The Five Rolatinis by Jan Balet (c) 1959, reprinted 2016 by AMMO Books. 9781623260538. 24pp.
Gene: This one looks like a total throwback to the 1950s. It’s done in that really flat style with bold colors and I want to glue the pages together of this book.
Sarah: So you don’t see the plain green pages with the text?
Gene: Right. I wanted to love this book so much. The cover is so delightful and inviting and it’s about a family in a circus, they look like they’re acrobats, there’s a horse. The first page says “Circus” and it’s everyone in the circus about to go out from behind the stage. Then you turn the page and it’s this horrifically dull “I’m shopping at REI” green.
Sarah: Camping color. With black and white illustrations on top of the green.
Gene: And the illustration is good, but it doesn’t pop. And it’s so full of text.
Sarah: Yeah! This book!
Gene: And then you turn the page again and it’s one tiger, three lions, and it’s delightful. There’s a guy fighting a lion jumping through a hoop. Then you turn the page again and it’s all these boring elephants (on a green background again) then you turn the page again and it’s six clowns that are totally colorful on a white background. Then on the next page you’re camping again.
Gene: Like I said, if I could glue every other page together so that I never had to see any of the text or the green pages, it would be great. It would make a great wordless board book at that point, with just the colorful pictures, and it would end with the picture of the Rolatinis on their horse, and it would be fantastic.
Sarah: When I was reading it I wondered if it was originally printed like this because of the price of ink at the time or something, but that doesn’t change the facts. It’s too wordy to be an early reader and it’s too wordy to be a picture book.
Gene: It’s never going to work in storytime.
Sarah: I’m not surprised to see the author got a Grammy for Best Album Cover (Classical) in 1965 because this art style would definitely have sold well then.
Gene: It’s like the best version of the Little Golden Books style but done big format and bold and —
Sarah: The book that was written about the Little Golden Books company on their anniversary…now I can’t really pick up those books anymore because they made a huge amount of money by giving terrible deals to artists fleeing Hitler. That was their business model. If you were an artist —
Gene: (This is my problem. I think I have that book on my shelf. But I’ve never done anything but flip through it for the pictures.)
Sarah: Look at the part that talks about how they exploited artists fleeing Hitler.
Gene: And then the other picture book I showed you is:
The Cantankerous Crow by Lennart Hellsing and Poul Strøyer. Thames & Hudson, 2016. (c) 1953. 9780500650790. 28pp.
Gene: I’ve got no idea how to pronounce a zero in a Danish last name, so it’s a good thing we’re transcribing this and not publishing the audio. It’s almost the same style as Balet’s book, very flat drawings, very stylized pictures. And it has the greatest first line: “There once lived the queerest family of crows / deep in a forest as everyone knows.” Which tells me this translation is going to be fucking awesome.
Sarah: Yes! They kept the meter and they kept the rhyme and they kept the word choice that might not fly.
Gene: It’s all in couplets. The people’s expressions really have something in common the art on Bullwinkle. As the crows go about their business and get into trouble…I can’t remember the plot of this book, do you?
Sarah: I just watched this Indian movie where there was an uncle who smoked a pipe and every time he smoked the pipe onscreen in the lower corner it said, “Smoking is injurious to health.” I almost expected to see that because there’s a guy smoking over a gate.
Gene: A guy with a giant pipe.
Sarah: A giant Tyrolean pipe.
Gene: Ha. And so the crow tries to eat some cherries, is that right?
Sarah: I just looked at the pictures.
Gene: And the guy with the pipe, a farmer, snags the crow and he puts the crow in a cage. And there are all of these other weird animals around including a goat with the most inflamed pink udders I’ve ever seen in my life.
Sarah: And “a very fat cock.”
Gene: Ha. “and a very small rat.” It all rhymes. Then the farmer goes berserk, makes the crow chop up wood and help feed the chickens, I don’t know what happens. It’s wonderfully strange and the landscapes look like a kid got ahold of a new pack of markers and she just couldn’t contain herself and she drew everything with a bunch of different colors. There’s a great documentary about a German artist who did picture books in the U.S. at the same time he was doing a lot of adult and anti-war art.
Sarah: I saw that! Tomi Ungerer.
Gene: I found his adult art books at the Seattle Public Library. Big thanks to them for actually holding on to old books.
Sarah: I watched that whole movie, and it wasn’t until I started looking up his books that I realized I was thinking of Tomie dePaola. When does Strega Nona or whatever come up?
Gene: But to get back to this book, the guy sells the crow, it messes up a bakery…it’s just weird. And there’s the story behind it, which I didn’t care much about. Isn’t it a great book?
Gene: And you could make it work in a storytime because there’s so much going on in the pictures to ask the kids about, and they could tell you the colors.
Sarah: I skipped the story and just looked at the pictures. They’re gorgeous.
Gene: Okay. The end! We both vote for this one.