National Gallery.

Although his reputation declined after his London sojourn, the market in Canaletto’s works never ceased to thrive. His paintings have ended up in the Hermitage, the Louvre, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, and in museums in New York, Washington, Harvard, Indianapolis, Yale, Houston, Fort Worth, Melbourne, Cardiff and Ottawa.

Apart from the Rio dei Mendicanti, the only other painting that has remained in the artist’s birthplace is Venice, Grand Canal from Palazzo Balbi toward the Rialto (1720–1723), also at Ca’ Rezzonico.

Am I the only one who finds it rather sad that Canaletto should be so poor represented in the city whose image he did more than any other painter to create and refine for the Grand Tourists of Europe? Canaletto created a Venice full of energy and joy. His canals are crowded with regattas, working boats and real Venetians. Later artists – and writers – have often preferred to show the city in a state of picturesque decline, projecting misery upon her to serve their own ‘poetical’ purposes. But I love Canaletto, because he showed the city at work and play, self-conscious of her beauty and outrageously nonchalant about her wonders too. This is the Venice I prefer to write about, and plan to keep celebrating in my books as long as I possibly can.

Other stops on Michelle's Blog Tour include The History Girls, Bookwitch, ABBA, the Courtauldian and  Writers in Italy.

The Fate in the Box is published May 2 by Orion Children’s Book

Michelle Lovric’s website

New website pages for the book are here.