The launch of the Kindle got me thinking about all the things an e-reader can never be. You can't inscribe it to a loved one or press flowers between it's pages. It can never be an object, loved and cherished and passed from person to person, with any history. Your children cannot draw upon the pages and fill it with precious memories. Illustrations look terrible on it, especially art, which needs a grand scale. For these reasons and many more, help me celebrate the real thing: dusty old books!
Saturday, 2 January 2010
All the world's a stage...
The Children's Theatre Book ("For young dancers and actors") by Cecile Walton is the sort of book that just isn't produced anymore. There are plenty of modern activity books for children, all in garish full colour and with busily-designed pages that put you off immediately. This wordy and worthy book, published in 1949, is far more discreet and lengthy at over 100 pages, but somehow the thoroughness and the concentration required is far more inspiring, more mysterious, more satisfying than the gaudy modern counterparts.
Here, two rather middle-class children Paul and Pauline are encouraged by the kindly old Mr Curio to discover art, movement, expression and performance. Inspired, we are then shown how to make a toy theatre, in some substantial detail. Prosceniums, curtains, lighting and scenery are all explored.
Other chapters cover drawing, mime, the history of costume, "Make up and make believe" and even feet get their own chapter. Deportment and gesture are things modern children would barely be able to grasp I suspect.
It would be easy to dismiss this as a rather dry and old fashioned "lesson" book, yet what a treasure trove of imagination it contains. There are many beautiful drawings (not least the balletic endpapers)and there are even black-and-white reproductions of pertinant Old Masters, from Botticelli to Degas. One chapter is called "Another World". This book takes us there in more ways than one...