01 July 2010

Cool Book: LION by William Pène Du Bois

A few months ago my brother, Architect, sent me an email. Knowing my background as Info Queen (Info Königin in German, which is how I was first christened!), he asked me if I could find a book he had loved as a youth. He couldn't remember the author or the title . . . only some notion of the story and a clear memory of the images which, of course, he couldn't show me.

Here is what he asked:
I have a special request. I'm searching for two books from my childhood .... They've come back to me in dream and memory, but of course I can't remember the names or authors, only certain images .... [and] incorporates angels designing animals. (Amazon has over 39,000 entries for children's books that include the term "angel" -- I've only reached 700 -- no help so far). I remember the style of artwork distinctly: very crisp, delineated line work, clear colors; and the plot vaguely -- a young angel at a drawing board is charged with inventing animals (to go with letters of the alphabet or something?). He has a number of false-starts inventing impractical animals (and suffering the snickers of older, more experienced angels) before finally succeeding and being ready to use the gold ink (or crayon) to create an illuminated page. It was the architecture of the floating buildings that caught me, and the style of drawing used to illustrate a story about drawing and designing.
The book turned out to be Lion by William Pène Du Bois. It won the 1957 Caldecott Medal.* Here's what I did (and I have to brag; it took me only 20 minutes to locate his book).

  • Googled "children's books" and there was a suggested search string at the bottom of the page for "children's book database." Clicked on that.
  • Went to the "Children's Picture Book Database" link that this search brought up.
  • There I did a boolean search (combined the terms) angel AND animal.
  • Alone they'd probably turn up a mess of hits (this was Architect's experience with Amazon which doesn't allow for detailed searching like this). But I thought it likely that there weren't a lot of books that combined these two concepts. And I lucked out.
  • Once I had a title and author, I went back to Google. Found hits to the summaries I sent Architect for confirmation and links to the Flickr account of the person who had posted images of the book pages.

Reply from Architect: "Your search Kung Fu is strong indeed!" :-D (Info Queen always appreciates positive feedback!) Here are some images from this delightful book and information on how to locate a copy, if you are so interested.

Cover of the original book.

These 2 page images and the one at the beginning of this post come from eliz.avery's Flickr stream.

As for locating the book, it will be a minor adventure. (Public libraries may carry it, but given that it was first published over a half-century ago, it's not guaranteed that they will still have copies on their shelves as children's books wear out fast from use.)

The Wikipedia item on the author, William Pène Du Bois, lists the title of this book as The Lion rather than just Lion. The original publication date is listed as 1957.  (eliz.avery in the aforementioned Flickr stream lists 1963, which is probably a reprint date.)

The Library of Congress (LC) record for this item shows the title is Lion and the publication date as 1956:
LC Control No.:      56013707
Type of Material:    Book (Print, Microform, Electronic, etc.)
Personal Name:      Du Bois, William Pène, 1916-1993.

Main Title:             Lion.
Published/Created: New York, Viking Press, 1956.
Description:           36 p. illus. (part col.) 26 cm.
LC Classification:    PZ7.D8527 Li
Other System No.: (OCoLC)173791
Quality Code:         premarc
How different search sites list the author's name can vary. Libraries will typically use the LC version as this is how the LC folk standardized it and libraries usually use the catalog record info for their own online catalogs. Book seller sites (such as those listed below) may list the author as Dubois, DuBois, Du Bois and may or may not include Pène (sometimes spelled Pene <-- no accent mark).

A search on Amazon brought up used two hardcover copies priced at $16. No cover image provided. The publication lists the Vintage Books first edition, but it is not clear if the used copies are also first editions.

Alibris **, a speciality site for used books, music, CDs, etc. had other books by Du Bois (he was also an illustrator) but nothing for Lion as of 24 June. Abebooks  ***, another used books website listed two 1983 copies, both ex-library books, for $1; the descriptions did not indicate hardcover or paperback and no cover illustration was provided. Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon -- a longtime and much beloved institution -- lists a single copy for $34 described as "Used Hardcover / Children's Collectible - General."

P.S.  The second book mentioned by Architect turned out to have been authored by Du Bois as well and was titled The Twenty-One Balloons.


* [from the website of the Association for Library Service to Children]: "The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children." 

** [from the Alibris website]: "Alibris (pronounced “uh-LEE-briss”) is the premier online marketplace for independent sellers of new and used books, music, and movies, as well as rare and collectible titles. We connect people who love books, music, and movies to thousands of independent sellers around the world. Our proprietary technology and advanced logistics allow us to offer more than 100 million used, new, and out-of-print books to consumers, libraries, and retail business partners. Alibris was founded in 1998."

*** [from the Abebooks website]: "Launched in 1996, AbeBooks is an online marketplace where you can buy new, used, rare and out-of-print books, as well as cheap textbooks. We connect you with thousands of professional booksellers around the world and millions of books are listed for sale."
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