I sometimes worry that I have run out of books to recommend. Surely I’ve shown you every single book worth its shelf space in this old farmhouse?
But then I glance at my lap (there is almost always a book in my lap), and I realize that some of the books I love the most, some of the books I am so used to seeing, always at hand, are books I’ve never mentioned in this space.
Over the next few Saturdays, I will tell you about those books. They are the books I trip over on my way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. They are the books I find splayed and dusty underneath my little boy’s bed. Alas, they are the books most likely to sport ink or crayon marks from the budding baby-girl artiste.
They are rarely new or hip or trendy. I probably haven’t bothered to review them on Goodreads. But they are my constant companions.
And I hope you learn to love them, too.
(P.S. These posts contain affiliate links. Find all my book recommendations here.)
Quite a few of these special books are illustrated by Tasha Tudor. I have recommended one of her books before. It may be my favorite picture book I never read as a child. Recently, I pulled our copy of 1 Is One down from the shelf. I’m fairly certain I bought this book as a first birthday gift for my oldest (which means it’s been on our shelves for nearly a decade).
This is a counting book (1 is one duckling swimming in a dish, 2 is two sisters making a wish …), and every child deserves to learn their numbers by counting twinkling stars (18!) and baby birds (12!). It features Tasha’s signature watercolors, old-fashioned settings, and naturalistic details. I am pleased as punch to report that one-year-old Elsa now adores it. We never read it unless we read it three times through.
Tasha Tudor was a prolific illustrator, and her books are fairly easy to find at used bookstores and thrift shops. I still remember the pleasure of finding her edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses at the Printer’s Row Book Fair in Chicago.
Though she published her first picture book in the 1930s, Tasha and her books seem to come from a much earlier time. Apparently, she believed, only half-jokingly, that after dying she would return to her home in the 1830s, a strange sentiment I’m afraid I can relate with all too well. There is still a small part of my mind that believes, against my better judgement, that life would be so much better if I had twenty-two tiny buttons marching up my boots and was skilled with a button-hook (a romanticism inherited by my daughter who sighs deeply and says she wishes she were Amish every time she spies a little girl wrapped in bonnet and shawl).
These illustrations are like miniature worlds, and they are worlds I long to recreate. This may be why I spend so much time with two books written for adults: The Private World of Tasha Tudor by Tasha Tudor and Tasha Tudor’s Garden by Tovah Martin.
These large photography books take you inside the beautiful eddy in time that Tasha created at her Vermont farmhouse. Full of antique clothes and toys and cottage-garden flowers, these books prove that Tasha created her paintings from life. She dreamed it. She cultivated it. And then she painted it.
I do not actually own either of these books, but I have checked them out of my local library so many times that I really should buy both (but I might wait a few weeks since my birthday is June 23, ahem).
I especially love Tasha Tudor’s Garden. The writing is a bit too hero-worshipful, but I could live in the pictures.
Tasha’s ideas about plants are quirky and idiosyncratic, and I find that they give me permission to garden just as personally. I happen to love African violets, but their velvety leaves make Tasha shudder. I’ve always been skeptical of daylilies, so it’s a relief to read that Tasha finds them “raggedy.” And I have shamelessly copied the formula of her peony beds by planting a mass of peonies with lily bulbs to bloom after and edging the whole affair with purple verbena.
In researching this post, I discovered that Tasha illustrated a picture-book version of Psalm 23 (The Lord Is My Shepherd: The Twenty-third Psalm) and the Lord’s Prayer, or “Our Father” (Give Us This Day). It is possible that I purchased copies of each before finishing this post.
Life isn’t long enough to do all you could accomplish. And what a privilege even to be alive. In spite of all the pollutions and horrors, how beautiful this world is. Supposing you only saw the stars once every year. Think what you would think. The wonder of it!”