April 23 has long been an important date in world literature. It’s the traditional death date of contemporaries William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes, as well as poets William Wordsworth, Rupert Brooke, and even P. L. Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins. It’s also the birth date of notables such as Nobel Laureate Halldór Laxness and one of my favourite mystery novelists, Ngaio Marsh. It’s no wonder, then, that UNESCO chose this date for World Book and Copyright Day, aka the International Day of the Book. (It’s held earlier in the year in the UK and Ireland because of Easter school holidays)
As a lifelong reader, I’m always happy to celebrate my favourite medium. Perhaps you’ve heard of the seven-day book cover challenge? You post an image of the cover of a book you love every day, without explaining why you love it. Well, today I’ll provide a bit of that context.
The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery
This standalone work by the author of Anne of Green Gables is also one of her most adult. Vacancy Stirling has been repressed by her family her entire life, and it’s only when she receives a disturbing diagnosis that she finds the courage to break free and live her life as she chooses. This Ugly Duckling-type story really spoke to me when I was a teenager, and even now I’m struck by how powerful Valancy’s liberation proves to be. I was fortunate to acquire a first edition and I consider it a personal treasure.
The Night Sky by Ian Ridpath, illustrated by Wil Tirion (1985 edition)
Astronomy was one of my obsessions when I was a child. I dreamed of spending my time studying the stars and peering into deep space. While my struggles with math made this an impossible career choice, It’s something I still enjoy. This little Collins Gem Guide has been a constant since those days. It has maps of the night sky and of each of the 88 constellations. A and best of all, it lists the origin stories for each and translates the names of the major stars. Thousands of years of knowledge all contained in a book small enough to fit in your pocket!
The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
This book makes me think of summer days when Mum would pick a book and read us a chapter a day. The Hobbit was one of those books, perfect for distracting you from hot, humid weather, especially as Durin’s Day approached. I love the imagery and the illustrations and the poetry and the idea that even someone as small as a Hobbit can be a hero. I didn’t mind that there were no major female characters, but I welcomed the inclusion of Tauriel in the movie trilogy. (A series I thoroughly enjoyed, and bawled over at the end). My first introduction to high fantasy and my favourite.
Chuck Amuck by Chuck Jones
Chuck Jones was one of the great animators at Warner Brothers, the progenitor of such favourites as Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner and Marvin the Martian. He also put his unique spin on stalwarts Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, and Sylvester the Cat. My parents introduced me to these cartoons at an early age and it’s safe to say that they played a major role in shaping my sense of humour. Chuck Amuck serves as a memoir and as a manifesto of sorts, outlining Jones’ approach to his craft. It’s peppered with classic and original illustrations which just add to the experience of the book.
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
I’ve always had an affinity for Elizabeth, the plucky princess who sets out to defeat the dragon that’s kidnapped her fiancé. Robert Munsch is a Canadian treasure and the illustrations by Michael Martchenko are a delight. (You can listen to Munsch tell the tale at the link) This book helped shape my ideas on what girls can do and what we should expect from our partners. And it’s an easy bedtime story to remember off the top of my head!
House by Mouse by George Mendoza
Another picture book. Henrietta Mouse is an architect and interior designer who loves to create the perfect homes for her friends. This one’s full of wonderful visual details and jokes that keep drawing you back. Even as an adult, I can easily immerse myself in this little world. I would love it if someone actually tried to build each house as dollhouses!
Explorers on the Moon (On a marché sur la Lune) by Hergé
The conclusion to the story begun in Destination Moon (Objectif Lune) is a rip-roaring space adventure that takes Tintin, Snowy, Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus, Thompson, and Thomson through outer space to Earth’s only natural satellite. This is Hergé’s finest hour, published as a book 15 years before the Apollo 11 landing and three years before the launch of Sputnik. By today’s standards, Tintin’s adventures are pretty problematic, but the Moon stories tend to skirt around those issues. The English translation is an excellent adaptation of the original French text. And the drawings are crisp and the colours bright. A jewel that has inspired many, myself included!
So that you have it. I hope I’ve inspired you to think about your own favourite books and to share them with the world.
Happy World Book Day!
Copyright Jessica Allyson 2019