Garth Williams: The Idea of Home

Another slight digression from my usual photographic fare, as promised: a brief survey of my favorite children's illustrator, Garth Williams. Most of these are from Golden Books editions I had as a child.

In addition to my love of his funky architecture, adorable and expressive animals, and vivid imagination, I am fascinated with the old-world comfortableness and safety communicated in all his works, even when dealing with such traditionally scary subjects as bears, dark woods, and old wrinkly people. Perhaps most of all, the concept of Home permeates Brown's and Wlliams' work, and encompasses and handles reassuringly the pre-reader themes of getting along with others, figuring out what you're good at, and getting free of the apron strings (a little, at least).

Williams often worked with Margaret Wise Brown, a writer you typically either love or hate. I fnd her work strangely mesmerizing, if admittedly tending toward the insipid. But I think Williams' sensitive art saves the text from itself.

"Mister Dog," Margaret Wise Brown, Simon & Schuster 1952
Not only does The Boy find a friendly, fun-loving, and resourceful companion, but one who lives in a really cool playhouse.

"The Friendly Book," Margaret Wise Brown, Western Publishing Co. 1954
This book's poetic vignettes afford Williams a great range of panoramic, detailed fantasies.

"The Kitten Who Thought He Was a Mouse," Margaret Wise Brown, Western Publishing Co. 1951
In this moral tale couched in cuteness, a mouse family adopts a lost kitten, until it becomes too big to fit in the mousehole. From the outside, their dwelling looks pretty basic but they've outfitted it with midcentury modernist chairs, which is unusual for Williams, to say nothing of mice.

"Animal Friends," Jan Werner, Simon & Schuster 1953
Another subtly pointed story about a disparate collection of critters who somehow all live in a tiny stump until their varying diets demand that they strike out on their own (for example, the turtle to a swamp, the chick to a chicken coop, and the squirrel...well, see below.

"Animal Friends," Jan Werner, Simon & Schuster 1953

"Little Fur Family," Margaret Wise Brown, Harper Collins 1946
Another remodeled stump!

"Little Fur Family," Margaret Wise Brown, Harper Collins 1946
This decor is a more typical William treatment, sort of pre-industrial, fairytale style.

"The Sleepy Book," Margaret Wise Brown, Western Publishing Co. 1948
This collection of hypnotic, simple, rather wistful poems lulls a child along with the homely and softly drawn pictures.

"Wait Till the Moon Is Full," Margaret Wise Brown, Harper & Brothers 1948
One of my favorites, done in charcoals, concerns a young raccoon who really wants to join the other forest animals but who must wait...wait...

"The Sailor Dog," Margaret Wise Brown, Western Publishing Co. 1953
Before getting shipwrecked, this intrepid and very organized dog lives on a sailboat. Here too Williams' lets loose with wild imaginative scenes of a world populated by exotic dogs.

"Home for a Bunny," Marget Wise Brown, Western Publishing Co. 1961
Another parable of a young animal searching for his place in the world. No, it's not in a tree or in a bog, and though the log seems suitable, the resident groundhog begs to differ.

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