December 25, 2010

Ellen Raskin & A Child's Christmas in Wales

        When I was twelve my parents gave me for Christmas a small, slim paperback copy of A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.  They gave it to me because of my interest in poetry, but even though at the time I didn't give any particular thought to block printing, I still loved the way Ellen Raskin's simple, stylized woodcuts complemented Thomas's beautiful, evocative poetry.  I've never stopped loving either the poem or the illustrations.
        Ellen Raskin designed the edition as well as making the wood block illustrations, in 1954.  Yes, this is the same Ellen Raskin who would later become an acclaimed writer and eventually win the Newbery Medal for The Westing Game.  She was a graphic artist and illustrator first.
        What I find inspiring about the design of the New Directions edition of A Child's Christmas in Wales is its simplicity.  Raskin's illustrations are so small some of them are hardly more than glorified dingbats, and they're sprinkled throughout the text instead of standing, full-page, in their own importance.  They're not very detailed, they're rather rough… It might seem as if they would be at odds with the dense, smooth arcs of Thomas's soaring, polished phrases.  Yet instead the woodcuts work beautifully together with the words to evoke scenes glimpsed through the quirky lens of memory, at once vague and sharp, dream-like and specific, personal and universal.

        To all who celebrate Christmas, may yours be full of love and joy.

[Pictures: woodcuts by Ellen Raskin from A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas, New Directions, 1954, 1959.]

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for this gentle, loving paean.

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  2. We just received this slim treasure as a gift, and I got to read it aloud. I remember asking to read it in my college Oral Interpretation class and the prof insisting it couldn't be read by a girl. Finally got my chance!

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  3. (I tried to reply earlier and couldn't get it to take, so...) I just wanted to say how odd it is to think that one can only read or perform pieces representing one's own sex! As if we can't relate to or express anything that isn't exactly the same as ourselves? But I'm glad you finally got the chance to read this lovely poem aloud!

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  4. How lovely for you to have such a copy!

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